Cube Infrastructure Managers snapped up two companies in the temperature-controlled logistics sector this year and will use each as flagships for their respective geographical markets, Brice Masselot, investment director at Cube, told PE Hub Europe. The firm may also enter other locations.
Cube Infrastructure Fund III agreed a 70 percent stake in Vienna-headquartered Müller Transporte in mid-November. The same fund agreed a 78 percent stake in Le Pontet, France-based Dispam in early June. Both firms service the food sector, while Müller also works with pharma.
Despite the similarities, Cube, a mid-market infrastructure-focused investment firm headquartered in Luxembourg that has raised more than €4 billion across four funds, will not merge the companies.
“These are local markets, so Dispam will develop the French market and Müller the DACH market,” said Masselot. “Austria is their home market but they also have operations in the neighbouring countries: Germany, Switzerland and Slovakia. We don’t believe in synergies by creating a consolidated platform, but we will use those two flagships to consolidate their respective markets. We will invite them to share some knowledge on their markets. We believe they have a lot to learn from each other.”
The local nature of the markets adds resiliency, said Masselot. “It’s not a link in a very long supply chain, it’s local traffic. But it’s absolutely vital transport. The food producers and the retail chains, they absolutely need players like Müller to operate.”
Other resilience-boosting traits are the market’s niche nature, requiring specialised knowledge; assets in the form of trucks and refrigerated trailers; temperature-controlled logistic hubs; and tailored IT systems for tracking goods.
“Those flows are just-in-time and this involves a lot of optimisation of flows, bundling and unbundling of shipments,” said Masselot. “It’s a specialised know-how that you need to have. There are also a lot of certifications that regulate this sector, especially on the pharma side. You need to get those certifications and maintain them.”
Cube might look to buy more flagships in the sector.
“We want to operate in countries where regulation is good and sufficiently stringent to favour those operators who make the effort to invest and to offer top-quality transport,” said Masselot. “Markets like France or the DACH region were quite attractive. We are also looking at other markets in Northern and Western Europe.”
Müller’s founding family and Dispam’s founder hold the rest of the equity in each firm. It was the work of Müller boss Fritz Müller that lifted the firm above its competitors, according to Masselot.
“It’s been developed over several decades by Fritz Müller, with whom we partnered,” he said. “Müller has a leading position on the Austrian market and has developed very successfully over the last 10 years or so, developing its activity on the pharmaceutical side.”
The firm also has an infrastructure advantage. It has a network of four temperature-controlled platforms in Austria – the main one, 20km south of Vienna, is “ideally located at the intersection of two motorways”, said Masselot. It also has a fleet of around 375 lorries and other vehicles, employs around 700 people and generated revenues of €100 million in the financial year ending in June.
Müller has acquired other companies and has a “very diversified customer base”, said Masselot. “The client relationships have been developed over very long periods of times, quite often more than 10 years, and for some of them more than 20 years. The retention rate is very high.”
Further organic and inorganic growth is next.
“The existing customer base is growing,” said Masselot. “The volumes are growing. They constantly need additional capacity and additional transport services. So it’s a sector when you can grow both organically and through acquisitions. Acquisitions are nice to have, but this business can perform very well based on organic growth with the current customer base, but also by acquiring new customers. There are many, many ways grow the business.”
For acquisitions, there are smaller, family-owned companies “which may lack financial resources to develop and could be add-on opportunities”, he added.