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Universal Robina and Vitasoy form beverage joint venture

Philippine market leader diversifying into plant-based products

MANILA -- Universal Robina, the Philippine food and drink company, and Hong Kong's Vitasoy International Holdings are to team up on a beverage joint venture starting mid-year.

Vitasoy-URC will be equally owned by the two companies and will produce out of Universal Robina facilities in the Philippines.

The joint venture is due to start commercial operations in May, which is summer in the Philippines and the normal time for launching ice creams and cold beverages on the market.

Universal Robina said it is using the venture to enter the "plant milk market and increase the sales and portfolio of its beverage business in the Philippines".

Chief Executive Lance Gokongwei told the Nikkei Asian Review last year that his company, which has prospered with low-priced confectionary, chocolate, and chips, would be expanding its "premium" product portfolio in the light of rising Philippine household incomes.

The company has moved into some more upmarket segments in recent years through acquisitions and partnerships. It bought New Zealand's Griffin's Foods, a biscuit maker, and has formed joint ventures with Danone Asia and Japan's Calbee for drinks and potato chips respectively.

Vitasoy specializes in plant-based foods and beverages, and has manufacturing operations in Australia, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Its products sell in 40 markets worldwide.

"Whilst confident that the long-term consumer trends are very favorable, we consider the Philippines a very developed, competitive and diversified market which will require diligent study and learning to ensure that the [joint venture] portfolio offering will best serve the needs and desires of the Filipino community," said Roberto Guidetti, Vitasoy Group's chief executive.

Meanwhile, shares of Universal Robina, which has operations in Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, rose 0.31% on Thursday, while Manila's benchmark index was up 1.52%.

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