Pfeiffer Group invests in Zielpunkt

An Upper Austrian food industry company has purchased a Zielpunkt stake of nearly 25 per cent.

The Traun-based Pfeiffer Group announced yesterday (Thurs) it acquired a 24.9 per cent interest in its Viennese rival. The company, which concentrates on the management of supermarkets in Upper Austria, did not say how much it paid for the stake. It rejected reports that it had the chance to increase its interest to 50 per cent thanks to a special clause in the agreement. Cartel authorities will now check whether the deal may be finalised.

The Pfeiffer Group achieved a turnover of 732 million Euros in 2011 when Zielpunkt had a turnover of 540 million Euros. Zielpunkt manages 302 stores. It is strongly engaged in Vienna but opened a new store in Graz last week to strengthen its position in the province of Styria. Another new Zielpunkt shop was put into operation in the Viennese district of Ottakring.

Zielpunkt currently has around 3,000 employees. The firm was acquired by German businessman Jan Satek for an undisclosed sum in February. He became head manager of the supermarket chain in 2010 when BluO, a German-Luxembourgian investor, took over. Satek said he cooperated with two partners regarding buying Zielpunkt but refused to reveal their names. Only a few days ago, he branded rumours about an upcoming sale of Zielpunkt to German supermarket industry giant Edeka as “baseless”. A spokesman for Edeka rejected the reports as well.

Zielpunkt was named Plus between 2003 and 2008 in a failed attempt to improve its economic condition. The firm struggles to catch up with market leaders Rewe Austria, Spar Austria and Hofer. The country’s dominating supermarket firms run around 5,000 shops today, 700 fewer than in 2004.

Rewe Austria said it managed to raise its domestic market share to 35 per cent in 2011. The company is in charge of Billa, the country’s most popular supermarket chain. It also operates discounter Penny and drugstore and cosmetics company Bipa among other chains.

Rewe Austria’s operations of the past months are currently examined by the Austrian Competition Authority (BWB). The association confiscated more data records and documents than ever before in another investigation when it raided Rewe Austria’s headquarters in Wiener Neudorf, Lower Austria.

Managers are suspected of having fixed beer and coffee prices with suppliers. Rumours have it that competitors of Rewe Austria could be entangled in the alleged fraudulent occurrences as well. A cartel court is expected to determine which of the confiscated documents can be used as evidence and what must remain secret to protect the company’s rights.

Rewe Austria head Frank Hensel called on the state to get rid of the many “grey areas” the law currently contained in his opinion. Hensel argued that managers must be allowed to discuss details of upcoming special offers with distributors and producers. He said extensive planning was essential if a big company like Rewe Austria decided to temporarily cut a product’s price.