Watson to invest further US$37m in Ukraine
Li Ka-shing will invest US$37 million in Ukraine's health care and beauty market through his retail flagship AS Watson Group.
The group, a core unit of conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, plans to add 60 Watsons stores in Ukraine this year, to take the country's total to 272, while 212 stores it runs under the DC brand will switch to the Watsons name, according to managing director Dominic Lai Kai-ming.
The investment, over five years, would cement the group's presence in Eastern and Central Europe, he said.
At present, there are 1,300 stores across Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine, which alone accounts for 50 per cent of AS Watson's sales in Eastern and Central Europe.
'Import products appeal to Ukrainian customers mostly because they perceive imports as higher-quality products,' Lai said. 'They are very beauty-conscious, hence we offer a variety of choices such as make-up.'
The retail market in Ukraine, which has a population of 45.7 million, is forecast to grow 5 per cent this year from 3 per cent last year, he added.
Watsons is the largest health-care and beauty retailer in Ukraine in terms of the number of stores.
Lai said the Ukraine investment marked a 'logical' step for AS Watson, which raised its stake in the portfolio there to 100 per cent last year after its initial US$13 million investment in 2006.
There are 2,200 Watsons stores and 900 pharmacies in 12 markets across Europe and Asia.