Tired of bank IPOs? Food firms poised to spice up HKEx’s menu

Stock pickers may soon find fresh investment choices in restaurant operators and sauce maker looking to list on the city's exchange

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 January, 2014, 10:43am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 9:44am

Investors bored with listings of mainland banks and technology firms in the past few years will soon find a new flavour in the Hong Kong stock market - several food and restaurant operators are queuing up to go public in the world's second-most sought-after listing destination after New York.

The first food company ready to launch an initial public offering is Lao Heng He, a historic mainland soya sauce and vinegar maker.

The company's brand can be traced back to the time of emperor Xianfeng of the Qing dynasty.

Bankers close to the deal told the South China Morning Post that Lao Heng He aimed to raise about US$150 million in the offering targeted for late this month. Macquarie is the lead bank for the deal.

Lao Heng He, based in Huzhou, Zhejiang province, is well-known for its high-quality sauces. Some of its top-end products sell up to 500 yuan (HK$640) per bottle and are often served at Chinese banquets at five-star hotels.

"Food safety is already a serious problem in China, so consumers are more cautious these days when they buy food or related products. Many will just go for renowned brands no matter how expensive," said one source. "Well-known brands mean high credibility."

Lao Heng He will not be alone in looking to list in Hong Kong. Several mainland and Hong Kong restaurants have drawn up plans to also come on the market in the coming months.

At least two Hong Kong restaurant chains - Tai Hing Roast Restaurant and Lei Garden Restaurant - have been in separate preliminary talks with investment banks for possible listing.

Tai Hing, famed for its roast pork and goose, was looking to raise about US$100 million in 2012 but shelved the plan partly because of a weak market environment at the time.

Lei Garden, which serves high-end Guangdong cuisines at its flagship branch at IFC Mall, was also looking to tap the stock market to fund its branch expansion, banking sources said.

The firm has not appointed an underwriter or determined the size of its possible flotation.

Tai Hing's major rival, Tsui Wah, went public in late 2012. The stock has gained more than 130 per cent since its debut, making competitors envious at Tsui Wah's success both in the restaurant business and the capital market.

Tsui Wah has expanded rapidly on the mainland since it went public, tapping a larger market beyond Hong Kong's seven million population.

The company's shares closed unchanged at HK$5.35 yesterday while the market rose 1.25 per cent.

Hong Kong's stock market has also been a magnet for foreign restaurant owners looking to raise funds. At least one foreign restaurant company, Huy Vietnam Group, is set to list on the Hong Kong stock exchange in the near future.

The largest restaurant chain in Vietnam recently announced it would open its first outlet in Hong Kong this year and then prepare for a stock offering by early next year.

Huy's ambition is to become the leading Vietnamese restaurant chain in the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

The company would "consider raising additional equity capital through a public listing of the company's shares on the main board of the Hong Kong stock exchange by early next year", said Dennis Nguyen, a vice-chairman of Huy Vietnam.