Milking the market: Biden helps Bubs gain much-needed financial weight

A few months ago Infant formula maker Bubs Australia was “hit in the diaper by a rainbow” when a contamination crisis crippled US local supply from its dominant manufacturer. It was a company-making moment for Bubs – a chance to exercise strategic opportunism.

But such a game-changing opportunity to potentially triple revenue in the space of a year required funding.

On Tuesday Bubs hit the green light on a $63 million capital raising to fund its serendipitous expansion in the giant US market.

Milking the opportunity and feeding revenue.Credit:SHUTTERSTOCK

Indeed Bubs is one of only a few Australian companies in a position to comfortably raise equity in the current choppy market – certainly one of the few that could issue shares at a relatively small discount.

Since May when the US health authorities approved Bubs’ range of infant formulas for sale in the US, the company’s share price has been on a tear – up 42 per cent. Compare this with the broader Australian sharemarket which is down around 7 per cent.

And for Bubs the positive hits just keep coming.

Earlier this week it was given the green light from the US and Australian governments for tariff protection under the Free Trade Agreement.

The proceeds from the capital raising will allow the company to scale up manufacturing, build inventories and spend on marketing and administration in the US.

Two years ago the company had a longer term plan to place its toe into the US market to diversify its customer base away from a reliance on China – a market that had hit many Australia exporters in the wake of a deteriorating political relationship between the two countries.

And this situation was further being complicated by the logistics challenges created by COVID.

In February this year the US infant formula market was rocked by a scandal involving bacterially tainted products from Abbott Laboratories. It was one of two suppliers who together had a stranglehold on the US market and was forced to recall its product.

President Joe Biden instituted an emergency program, ‘Operation Fly Formula’ to bring in supplies from offshore producers.

Bubs was the first of only four manufacturers given the green light by the US Food and Drug Administration.

It’s a production ramp-up of epic proportions and at warp speed.

Revenue for the second half of 2022 is forecast to jump 60 per cent – and this captures only one month of Operation Fly Formula.

In June, $7 million of product was flown by chartered aircraft to the US, this month twice that volume will follow. In the 2023 financial year the target US revenue is between $80 million and $120 million.

In the 2021 financial year Bubs hit revenue across the entire group of less than $50 million.

The beauty of its US launch after a competitor contamination scandal is that Bubs has established a brand aligned with safety.

For Abbott, which has re-started some of its manufacturing operations, it has been tainted with health and safety concerns around arguably the most sensitive product on the market – infant milk.

(It was a similar tainted formula scandal in 2008 in China that allowed Australian producers to get a foothold in that market.)

Bubs was lucky, smart and played it perfectly in the US. Already the company is projecting that its revenue from the US will next year match what it generates from China – its biggest customer.

Selling dairy-based products into China has been notoriously difficult for many Australian players, faced with navigating the Daigou market.

That said, Bubs appears to have devised a marketing model in China that has been sufficiently robust to target $44 million in revenue through this channel in 2022 with an aspirational target of $80 million to $120 million the following year.

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