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Mar 13, 2017

Cara Operations CEO: Stick to what made you famous when deal-making

Cara Operations CEO on future M&A activity: 'Stick to what made you famous'

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Cara Operations (CARA.TO) may have just completed its latest acquisition of the Original Joe’s chain, but it’s already looking for other brands to add to the Cara family.

“We’re looking for more acquisitions,” said Bill Gregson, CEO of Cara Operations in an interview on BNN. “By 2022, we’d like to get up to $3.7 billion in sales. To get there, we’ll probably need more acquisitions.”

Since 2015, when Cara was spun out of Fairfax Financial to become a publically-traded company, it has snapped up New York Fries, The Landing, St. Hubert’s and Original Joe’s.

When asked about recent acquisition activity in the sector, such as Restaurant Brands buying Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Gregson says it’s important for companies to stick to what they know.  

“Stick to what made you famous,” he said.

Gregson believes it’s important to find brands that complement the company’s current roster of 14 brands, so it has a better chance of reaching new customers without any overlap.

While that approach has allowed Cara to expand its offerings, some analysts are still concerned about the current dining environment and are hoping some new initiatives at Cara will help spur organic sales growth.

Cara Operations’ same-stores sales growth declined 2.8 per cent in Q4 of 2016 and isn’t expected to pick up until later in the year.

In a note to clients, CIBC retail analyst Mark Petrie wrote “changes to the business model can help to stem these declines, but they may take time to reach a sizeable scale. In our view there must be more substantial menu innovation and creative messaging in order to transform the brands and appeal to a more health-conscious consumer seeking differentiated offerings.”

One such offering is already taking shape at Cara’s burger chain, Harveys, as it rolls out “Build-A-Bowl” products it hopes gains traction with a wider group of diners flocking to chains like Freshii and Chipotle — with salads and rice as bases.

While those efforts may help capture more health-conscious customers, Gregson cautions there are bigger forces at work that are influencing the health of the restaurant industry.

“We’re in a bit of a trough,” said Gregson. “Everyone is working hard to find out why. Overall the last quarter was tough for the industry.”