BUDAPEST, Sept 18 (Reuters) - A former Hungarian policeman who built up a chain of 112 stores selling his low-carbohydrate food has signed up ex-tennis star Andre Agassi to be the face of an expansion into Europe, which he plans to finance with an $8.3 million share offer.
Stores operating under Norbert Schobert's brand sell baked goods and pastries and a raft of other foods, which, he says, are healthier than conventional equivalents because they use a special mix instead of flour and other ways to reduce the level of carbohydrates.
The company plans to expand in Austria, the Czech Republic, Romania, Germany, Serbia and Britain through a network of franchise partners.
Schobert and his wife, co-owners of the business, are selling a minority stake in an initial public offering through local brokerages, which they hope will raise up to 2 billion forints ($8.3 million). Shares are priced at 990 forints, which would value the business at about $20 million.
Most of the existing stores are in Hungary, with some in neighbouring Slovakia. Schobert says he plans to double the number of stores through growth in Hungary and abroad.
"We will offer healthy products in (foreign) markets at the same price they sell their unhealthy counterparts," Schobert told a meeting of prospective investors.
Schobert's company, Norbi Update Lowcarb Nyrt, has exclusive rights to use his brands until 2019 but does not make the products itself. The stores are operated on a franchise basis.
The firm was incorporated in April last year, though the business itself has been operating for about a decade. Schobert says he built the business without taking on any debt.
In the period from April to December 2013, it earned a 94.4 million forint net profit on 425.7 million of revenue, mainly through royalties collected from franchise partners.
Marketing costs account for the bulk of the company's expenditures. Agassi, an eight-times grand slam tennis champion, will be the international face of the brand for three years.
(1 euro = 313.25 Hungarian forint)
1 US dollar = 241.52 Hungarian forint Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Mark Potter