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Breakingviews - Corona Capital: KFC ditches finger lickin’

NEW YORK/MILAN/HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) - Corona Capital is a column updated throughout the day by Breakingviews columnists around the world with short, sharp pandemic-related insights.

A robotic arm carries a tray of food at a KFC restaurant offering contactless service, ahead of its opening following the easing of restrictions implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia June 21, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

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- Advertising hygiene

RESTORING ETIQUETTE. The pandemic has put on pause one of the corporate world’s longest-serving ad slogans. “It’s finger lickin’ good” has been KFC’s tagline on and off for more than 60 years. Commercials would routinely feature people mawing their – and other people’s – digits after scarfing down a bucket of fried chicken. It wasn’t the most appealing imagery at the best of times, but during Covid-19 it started to smack more of a horror movie.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, KFC has been blurring out the famous phrase, replacing it with: “That thing we always say? Ignore it. For now.” The Yum Brands-owned fast-food chain cited the pandemic, social distancing, mask-wearing as well as basic hygiene for the reason, with Chief Marketing Officer Catherine Tan-Gillespie adding in a press release “doesn’t quite fit the current environment.” The real question, though, is whether it fits any environment. (By Jennifer Saba)

DIVERGENT LUXURY. Investors give Leonardo Del Vecchio greater odds of renegotiating a pre-pandemic cash deal than Bernard Arnault. The large takeovers agreed last year by Del Vecchio’s EssilorLuxottica and Arnault’s LVMH appear to offer little legal wiggle room. To fend off attempts to lower LVMH’s $16 billion takeover price, Tiffany & Co rejigged debt covenants in June and extended by three months on Monday a deal deadline. Meanwhile, Del Vecchio’s attempt to undermine optical retailer GrandVision, which EssilorLuxottica is set to buy for over 7 billion euros, stumbled as a Dutch court rejected a request for additional financial data.

Market prices suggest divergent outcomes. GrandVision shares trade 19% below EssilorLuxottica’s takeover price of 28.42 euros a share against just 6% for Tiffany. This suggests investors believe Tiffany’s deal extension will give it time to win crucial European Union antitrust blessing. Brussels may, however, force GrandVision to sell part of its network. Del Vecchio may have a later chance to review the price. (By Lisa Jucca)

THE FINAL QUEST. The pandemic is forcing Tencent to improve its M&A game. The internet titan is nearing a take-private deal of Hong Kong-listed Leyou Technologies, according to Bloomberg, which would value the video games developer at $1.3 billion. That ends a months-long saga that has seen $677 billion Tencent indirectly back two separate bids before entering into exclusive talks with Leyou last month. At the time, Japan’s Sony was also considering entering the fray.

Virus disruptions have hammered Leyou, which swung into the red in the six months to June from a year ago, with a $4.7 million net loss. The company blamed stay-at-home measures for delays to new content. Still, a global boom in gaming is fuelling demand for fresh hits, and Leyou owns a stable of lucrative money-spinners like “Warframe”. At the mooted offer price, Tencent would be paying 26 times 2019 EBITDA – a hefty premium to most peers. It’s the price to play. (By Jamie Lo)

CHECKOUT AISLE. Online grocer Beijing Dmall E-commerce is looking to raise as much as $600 million in a new funding round, Bloomberg reports, which could value the Tencent-backed company at $2 billion before the investment. The pandemic has fuelled online shopping for fresh produce, adding to a flurry of fundraising activity of late. Dmall, which works with 112 chain retailers and supermarkets across 13,000 stores, also faces competition from startups like MissFresh, which raised $495 million last month, and hybrid operations like Alibaba’s, Hema.

The migration of grocery sales online, accelerated by Covid-19, has squeezed supermarkets and hypermarkets, according to a new report by Bain & Co, although hypermarkets’ sales per square metre was declining in South Korea and China before the outbreak. The consultancy forecasts that up to 45% of the online spending surge will survive the easing of lockdown measures. Grocers need to adjust to the new normal. (By Sharon Lam)

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Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.


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