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EU approval clears the way for Coca-Cola’s £3.9bn Costa Coffee acquisition

Whitbread announces EU approval of £3.9bn acquisition of Costa Coffee by Coca-Cola and expects deal completion in January 2019

A Costa Coffee barista in the UK

European Union approval of the deal under EC Merger Regulation comes less than a month after the acquisition was approved under China’s state Administration for Market Regulation on 29 November 2018.

Confirming EU approval of the landmark deal, Whitbread said it would return a significant majority of net proceeds from the sale to shareholders via a share buyback programme. “The programme will commence shortly after completion of the Costa sale and conclude prior to Whitbread's full-year results announcement on 30 April 2019,” the company said in a press statement.

Few details of Coca-Cola’s long-term plan for Costa Coffee’s global café business have emerged since the acquisition was announced. Costa has some 4,000 outlets globally but is currently absent from the US market. This is something the US beverage giant will likely change, with the potential for US store openings, RTD and coffee pod distribution and expansion of Costa’s ‘Express’ vending machine business all possible moves for 2019.

Coca-Cola CEO, James Quincey, has previously stated his firm’s intention to run the Costa business as “connected but not integrated”. This suggests that much like Nestle’s ‘hands-off’ approach with specialty coffee chain, Blue Bottle, Coke’s management of Costa could remain largely behind the scenes.

In November 2018, Quincey told CNBC Coke would not seek direct competition with Starbucks in the US. "The biggest piece is in immediate consumption channels. And, actually, while coffee shops exist, the biggest piece is the rest… Our idea is not to go head to head”, he said.

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