Vets giant targets FTSE-100 status with £10bn float plan

Europe’s largest veterinary group is drawing up plans for a stock market listing that could catapult it straight into London’s FTSE-100 index.

Sky News has learnt that IVC Evidensia, which is part-owned by the global consumer goods giant Nestle, has appointed investment banks to prepare the company for one of the biggest UK stock market debuts for years.

City sources said that IVC Evidensia’s board and shareholders believed the company could be worth at least £10bn if it decides to join the public markets.

SSP chief executive Kate Swann

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The company is chaired by Kate Swann

Insiders said it had already begun preliminary discussions with institutional investors to introduce them to the company.

Goldman Sachs and Jefferies have been appointed to work on the plans, they added.

People close to IVC Evidensia cautioned on Wednesday that an initial public offering remained far from certain to take place.

EQT, the Stockholm-based private equity firm which has backed the vetcare group’s remarkable growth, is also said to be assessing other options, such as a trade sale of the business or the private sale of a further stake to an external investor.

If it does float next year, IVC Evidensia is certain to be among the largest companies to join the London market in 2021.

A market capitalisation of £10bn or more would put the group comfortably inside the top half of the FTSE-100 index.

Nestle Logo

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IVC Evidensia is part-owned by consumer goods giant Nestle

The company was formed from the merger of Independent Vet Care with Evidensia, a Swedish veterinary business also owned by EQT, in 2017.

The combined group now has 19,000 employees in 11 countries across Europe, including the UK, France, Germany, Ireland and Italy.

It employs thousands of vets, and offers a wide range of services, including veterinary clinics, crematoria, animal hospitals and vet pharmacies.

Many of its services are highly profitable, and its rapid recent growth means its forecast earnings this year and next would justify a £10bn valuation, according to one source.

The company is chaired by Kate Swann, the former chief executive of high street and airport retailer WH Smith and SSP Group, the transport hub caterer, both of which have seen their finances hammered by the pandemic.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: A reception desk at London Stock Exchange on August 29, 2019 in London, England. The pound has come under renewed pressure after the government moved to prorogue parliament for five weeks, fueling fears of a no-deal Brexit. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

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If it does float next year, the company will be among the largest companies to join the London market in 2021

By contrast, the two companies that Ms Swann now chairs – the other is Moonpig, the online greeting cards platform – have benefited from the COVID-19 crisis amid a boom in pet ownership and digital retailing.

Ms Swann brought in Steve Clarke, her successor as WH Smith chief executive, to run the vets giant earlier this year.

IVC Evidensia sold a minority stake to Nestle in 2019, forming a partnership with Purina, the Swiss-based company’s pet health and nutrition brand.

It has few London-listed peers, the main exception being CVS Group, which has seen its value rise by a quarter during the last year.

CVS is far smaller than its rival, however, with a market value of just under £1bn.

EQT, which bought IVC in late 2016, and IVC Evidensia declined to comment.