Public hostility to foreign corporate takeovers fading?

More than a year after Kraft Foods’ takeover of UK confectionery company Cadbury, it still appears that the American food giant is having trouble digesting its new acquisition.
After an exodus of Cadbury executives following the merger, Kraft was criticised earlier this year for attempting to persuade Cadbury workers to leave its deficit-hit final salary pension scheme, and with the recent announcement of the demerger of Kraft’s US grocery and snack businesses, Cadbury now faces the prospect of a third major change in its ownership structure in less than five years. These developments will have done little to allay the worries of those who feared that Cadbury would find it hard to preserve its own culture as a small part of a large global group.
But despite this latest example of the problems that often beset foreign takeovers of ‘national champion’ companies, GlobeScan’s data suggest that public sentiment is gradually coming to terms with them. Across our tracking countries, those who disagree that government should prevent foreign companies from buying important national ones has increased from 28% in 2006 to 36% in 2010, the year of the Cadbury takeover.
In straitened economic times, it may be that the public’s head is starting to win over its heart on this issue, and that people are coming to attach more value to the potential for expansion and increased profitability that foreign ownership can bring than an emotional attachment to a familiar national brand. But caution is needed. Protectionists are still firmly in the majority, and while opposition to foreign takeovers decreased in the USA over this period, it increased sharply in China, and also began to climb back up in the UK in 2010–likely in response to the Kraft/Cadbury episode. Companies eyeing potential foreign acquisitions would be well advised to continue to tread carefully.
Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2010
This post was written by former GlobeScan Research Director, Sam Mountford.