Virgin Active acquires Real Foods Group

Virgin Active Dean Kowarski, founder and CEO of The Real Foods Group as its Group CEO, he has been named by.

Dean founded Real Foods Group and purchased Kauai in 2015. He has grown the company from 100 stores to now 204. Dean has been involved in the health and well-being industry for many years and has a passion and in-depth knowledge of it. He has also been closely associated with Virgin Active.

Matthew Bucknall will be retiring as CEO. He had previously announced that he would retire in 25 years after founding the company. He will be a special advisor to the Board and a non-executive director of Virgin Active Italy.

The new capital will be used to support the business’ ongoing recovery and to accelerate future growth.

Mark Field, the current Managing Director of Virgin Active South Africa has been named Group CFO. After a new MD is appointed for Virgin Active South Africa he will assume the position.

The existing shareholders of Virgin Active, Brait and Virgin Group, will be investing an additional £20.2 million (ZAR 399 077 760,35) in the business. In addition, certain of the members of the investor consortium in Real Foods will invest GBP18.2 (ZAR 359 572 566,63) million and Titan Premier Investments (Pty) Limited (“Titan”), an investment vehicle of Christo Wiese, will invest GBP50.0 million to become new shareholders in Virgin Active.

The funds will be used in part to develop new products and services, invest in existing spaces, and embrace digital and cutting-edge technology.

Virgin Active announced separately that it had acquired The Real Foods Group’s nutrition assets for GBP28.6million (ZAR 565 13 738,16). The acquisition is subjected to several conditions precedent including regulatory approvals and is expected to be implemented in Q2 of this year. After implementation, the nutrition assets of Real Foods Group will be combined with Virgin Active in order to create a Wellness Group.

The pandemic has accelerated people’s appetite to lead a healthier lifestyle, and consumer demand is forecast to rise for the foreseeable future, creating significant growth potential. To support this demand most effectively, both foundations of wellness – fitness and nutrition – need to be addressed. A combination approach can prevent preventable diseases and help create a healthier society.

Real Foods combines the best in nutrition and fitness with a deal that combines both. Virgin Active is a leader in the Health Club industry. Virgin Active has been a global leader in the Health Club sector since 1999 when it opened its first club. It now boasts more than 230 clubs with over 25,000 members spread across eight countries. In 2019, before the pandemic, Virgin Active delivered its best year with record EBITDA of £142m (ZAR 2 804 819 707,32).

Real Foods is a multibrand food company that is committed to sustainability, innovation and natural food. Real Foods was founded by Dean Kowarski and operates 204 sites under brands including Kauai and NÜ Health Café and employs over 2500 people across 6 countries. It has also successfully been operating its store-within-a-store concept throughout Virgin Active’s sites in South Africa for 18 years, in addition to its standalone and franchised sites.

Virgin Active and Real Foods will be able to operate under a common vision after the Real Foods acquisition. This will allow them to create commercial efficiencies and opportunities for a wider wellbeing offering. This will allow the group to align nutrition and fitness around a single goal. It will also provide shared data, personalized nutrition, and curated, easily accessible exercise programs. This will enable customers and members to achieve their health goals more efficiently and sustainably, which will in turn drive retention and growth.

Dean Kowarski, Group CEO of Virgin Active, commented: “This is an incredibly exciting moment for Virgin Active and The Real Foods Group. Both brands are leaders in their respective fields of wellness, with a reputation for excellence both locally and internationally. On the back of today’s transaction, we now have the opportunity to combine our skills to deliver a complete health offer around both fitness and nutrition so that our members can meet their health goals more successfully. This, alongside the additional investment in the business, positions Virgin Active strongly to deliver growth over the long term.”

Matthew Bucknall, Co-founder and retiring CEO of Virgin Active, added: “It has long been our strategy to complete the virtuous circle of exercise, diet and health for our members. Combining Virgin Active’s leadership in exercise experience with Real Foods proven expertise in nutrition creates a very credible and compelling offer. Virgin Active is now in a unique position to help meet the increasing demand for healthier lifestyles. I have worked closely with Dean and the Real Food Group for many years and have every confidence in the success of the combined business.”

Simon Susman, Chairman of Virgin Active, said: “Today’s announcements are an important next step for Virgin Active as we capitalize on positive health trends around the world. We are pleased to welcome Dean Kowarski in his role as CEO. His track record at Real Foods is impressive and our businesses have been working well together for many decades. Matthew has done a lot over the 25 years he spent at Virgin Active. I want to thank him for that. His ongoing experience as an adviser to the board will be invaluable.”

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