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Bim Bim of Cairo gives Cadbury a bite of the Middle East market

Cadbury Schweppes has embarked on an Arabian adventure with the acquisition of Egypt's largest chocolate company. It has paid an undisclosed sum for Bim Bim, the curiously named Cairo company which controls 26 per cent of Egypt's confectionery market and is the dominant player in the whole of the Middle East and North Africa region.

Though selling chocolate in Africa might sound like trying to sell ice lollies to Eskimos, Cadbury says the local market is growing strongly and that candy bars are popular snacks. "It's not baking hot there all the time,'' a spokeswoman said.

Founded in Cairo in 1961, Bim Bim is privately owned and the controlling family has asked that its identity not be disclosed.

Though the purchase price has also not been revealed, Bim Bim recorded sales of pounds 32m last year and has net assets of pounds 35m. Its most popular brands of chocolate bar are Gersy and Sando, while another is called Munny.

Bim Bim controls 13 per cent of the Middle Eastern confectionery market. Cadbury already has an Egyptian business but was keen to strengthen its position in a region of more than 120 million people.

"Ian Johnstone, managing director of Cadbury Schweppes said: "Bim Bim, in conjunction with Cadbury Egypt, will give us market leadership in both Egypt and the region and put us in a very strong position to benefit from further growth."

The move comes a day after Cadbury Schweppes, under its new chief executive John Sunderland, confirmed it had completed the pounds 623m sale of its joint venture Coca-Cola bottling plants.

In a separate move yesterday Cadbury Schweppes announced that it was to market to British consumers a line in quality continental European chocolate bars made by Poulain of France. It has launched three bars from Poulain - in dark, plain and vanilla-flavoured white chocolate - aimed at the serious chocolate lover.

"Consumers have become more accustomed to continental tastes and have consequently developed a more sophisticated palate,'' Cadbury said.

Cadbury shares closed 3.5p lower at 478.5p.