Jordan's Fine Hygienic on track for a 'record year' as it pursues London listing

The company achieved 'very strong' double-digit growth in its bottom line amid a pandemic-fuelled boom for masks and sanitisers

Jordan’s Fine Hygienic Holding is pressing ahead with its London listing plans and is on track to deliver a record performance in 2020 as pandemic-fuelled demand for masks and sanitisers helped drive sales, its chief executive said.

"I don't think many companies can say this, but we will finish 2020 with an all-time record performance" in its 62-year history, James Lafferty told The National.

Fine has achieved “very strong” double-digit growth in its bottom line, while revenue has also maintained the two-year growth curve, he said, declining to give more details.

I don't think many companies can say this, but we will finish 2020 with an all-time record performance

The company, which is best known for its tissue paper products, diversified its product range early on in the pandemic to focus on wellness. It was also one of the first firms in the Middle East and North Africa to produce N95 face masks locally to plug a shortage when other countries banned exports due to rising demand.

Fine has already surpassed the $75 million in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) target this year.

“We will finish this year above our budget targets, both in top and bottom lines,” Mr Lafferty said.

The company’s business model and the fact that it has achieved a “tremendous year” in the middle of a pandemic, with all of its challenges and shutdowns will help garner investor attention when it goes public, he added.

Fine is currently in talks with financial advisers for the planned initial public offering, but the timing of the deal will depend on market conditions, according to the chief executive.

“We are working hard on it, we are meeting with investor groups, we are meeting with investment banks and we are putting our plans together."

“Obviously, timing is everything and … we are preparing to go when we think it is the right time.”

Like technology companies that facilitate digitisation, the health care industry has been one of the biggest winners from the pandemic. Fine, in many respects, is the Arab world's equivalent of Proctor & Gamble, which reported $19.32 billion in sales during its first fiscal quarter. The shift in market dynamics and Fine continuously innovating will give the company the required momentum in the run up to its listing.

Fine has a long-term goal to top $1 billion in sales per annum, and is “closing [in] on ” that goal, Mr Lafferty said.

Founded in 1958, Fine is majority-owned by Jordan’s Nuqul Group. In 2015, Standard Chartered Private Equity led a consortium of companies to invest in a minority stake worth $175m in Fine.

The pandemic has further accelerated the company's roll out of products including face masks and its line of long-duration sanitisers in markets across the Middle East and North Africa in addition to other markets.

“What Covid-19 did was it just put everything into warp speed acceleration,” Mr Lafferty said.

Last month Fine received approval from Dubai's government to launch a 24-hour hand sanitiser and a 21-day surface sanitiser. The sanitiser, is now available online, will be launched in stores soon.

The company was developing its line of facemasks as part of its diversification strategy last year. The pandemic accelerated the process and it rolled out the product in February.

It has so far sold between 3 to 4 million face masks but its sales have slowed down significantly, dropping about 40 per cent from its peak in the summer this year.

“People have bought their masks and there’s no shortage of them in the market,” Mr Lafferty said. “We are preparing for a world of very steady but small mask sales … the great mask run is over.”

"I don't think many companies can say this, but we will finish 2020 with an all-time record performance"

The pandemic, he said, has also opened up new business lines for the company. Fine launched a periodic disinfection programme of buildings for its corporate clients, which is fully booked in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

“That is a whole new business we never had. We never even thought about it,” he said.

“There are [many] new businesses that have emerged during the pandemic that we will keep within our portfolio on long-term basis.”

The pandemic, though, has halted the company’s expansion plans in other areas.

Fine already owns two paper mills each in Jordan and Egypt as well as one in Abu Dhabi. It had to shelve its plans for a sixth unit at a cost of $100m due to movement restrictions and logistical issues.

Looking ahead, Fine is still looking at acquiring businesses and has multiple acquisition targets in sight, pending on-the-ground due diligence, Mr Lafferty said.