Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling will cut jobs in 2009 but is ready to take advantage of acquisition opportunities that may present themselves as a result of the downturn, the company's CFO said yesterday (19 February).

Speaking at CAGNY (the Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference), Rob Murray said that, during these difficult times, the company believed it would be able to strengthen its competitive position in the market place.

Murray said the company still had a strong balance sheet and pointed out that its gearing was at 36%, at the low end of its preferred range of 35-45%.

"We know this environment will present opportunities for us for acquisition possibilities. We are positioned well to capture them from a financial point of view."

However, he also warned there would be further job cuts as the company looked to reduce its cost base further.

He told analysts at CAGNY that the company had achieved EUR50m in cost savings since July 2008, in part by cutting 3,000 jobs, or 6% of its workforce.

He added that the company had set a target for 2009 to save an additional EUR120m.

"This is largely going to be achieved through lower headcount, restructuring some facilities and improving the supply chain," he said.

Murray added that the company would also look to rationalise its SKUs.

"We've been very innovative in the last few years and have a number of SKUs adding complexity to the supply chain and not delivering their fair share of profit. They represent 0.5% of our volumes."

He said that, by removing them, the company could reduce operating costs and free space on shelves and coolers for more profitable products.

Despite the weak summer weather in 2008 and the deepening economic headwinds, the company still delivered top line growth in 2008, he noted.

"2008 was a challenging year. The year started well with good volume growth and we prepared our business, increasing our capacity and infrastructure for another strong double digit year. However we ran into the proverbial perfect storm," he said.

"We have faced these crises before and these crises do end and these markets will grow again and they came out of the last one strong," Murray said.

Murray noted that the company was experiencing a period of big swings, particularly in commodities where there had been "significant headwinds in 2008" that had turned into "significant tailwinds in 2009".

"Unfortunately those savings in commodities will be largely offset by the rapid devaluation of currencies in our markets," he added.