Nestle keeps W. Africa plants open, ready to act if Ebola spreads: CEO

By Reuters

Oct 22, 2014 11:13 PM EDT

Nestle has no plans to close any of its eight factories or curb output in cocoa and coffee-rich West and Central Africa because of Ebola, but is ready to adapt if it spreads, the Chief Executive of the world's largest food company said on Wednesday.

Nestle's factories in the region including both Ghana and Ivory Coast produce chocolate beverages, instant coffee, powdered milk, cereals and bottled water, but the company has yet to suffer any supply or transport disruptions due to Ebola in nearby Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

"That could happen, but it hasn't happened yet," CEO Paul Bulcke told Reuters. He was interviewed during a visit to the western state of Jalisco, Mexico to inaugurate a dairy plant touted as the first of its kind to cut fresh water consumption to zero, instead treating water from milk it processes.

He said Nestle had no plans to shutter plants in West Africa.

"We're not there yet. I hope we never get there. Whatever happens, we're going to have to adjust," he said.

West Africa is a top grower of cocoa and prices have increased on fears the deadly Ebola virus could limit supplies.

At least 4,877 people have died in the world's worst recorded outbreak of Ebola, and at least 9,936 cases of the disease had been recorded as of Oct. 19, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday, but the true toll may be three times as much.

Liberia has been worst hit, with 4,665 recorded cases and 2,705 deaths, followed by Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the outbreak originated.

Ebola has not reached Ivory Coast and Ghana where 60 percent of the world's cocoa beans are produced. It has been contained in Nigeria and Senegal, but is spreading toward Ivory Coast in Liberia and Guinea, including in Guinea's Kankan district on a major trade route with Mali. Kankan saw its first case in the past week.

"(Cocoa) prices are already going up," Bulcke said, adding that he hoped they would not rise any higher.

Last week, Nestle toned down expectations for full-year sales after slower third quarter growth showed the impact of softening demand in Asia and falling prices in Europe.

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