Growing seeds of doubt

ALAN WOOD
Last updated 05:00 29/11/2013

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Dissatisfied shareholders in one of New Zealand's biggest vegetable co-operatives, MG Marketing, may have made some progress with their concerns about how the co-op is run.

This week MG Marketing held its annual meeting in Alexandra, where shareholders voiced their anxieties.

After that meeting they said the board did appear to have taken on board some of their worries. Directors had agreed to consider setting up an independent committee to look at some issues, one shareholder said.

But that committee idea was not set in stone, he added.

Shareholders have been upset the co-op has started to grow vegetables in direct competition with them. And they question the tenure of some MG Marketing directorships, saying these are far too long at 16 years plus.

MG Marketing is the trading name of Market Gardeners Ltd, one of New Zealand's biggest co-operative companies specialising in growing and distributing fresh produce. It has run for more than 90 years and competes against the likes of Turners & Growers.

Max Lilley, former chairman and president of the NZ Vegetable and Produce Growers' Federation and now retired, was the first to raise the issue of how the co-operative was being run with The Press. In particular he is worried MG Marketing is growing produce such as pumpkins and tomatoes in competition with co-operative shareholders.

NZ Hothouse Ltd managing director Brett Wharfe was one of those to attend the annual meeting and yesterday said progress might be being made. He had asked the board to consider the formation of an independent committee to look at MG Marketing's share structure and how would it operate from now.

The board had agreed to discuss the committee idea.

"The board showed some willingness to listen. I think the board have quickly come to the realisation that there is a lot of concern with the shareholders and co-operative members as to whether the board are moving the company in the right direction or not," Wharfe said.

There was some realisation that MG Marketing might be functioning too much as a company, and not enough as a co-operative. Another issue was MG's lending practices, Wharfe said.

He was concerned that chairman Brian Gargiulo had been a director of the co-operative for about 20 years and a lot of that time in the chair. Deputy chairman Francie Di Leva also had been a director an extended period.

Another shareholder, who did not want to be named, said he and many other shareholders had a "little bit of concern, not with the direction of the company, but with the way the board are behaving with the company and thinking the company is a little bit their own company and not the shareholders company".

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In the year to June 30, MG Marketing sales totalled $563.7 million. Gargiulo could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

- BusinessDay

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