Argentina exit part of Sealord restructure

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:05 12/01/2013

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Sealord Group is selling its Argentinian wing after finding it "a tough, hard business", and consolidating its mussel interests in an existing joint venture with another New Zealand seafood industry giant, Sanford.

It has also restructured its international management team in a move that chief executive Graham Stuart says will "sharpen the business's focus on the largest growth opportunities".

It has set up three divisions to better position it for a stronger concentration on Australia and its core deepwater fishing business.

Sealord bought into an Argentinian joint venture in mid-2000 and then chief executive Phil Lough said it was "the missing link in the jigsaw" of its southern hemisphere fish catching strategy, providing access to a largely untapped hoki fishery.

But Stewart said yesterday that rampant inflation and other factors made it very hard for foreign companies to do business in Argentina, "and we just want out of it, really".

Other big New Zealand seafood companies had also tried Argentina and pulled out.

"It's a difficult economy for us and it's not quite core to our strategy."

He said the decision to quit the country had been made three years ago and it had taken until now to get the business ready for sale. Now fully owned by Sealord, it was being offered on the world market and he hoped a deal would be concluded within a year.

Sealord operates two freezer trawlers from Argentina. It had around 200 workers there, including "a couple" of New Zealanders, Stuart said. The boats target hoki, hake, southern blue whiting and silver warehou.

"Our strategy is more Australasian-focused and more value-add focused, and this is more in the commodity end of the business."

In October last year Sealord and Sanford each took a 50 per cent share in a new company, North Island Mussels Ltd, after a third partner, Greenshell New Zealand, failed to pay its processing fees and the original company went into receivership.

North Island Mussels owns a hi-tech processing factory in Tauranga. Stewart said Sealord, which produced about 8 per cent of New Zealand's mussels from its Coromandel-Hauraki Gulf farms, was adding all its mussel interests into the joint venture.

While it was in no hurry to get out of the mussel industry, "if someone came along and offered us a big cheque, we'd take it".

Sealord, which once had the biggest mussel farming and processing operation in the South Island, shut its remaining Tahunanui shellfish factory last year, with 40 jobs going. In 2008, more than 300 Nelson workers lost their jobs when it stopped producing mussels on the half-shell.

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Under the new management structure, Sealord Consumer, headed by Jason Plato, combines the Australian arm of the business with the former New Zealand marketing business unit covering all New Zealand consumer food service business. It includes the group's aquaculture interests in Queensland and Tasmania as well as its branded consumer goods businesses in Australia and New Zealand. Plato will be based in Sydney. Nelson-based Dorje Strang remains general manager aquaculture and now reports to Plato.

Sealord Fishing takes in all deep water trawling except for the Argentina business and is headed by Doug Paulin. Ross Tocker is now general manager of fishing operations, and reports to Paulin. Both are based in Nelson, home to Sealord's fleet and onshore processing factories.

Sealord is a 50-50 partnership between the Maori people of New Zealand through Aotearoa Fisheries, and Nissui of Japan. It has 1100 staff in New Zealand and 400 overseas.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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