Sweet deal as Wakatu picks up Annie's

The food and beverage arm of Nelson's Wakatu Incorporation has bought Marlborough company Annie's, and plans a significant investment in expanding its repertoire of fruit leather products.

The purchase by Kono New Zealand was announced late yesterday after the fruit leather manufacturer went into voluntary receivership last September.

it did not sell before Christmas as hoped, receiver John Fisk of Wellington-based PricewaterhouseCoopers said.

Annie's, in Grovetown near Blenheim, went into voluntary receivership with the loss of 30 jobs. Owners Annie and Graeme Giles made the decision after an American customer refused an order of 4 million bars because of a labelling problem.

Kono chief executive Don Everitt said Annie's was representative of the type of company that suited Wakatu Inc, particularly as it was a top of the South Island company and used horticultural produce which Wakatu was also heavily involved in.

He declined to say what Kono had paid for it, other than to say it was in the "millions of dollars" from retained earnings after a good year of trading.

"We've had a good year and wanted to reinvest some of that," Everitt said.

He said the range of natural fruit bars made by Annie's Marlborough, including Annie's Allfruit Chews, fruit waves and orchard delights fitted well in the range of food and beverage brands owned by Kono NZ. There were some great opportunities for further exports of Annie's products around the world where natural and healthy products are highly valued, Everitt said.

"Kono is very pleased that ownership of Annie's will remain in the Te Tau Ihu community.

"We've had our eye on it for some time, and even if it had not gone into receivership it's the type of company we would have looked at," Everitt said.

Fisk said it was a good result for the company's employees and the wider Marlborough community. Annie's employs 20 people and there were plans to rebuild that to its previous strength, Everitt said. Export sales to Australia, the United States, Asia and Europe took 30 per cent of turnover, and there were plans to expand that.

Everitt said it was a good fit also because of Wakatu's heavy involvement in horticultural production in Motueka in particular, and it was possible that fruit grown there could be used in the Annie's products.

"The initial task for us will be to rebuild the business to its state prior to the receivership. That could mean going back to the original customer base, but we know there are customers around the world who like natural products, particularly in Asia.

"We'll be looking at existing markets and broadening out into other areas such as providing products for participants in high performance sports, and also in developing different flavours and different variants of the products. We've a whole bunch of interesting ideas," Everitt said.

He said Kono had not considered shifting plant and operations from Blenheim at this stage, but that would depend on growth and local conditions.

"There's no intention right now to shift, but we'd have a look when the growth starts. Moving would depend on how well local authorities supported the business in each district," Everitt said.

Kono NZ is the food and beverage operating business of Wakatu Inc, which was formed in 1977 with an $11 million asset base of mainly land, and has grown into a $250m property, food and beverage business and export company.

It has more than 3000 owners who descend from the original Maori land owners of the Nelson, Tasman, Golden Bay region.

Kono was formed in 2011 and employs more than 350 staff. It farms more than 500 hectares of land and sea and exports to more than 25 countries.

Its focus is on high-quality wine, fruit and seafood products including local wine brands Tohu and Aronui wines.