Fonterra considers selling down Aus arm

Chunk of Fonterra Australia may hit the market

Dairy
FONTERRA AUS SELLOFF: Fonterra Australia managing director René Dedoncker

FONTERRA AUS SELLOFF: Fonterra Australia managing director René Dedoncker

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The giant Kiwi co-op is officially reviewing the future of Fonterra Australia.

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Giant NZ dairy cooperative Fonterra has announced it is reviewing its ownership of Fonterra Australia.

In a statement today, Fonterra said one option was an initial public offering, with the intention that the co-op retained a significant stake.

The coop seemed to have two different takes on its strategy.

In a media release destined for Australian readers, Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell said the Australian business "was on strategy and remained important to the co-op".

"By having access to ongoing external capital, we believe the Australian business will be best placed to deliver on its strategy and capture its full potential, at the same time as unlocking capital for the Co-op," he said.

"The strength of the Australian business has been demonstrated through recent results and execution of its strategic plan. Under the leadership of René Dedoncker, the Fonterra Australia management team has a clear strategy to maintain the business's current momentum, supported by continued investment in product mix and growth," Mr Hurrell said.

READ MORE IN UPDATE: The future of Fonterra in Australia

Speaking to NZ shareholders, though, Mr Hurrell's emphasis was different.

"Fonterra Australia is on strategy for the co-op and remains an important export market for our New Zealand milk, especially for foodservice products and advanced ingredients," he said.

Mr Hurrell said freeing up capital by at least partially offloading its Australian and Chilean businesses would be "critical to enabling greater focus on our New Zealand milk".

"Our focus on New Zealand milk, sustainability, and innovation and science will see us shift every aspect of our business to create more value," he said.

"In doing so, we aim to continue to improve our financial performance and, as a result, strengthen our ability to repeatedly generate cash and create value for our shareholders and New Zealand."

The comments are remarkably similar to the 2016 comments of then Fonterra NZ chief executive Theo Spierings, who said Fonterra was going to "drive every cent of money which we can out of Australia back to New Zealand shareholders".

At the time, they created a heated backlash from Fonterra's Australian suppliers. Not surprisingly, Fonterra's overtures to farmers here to create an Australian cooperative failed.

Despite that, Fonterra Australia managing director René Dedoncker seemed to today signal another advance towards asking local farmers for an investment in his business.

"It would be a great outcome if Australian investors, including our staff and the farmers who supply us with their milk, could have the opportunity to participate in the ownership of our business with its iconic Australian brands such as Western Star, Perfect Italiano and Bega," Mr Dedoncker said.

"As we explore our options we will be mindful that our customer and farmer relationships are core to our business," he said.

"These key stakeholders can be confident there will be no change in how we engage with them through this period, while an outcome that results in improved access to external capital will enable Fonterra Australia to continue advancing the Australian dairy industry."

Fonterra Australia Suppliers' Council chairman Alan Davenport fell into line.

"Farmers are already proud to supply milk for a fantastic stable of local brands, and I am pleased that one of the options under consideration is an IPO of Fonterra Australia," he said.

"I look forward to working with René and the team to ensure any change to the ownership structure builds on the partnership between Fonterra Australia and its farmer suppliers."

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