This article has been republished. It was first published in April 2021.
Harry Hart burst on to the business scene a couple of years ago with the acquisition of three food companies, and this week he’s added another group to his stable.
The son of New Zealand’s publicity-shy billionaire Graeme Hart has been more engaging with the media than his father in that he’s hired PR firms to fend off pesky reporters, rather than rely on the ever-patient staff at Rank Group to politely deflect interview requests from this reporter.
Will the younger Hart take a different approach to business?
The early signs are no.
Two of the first acquisitions in 2018 were underperformers that he would have picked up for a bargain.
Ingredients maker Hansells had been a struggler for many years, having its financial statements regularly tagged by auditors as its annual revenue halved to about $96 million in the March 2018 year from five years earlier. Hart’s Walter & Wild group then bought the company’s $40m of assets and $26.5m of liabilities for $15m.
Cereal maker Hubbard Foods also ended up a dud for external investor Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust. It bought a 35.6% stake in 2009 before selling it back to founder Dick Hubbard in 2017 having written down its investment by $5.1m and fully impairing a $2.3m loan to the food business.
The third – the Gregg’s sauce unit – was put on the market as a required divestment to secure Commerce Commission approval for HJ Heinz to buy the rest of Cerebos Gregg’s for $78.7m.
The move on Emerald Foods this week is just as opportunistic.
Receivers were appointed to the ice cream making company's shares by Emerald Jade, although the public notice stressed the administration didn’t extend to the actual operations, saying they were still under management’s control.
This means Hart probably got another bargain for a company that was estimated to be generating between $60m and $80m of annual revenue in 2018.
In just three short years, Hart has come to oversee a locally-owned food manufacturer generating north of $200m of annual sales from more than 500 products and employing more than 350 people on both sides of the Tasman.
That puts it near the top 10 private NZ family food and beverage firms, although still well shy of the $3.5 billion it is estimated the Talley’s Group generates in annual revenue.
It’s also a long way to go until it rivals the size of Goodman Fielder which has more than 7,000 staff across Australia, NZ and the Pacific even after various cuts to headcount when Hart’s Burns Philp took it over in 2003.
Graeme Hart returned Goodman Fielder to the public market in 2005 at a market value of almost A$2.7b selling shares at A$2 apiece in the initial public offering. However, Goodman Fielder never really fired on all cylinders and delisted at 65 NZ cents when it was taken over almost a decade later, having struggled for profitability in the face of soaring milk prices and intense competition in baking goods.
Still, by that stage, Graeme Hart had embarked on building his mammoth Reynolds Group packaging empire.
Harry Hart remains the frontman for Walter & Wild – he’s touted as the owner and founder in its press releases and as managing director in the semi-regular food and beverage reports by analysis company Coriolis – but the elder Hart’s fingerprints are all over the business.
That’s not just through a similar acquisition style. Graeme Hart owns 67% of the ultimate holding company and is also a director. Plus, the food group’s chief operating officer – Isi Tupou – is a Rank Group veteran, joining Hart’s investment vehicle in 2007.
The latest deal was also funded by Rank Treasury, which registered security over EFL Acquisition Ltd – an entity set up to facilitate the deal – on Wednesday.
None of which should come as a surprise.
The packaging empire he built up through the late 2000s and 2010s has been broken up, with Pactiv Evergreen and Reynolds Consumer Products listed separately on the Nasdaq, and Graham Packaging wholly-owned by Rank.
The Hart family still owns 78% of the two listed companies, but there were some big changes in the way the stake was characterised in the two offer documents, shifting from just Graeme Hart to “Mr Graeme Richard Hart or his estate, heirs, executor, administrator or other personal representative, or any of his immediate family members or any trust, fund or other entity which is controlled by his estate, heirs, any of his immediate family members or any of their respective affiliates”.
It seems like it’s only a matter of time before the Harts join NZ’s other dynastic clans like the Todds, Fletchers and Carters.