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Friday 03 December 2021

Ceres Organics looks to next 40 years with new investment to drive growth

19th July 2021 By Monique Steele | | @foodtickernz

New Zealand organics pioneer Noel Josephson has set up his nearly 40-year-old company Ceres Organics with a new boss and new investment as it prepares for the next four decades, starting with a drive into Australia.

Noel Josephson, 67, has stepped down as chief executive as the company advances its plans to grow its Australian market.

Josephson last year hung up his hat as chief executive after 30-plus years in the role promoting Melbourne-based Alex Player, who joined the company in 2016, to replace him in the role.

Josephson is now chair of the group which distributes around 30 organic brands and wholesales a portfolio of around 200-300 products in 17 supermarket categories.

The company last year also restructured its shareholder base which saw New Zealand Regenerative Investment Group – already an investor in plant-based medicine maker and online retailer Artemis Natural Health and Herbal Remedies – take a circa 25% share in Ceres.

“We got our funds for the next couple of years at least with new shareholders,” Josephson said.

“It’s important that the company carries on and it moves into the next generation. [NZRIG] has been instrumental in getting us to look at long-term planning, like 30-year planning.

“We’ve always known that you have to consider the environment and you have to consider people – they’re essential. That’s always a consideration with organics. A new generation of leadership has to take on that purpose-led mission.”

The Mt Wellington-headquartered company, which has annual revenue of under $100m according to Josephson, was now aiming to grow its Australian market, which it entered in 2007 – its “prime focus” for export alongside markets Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

“We’ve built up our own supply chain across the world,” Josephson said. “We said, ‘we’ll never grow Australia unless we own the relationship with the customer’.”

Australia now makes up around 20% of the business, and is the fastest-growing part of the company with Player and his sales team working remotely across the ditch connecting with Australia-based distributors, suppliers and retailers.

Despite targeting growth across the ditch, New Zealand’s organic market remained vital for Ceres, which got its big break around 20 years ago, Josephson said.

“It wasn’t really until what’s now Countdown made a change in 2001 to create a whole section in their supermarkets for health and wellness and a fair chunk of it was organic. It was the first real big step-up, they put that in a lot of their supermarkets and we were their main supplier,” Josephson said.

This was the same year Ceres became the first BioGro certified organic distributor in New Zealand. Now, Ceres supplies all leading New Zealand supermarkets and a number of whole-food and health stores, with the value of the sector growing year-on-year, and a proposed Organic Products Bill working its way through parliament.

According to Organics Aotearoa New Zealand, the domestic organic market was valued at $723m in 2020, an increase of 20% since 2017, comprising exports of $421m and domestic sales of $302m.



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