Proposed changes to Zespri’s constitution have been supported by over 75 per cent of voting shareholders, according to preliminary ballot results.
The poll was held during a special shareholder meeting in Mount Maunganui today (14 March), with the result paving the way for the implementation of a number of changes arising from recent industry consultation.
The changes voted for by shareholders at today’s meeting are said to address a problem of misalignment between growers who supply kiwifruit to Zespri and people who own shares in Zespri.
Over 18m Zespri shares are believed to be held by people who have left the kiwifruit industry, while a large number of New Zealand kiwifruit orchard owners do not own shares in the single-desk marketer.
The new constitution will put a share cap in place, with a maximum shareholding of four shares for each tray of production. It also introduces a dividend restriction on shareholders who do not grow kiwifruit.
“Without these measures, there is a risk that, over time, ownership of Zespri would progressively move away from the current growers supplying Zespri and undermine the stability of our industry structure,” explained Zespri chairman Peter McBride.
Another step to improve alignment is a targeted share issue and buyback programme. This will be supported by a shareholder resolution planned for the second half of this year.
The resolution will be based on an independent valuation, delivering a share issue to unshared and under-shared growers, and a buy-back offer to non-producers and over-shared stockholders.
The constitutional changes come after close to five years of industry consultation, which included a grower referendum in 2015, which was followed by amendments to the Kiwifruit Export Regulations last year.
“There are diverse shareholder positions in our industry and we have been committed to a fair process, respectful of all shareholders,” McBride said.
To ensure there is a smooth transition, the constitutional changes will come into effect over a number of years.
McBride said shareholders had voted to take advantage of a uniquely-important moment for the New Zealand kiwifruit industry.
“This support for change reflects the cohesiveness of our industry and a common interest among growers and former growers in seeing it prosper,” he explained.
“The measures require a huge amount of goodwill but ultimately they will support Zespri’s ability to deliver strong, sustainable value to kiwifruit growers and shareholders over the long term. It’s a fantastic legacy for the next generation of people in our industry.”
Final voting results will be confirmed tomorrow (15 March).