Freshmax, New Zealand’s largest independent fruit supplier has hooked up with a Sydney-based firm to expand its operations in Australia.

In a joint venture with Wolseley Private Equity, Freshmax will be restructured under a new Australia-registered holding company, Freshmax Pty Ltd.

It will be 50 per cent New Zealand-owned and will be run by Freshmax’s existing management team and workforce, led by managing director David Smith.

Representatives of Wolseley Private Equity, which has strong financial links and access to institutional funds in Australia and is reported to have contributed funding of $50-100 million to the deal, will join current Freshmax directors on the board.

Freshmax Group currently employs more than 200 people and achieves sales of around $150m. Following its expansion, the company hopes to achieve a turnover of $350m in combined Australia and New Zealand sales over the next two to three years.

The move follows the recent Woolworths acquisition of Progressive Enterprises New Zealand, to which Freshmax is contracted for supply and distribution.

Managing director David Smith said: “Woolworths Australia’s purchase of Progressive Enterprises Ltd represents a fundamental change in the Australian produce distribution market. When this is set against the existing fragmentation of Australasian wholesale fruit and produce businesses, it gives rise to an opportunity for a company like Freshmax to participate in Australasian consolidation and to deliver integrated trans-Tasman customer service.

“Wolseley adds financial skills to our capabilities and muscle to our balance sheet which, taken together, will enable Freshmax to grow through acquisition in both New Zealand and Australia,” he added.