Agribusiness: Zespri’s moves are bearing fruit (NZ Herald)

Kiwifruit marketer is building a stronger foundation in China, writes Tim McCready.

Global marketer Zespri is focused on returning sustainable wealth to kiwifruit growers — not only in regional areas of New Zealand but also in rural China.

It is planning to nearly double its global sales revenue to $4.5 billion by 2025, and this strong growth will directly benefit the kiwifruit growing areas.

David Courtney, Zespri’s Chief Grower and Alliances Officer, says “the objective of our business is to return sustainable wealth to kiwifruit growers and the communities they live in — firstly in New Zealand, but ultimately communities around the world as well”.

Last year Zespri’s global sales increased 6 per cent to $2.39b. Courtney says the sales directly brought in about $620 million for Te Puke, $160m for Katikati, $135m for Ōpōtiki and almost $50m for Northland — a total of $965m to the key kiwifruit growing areas in New Zealand.

Courtney says as the number grows to $4.5b, and kiwifruit expands outside the Bay of Plenty, “we hope that those (new) regions will really start to generate strong value back into their communities.

“Should our growing trials in China be successful, we also look forward to being able to return money back into rural communities in China where we partner with growers to grow kiwifruit — as is the case in Italy, France, Korea and Japan today.”

The mainland China region has just headed Japan as Zespri’s No 1 market, with sales having grown 10 times from $50m in 2007 — just under 5 per cent of global sales — to $505m, representing more than 20 per cent of global sales. Zespri believes sales revenue in the mainland China region will grow to $1b by 2025 — accounting for 25 per cent of global sales. With this in mind, Zespri is looking to source its own kiwifruit grown in China and is into year three of a proof-of-concept trial.

Zespri signed a memorandum of understanding with The People’s Government of Shaanxi Province in 2015, outlining the shared intention to develop the kiwifruit industry in the province, and also to establish trial production.

Zespri reached a high-level agreement with the Shaanxi provincial government to establish a centre of excellence to support research, expert exchanges and grower information.

Courtney says to date Zespri has found no insurmountable barriers to producing quality fruit in China, and work is underway to test Chinese-grown kiwifruit with local consumers.

“Of course, the greatest test for us is that we have to protect the (Zespri) brand. New Zealand kiwifruit growers — rightly so — are deeply passionate and protective of their brand, and we cannot put the brand on any fruit that would put at risk their investment over time.

“To support our efforts, it’s that level of investment behind the border in terms of building our brand, taking control of our supply chain, and potentially sourcing fruit under the Zespri brand that has allowed us to place really strong confidence in our future in China — and feed that back into our 10-year growth ambitions,” says Courtney.

Zespri’s distribution to China has changed dramatically since it first sent shipments of kiwifruit in 2000. There were no staff based in China and Zespri sold its kiwifruit to a distributor and left its business with them. “We now know that to succeed (in China), we have to take control of our business and invest heavily in people to be able to drive the business forward,” says Courtney.

Today Zespri has 57 people running targeted sales and marketing programmes in China.

“We invest about $30 million each year into our brand, and that money is invested into consumers and trade, and working with distributors and retailers around the country to make sure they understand the Zespri brand, the values we stand for, and the quality proposition we’re trying to get across to our consumers.

“Because of that marketing, Zespri is now the number one or number two fruit brand in all the tier one and tier two cities in China. That beats out big brands like Dole and Sunkist — which is quite remarkable when you think kiwifruit is only a tiny amount of the fruit bowl. We’re really holding our own against those big categories such as bananas and citrus,” says Courtney.

Zespri is now holding some kiwifruit inventory in China and selling directly to customers through e-commerce channels.

One of them is Fruit Day, which aims to sell 1.5 to 2 million trays of kiwifruit this year online and through its 10 retail stores.

Courtney says holding inventory in-market has given Zespri “a much better view of the supply chain end-to-end and making sure the product that gets to consumers is in the best quality possible.”

Agribusiness: Taking the initiative (NZ Herald)

Tim McCready spoke with visiting Southeast Asian agribusiness leaders to understand what our regions can learn from each other.

Seven Southeast Asian agribusiness entrepreneurs visited New Zealand for a week as part of the Asean Young Business Leaders Initiative. The leaders from across the sector — including producers of cricket protein, strawberries, and mushrooms — visited agribusinesses, met with New Zealand business leaders, and attended Fieldays.

The initiative is run by the Asia New Zealand Foundation on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with the aim of building business connections and facilitating trade links between the regions.

Herald: What could Southeast Asian agribusiness learn from New Zealand’s agricultural sector?

Sarasit: Farmers here are highly educated and use technology to achieve high productivity and food safety. At the same time, the environment and sustainability are taken into account — even if this increases the cost of production. We need to introduce more sustainable practices in Asean, though we need to be cautious of the cost of those practices. There is an opportunity for New Zealand to develop technologies that are affordable for Asean countries.

Nguyen: The most fascinating thing I will take home from my visit is that although New Zealand agriculture is doing well, the industry continues to look for better efficiency, new value-added products and sustainable measures — you’re always thinking of the next step despite being ahead of the world in many areas. That said, I believe there are further opportunities available to develop products that will ensure New Zealand agricultural products become even higher value.

Ou: The attitude Kiwis have towards agriculture is positive and a good example for Asean countries to learn from — farming is a very respected industry here, which is often not the case in Southeast Asia. We can also learn a lot from Kiwi agribusinesses, particularly how they are not afraid to develop and adopt new technologies. Private businesses and government agencies are working hard to advance the industry as well as protect it.

Phumirat: Asean agribusinesses should be more creative and innovative in their farming practices and encourage farmers to be entrepreneurial. It’s great that in New Zealand entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds are learning about the farming industry so that they can develop technologies to help — innovation doesn’t always have to originate from the farm.

Herald: What do you think New Zealand could learn from the Asean region?

Sarasit: New Zealand could learn from the diversity of products we have. Asia has so many varieties of finished products that have different flavours, functional ingredients, and health claims. People living in the crowded cities of Asia don’t have a lot of time and are always looking for convenience — such as ready-to-eat and drink products — but they also want good nutrition and a great taste. New Zealand should look to Asean for inspiration to develop more products for local consumers, as well as those offshore.

Ou: With a combined population approaching 650 million, no one can deny that Asean is a goldmine in terms of consumer numbers, but New Zealand seems to be behind when it comes to understanding the region. There is a great opportunity for New Zealand to tap into the Asean market by becoming more involved in the region, establishing collaborations with companies, and strengthening relationships between our respective governments.

Phumirat: New Zealand is very good at producing large quantities of product for exporting, but there is also an opportunity to create niche products for these markets too. There are consumers within the Asean region that are looking for new and exciting products that New Zealand could become competitive in.

Herald: What is the biggest challenge facing agriculture in Southeast Asia?

Nguyen: Vietnam’s population is about 95 million. We are facing a nutrition shortage and food crisis due to inefficient production and a lack of farmers. These two problems are challenging to solve as it requires involvement from both the government and the private sector. We need to make agriculture sexy — including through new technologies and precision agriculture — so that young people are encouraged to farm again.

Ou: The ethics used in farming are alarming. There are too many reported cases where harmful pesticides and chemicals are misused to maximise profit.

Phumirat: The biggest challenge in Southeast Asia is how to introduce more innovation into food production and raise awareness so consumers know what they are eating. We need to find ways to produce safe food that avoids the use of toxic chemicals.

Sarasit: The biggest challenge in Thailand is education. Most of our farmers have a poor understanding of the value chain for their products and have been influenced by politicians. They use single crop farming and a lot of chemicals and pesticides to increase productivity, which has an adverse impact on subsequent crops. Providing farmers with role models and encouraging them to learn will help us mitigate problems. New Zealand is a great role model to learn from.

Herald: How important is sustainability in Southeast Asia?
Sarasit: I have to admit that the sustainability has not been a big deal for many of the developing countries in the Asean region as our priority is on the shortage of food. We do some things for sustainability but these are generally because of regulation and not due to an awareness or demand from consumers.

Nguyen: We have a growing population, and there is a concern that the way we practice agriculture will affect not only our generation but subsequent generations too. We need to take action now, but there are limitations because we don’t have the same level of awareness as you do here and we have a shortage of technology that can provide solutions to the industry. Food safety is of greater concern than sustainability.

Ou: From a Malaysian perspective, sustainability is crucial. Malaysia has one of the oldest rainforests in the world as well as one of the most biodiverse, so maintaining a balance between the environment and using land and forests for agriculture is absolutely vital. Additionally, sustainable practice is important in order to ensure a continuous supply of food that is safe to eat. New Zealand has done a good job by implementing policies and having strict law enforcement that Malaysia can learn from.

Phumirat: In Thailand, most governments and organisations are now aware of the need for sustainability and have put in place policies to address it. There are increasing numbers of farms and businesses that care about climate change, and some consumers are now showing it is important to them by supporting fair-trade farming or local farmers that operate using good agricultural practice principles. Awareness will continue to increase, but we need increased knowledge and technologies that will allow us to produce food in a sustainable way.

 

Nguyen Hong Ngoc Bich, CricketOne, Vietnam:

Nguyen is co-founder of CricketOne, a company producing sustainable and affordable protein from crickets. CricketOne breeds crickets inside 40-foot containers, allowing them to farm all year. They feed the crickets with cassava leftovers, saving on feed costs and waste while shortening production time.

Kamolrat Sarasit, CP Meiji, Thailand:

Sarasit is the dairy science and technology general manager at CP Meiji, a joint venture between Thailand’s largest private company — CP, and Japan’s market leader in pasteurised milk products — Meiji. It is a leading manufacturer of dairy products in Southeast Asia producing a range of yoghurt and milk products.

Walaiporn Phumirat, Backyard Strawberry, Thailand:

Phumirat is founder and CEO of Backyard Strawberry, an organic strawberry producer in Northern Thailand. Using social media to tap in to dreams of rural life by city-dwellers — and educate them on the benefits of organic produce, Backyard Strawberry airfreights strawberries to Bangkok, where customers collect them hours after being picked.

Wei Wen Ou, Siong Hoong Agro, Malaysia:

Ou is the founder and manager of Siong Hoong Agro, a producer of organic mushrooms and organic mushroom-based products. A major focus of Siong Hoong Agro is secondary agriculture waste management and turning spent mushroom substrates into high value organic vermicompost fertiliser.

Capital Markets: On the radar for investment (NZ Herald)

The annual New Zealand Private Equity and Venture Capital Monitor was released last week, headlining a continued high level of overall activity of $989.6 million in the year to 31 December 2017.

This was down from a high in 2016 of $1.55 billion, but significantly higher than the $815.0m average since the survey began in 2003.

Mid-market investment activity was twice the 10-year average at $333.7m, and marked the first time mid-market investment has exceeded $300m, driven by an increase in both volume and average value of deals. This activity included investments by New Zealand-domiciled funds such as Direct Capital, Waterman Capital, Pioneer Capital, Pencarrow Private Equity, Maui Capital and Oriens Capital.

The total value of disclosed venture capital and early-stage start-up deals in New Zealand for 2017 was a record $217.3m, spread across 48 deals, with higher levels of foreign capital. This compared to $92.3m spread over 50 deals in 2016.

The relatively small size of the market in New Zealand means that the figures captured in the survey can vary significantly from year to year due to large one-off investments. The significant jump in 2017 is largely down to Rocket Lab’s capital raise — the standout transaction of the year.

Colin McKinnon, executive director of the New Zealand Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (NZVCA), says these larger deals involving reputable global venture funds help to highlight the New Zealand innovation scene. Although the initial investment may often involve a serendipitous connection, Australasia is increasingly seen as a prospect for globally relevant innovation.

“The global venture community watch each other closely and New Zealand is on the radar,” he says.

“It doesn’t get much more exciting than launching rockets into space or building technology that is wanted by Apple.”

Though the report shows New Zealand has vibrant mid-market and angel investment markets, our domestic early-stage venture space continues to be challenged by a lack of sophisticated investors.

McKinnon says this is a tough space in every country, but even more so in a small country with a very small institutional investor base.

“The presence of international venture firms investing in New Zealand innovation is positive, but we still need more New Zealand-based venture funds to bridge the gap between angel funding and international venture investment,” he says.

“If we are to continue to see more international investment, we will need to see more domestic VC — maybe micro VC — in New Zealand. “This is happening. I would not be surprised to see a range of new funds appear in New Zealand in the next 12-18 months.”

Standout sectors
Rocket Lab ensured technology remained the dominant sector for VC in 2017, while investment into software and IT reduced. Other sectors obtaining venture capital funding during the year included the food/beverage and health/biosciences sectors.

This statistic was supported by survey respondents, asked to identify which sectors they were most optimistic and most pessimistic about. Both the food and beverage and health and biosciences sectors generated the most optimism.

McKinnon puts this down to innovation in these sectors solving big issues that impact on human survival.

“New Zealanders believe that we have a globally competitive advantage in these sectors. We want these ideas to be successful and we expect that success will pay dividends,” he says.

“Investors — like Brandon Capital, BioPacific Partners and Auckland University’s UniServices — are attracting large international investors into the New Zealand bioscience and life science space. These investors bring sophistication and global connections that will help accelerate the ambitions of our founders and entrepreneurs.”

Fund managers had a more pessimistic view of the energy and media/communications sectors, and a split view regarding manufacturing. The Monitor notes that this potentially demonstrates that niche manufacturing opportunities still exist in New Zealand.

Outlook
The Monitor showed a subdued short-term outlook compared to last year, but one that is still largely optimistic. This reflects the New Zealand economy’s relative resilience compared to globally markets.

McKinnon notes that this small dip likely had more to do with the timing of the survey, which was conducted in February at a time where there were several issues contributing to uncertainty, including the recent change of Government and increased international tensions.

The outlook for the next 18 months remains consistent with that of recent years, with geopolitical uncertainty an ongoing factor.

Capital Markets: Commission fans headwinds (NZ Herald)

“The findings of the Australian Royal Commission have been far more material than anticipated,’ say UBS in a research report out this month.

Christopher Simcock, Country Head, UBS New Zealand, says the Australian banks are looking to divest or get back to their core business.

“The regulators have made it very clear they’re not prepared to tolerate any bad behaviour,” says Simcock. “And we’ve seen through many, many cycles, that these huge organisations, these huge conglomerates, are very difficult to control.

You might have the best systems in the world but if you’ve got 150,000 employees doing 57 different things in 74 different countries, it’s tough being a board member presiding over that.

“Whereas if you’ve got that number of staff in that many countries doing three things you’ll probably sleep better in the evenings.”

Executive Director of Investment Banking Andrew Fredericks points to UBS analysis suggesting one risk is the Royal Commission being a catalyst for a credit crash in Australia.

“When you look at some of the work done in that sector on interest only loans, those changes got made a year ago, we think it’s 2019, 2020 when that bow-wave really hits the consumption side, when people have to move to principal as well as interest only,” he says.

The concern in Australia is that the response by banks to apply more stringent standards in respect of customers’ income, expenses, assets and liabilities could lead to a sharp reduction in credit availability. This could have implications on house prices, consumption and growth.

Despite claims that New Zealand banks operate under a different regulatory and governance framework, there are concerns these same implications could spill over to New Zealand’s Australian-owned banks.

This concern prompted the FMA and RBNZ to meet with the chief executives of New Zealand’s registered banks. Earlier this month they issued an open letter to banks requiring written responses by May 18 that detail what actions have been taken to mitigate the risk of misconduct.

The letter says: “We expect you to show us what you have done in order to be comfortable that there are no material conduct issues within your business. We anticipate that you will have undertaken an exercise of that nature after our Conduct Guide and may be extending or enhancing that work in response to issues raised at the Royal Commission or more broadly as a result of that inquiry.”

“I don’t know how the banks are going to respond to that letter from the FMA and RBNZ, but they were given three weeks to do it, and I would have thought they are going to be very cautious on credit availability,” says Fredericks.

David Lane, UBS’s Head of NZ Equities says executives and boards of local banks have been quite careful.

“They started putting in place — probably prior to the macroprudential requirements — cleaning up their balance sheets. We haven’t seen the banks take any major hits on construction or apartment buildings — it’s been the promoters that have worn it. Having the pre-sale requirements and the bonds, etc, the banks have been quite careful.”

The research report from UBS says: “It is impossible to be definitive about the possible flow-on effects from the Australian Royal Commission to New Zealand, other than to say, from an economic perspective, they can only be negative risks. Moreover, the greater the fallout in Australia, the greater the downside risks (direct and indirect) will be for New Zealand.”

New Zealand shares some of the same concerning features as Australia on household debt, including the escalation in household debt since the GFC, the extent of debt-to-income ratios above 6, and the associated rise in house prices.

If the same tightening of lending standards transfers across to New Zealand, it would likely have an influence on the availability of housing credit in New Zealand.

The earlier UBS report out of Australia said that the country had a world record house price boom of 6556 per cent over the past 55 years, which went longer and higher than many investors thought possible.

UBS analysts say Australian lending standards in recent years have been so lax that three-quarters of loans have simply assumed household living expenses around the household expenditure “Basic” benchmark of A$32,000 pa (“remarkably, below the Australian Old Age Pension”).

To comply with “Responsible Lending Laws” banks will lift due diligence amid the “macroprudential phase 3” focused on regulation and lending standards.

UBS analysts say the impact may be that mortgage borrowing limits in Australia may drop by 30 per cent — 40 per cent.

In New Zealand there is a risk a spillover from the Australian inquiry could compound the headwinds already mounting for the housing market. Other potential dampening effects on housing under way by the Labour-led Government include policies on immigration, the extended bright line test, a ban on foreign buyers, KiwiBuild’s aim to deliver 100,000 houses over 10 years, and indications that today’s Budget will signal an end to negative gearing.

China Business: Payment giants battling the banks (NZ Herald)

Tencent is probably most well-known around the world for WeChat — which has transitioned from being an instant messaging system to more of an ecosystem and way of life in China. WeChat is used for everything from chat and games to paying bills, ordering a taxi, booking doctor’s appointments, and filing police reports.

Government policy dictates WeChat users register with their real names, and a pilot programme by WeChat has seen virtual ID cards launched through the platform, which serve the same purpose as traditional state-issued ID cards.

The platform has more than one billion monthly active users; 400 million use its payment system Tenpay (which includes WeChat Pay). Alibaba’s Alipay, run by Ant Financial, has 520 million users.

The transaction figures are astounding. Between those two major players, they control nine out of every 10 renminbi of the US$5.5 trillion (NZ$7.6t) spent by Chinese consumers on mobile payment platforms — and both have lofty ambitions to move beyond China.

China’s payment companies have begun expanding into global markets. Alipay and TenPay chose to first introduce their payment facilities in popular destinations for China’s increasingly affluent and digital-savvy travellers — South Korea, Japan, and Thailand.

The World Tourism Organisation estimates Chinese tourists spent US$261b abroad in 2016. Retailers and service providers taking up the payment systems are hoping to entice Chinese shoppers to spend their renminbi with them.

Finland is an increasingly popular destination for Chinese tourists, and became the first country to offer Chinese tourists an entirely cashless experience when they visit.

Partnering with Finnish payment platform ePassi and tourism group Visit Finland, Alipay introduced the “Smart Travel” initiative to connect local businesses with Chinese travellers at every point during their visit. Shopping, services, activities and experiences can be paid for using Alipay — even receiving duty-free refunds at the airport.

Last year Christchurch Airport signed a memorandum of understanding with Alibaba, agreeing to promote Alipay in the South Island, and in the past month Smartpay announced a partnership with Alipay that will see Alipay capabilities rolled out to Eftpos and credit card terminals for up to 25,000 merchants.

Alipay Australia New Zealand’s managing director George Lawson says Alibaba now partners with approximately 2000 merchants here and expects this to grow dramatically.

“The recent Smartpay announcement will drive a lot of this growth as it gives Alipay access to tens of thousands of merchants with one software update. This is very exciting as it makes it much easier to accept Alipay with existing terminals.”

Increased use of Alipay in New Zealand means Chinese visitors can more easily find, rate, and pay for goods and services using their mobile phone app, providing a platform for Kiwi businesses to promote themselves and form a relationship with tourists before, during, and after they visit.

More than 400,000 Chinese visit New Zealand each year, and spend around $1.7b per year. MBIE estimates this figure will grow to $4.3b by 2023, and as independent travel grows in popularity the scale of the opportunity for business is clear.

Christchurch Airport’s Chief Aeronautical and Commercial Offer Justin Watson believes making the payment process easy and familiar will benefit businesses that take up the technology.

“The Chinese use Alipay more than credit cards,” he says. “They trust it and know how it works; our Chinese guests are more likely to spend with a business that offers Alipay than one that doesn’t.”

Lawson agrees: “The Alipay brand is a beacon for Chinese tourists as they are familiar with it, receive the best exchange rates and it reduces anxiety associated with dealing with another currency. It also breaks down language barriers.”

Though these payment services are initially targeting Chinese tourists, they are hoping to rub off on China’s growing diaspora — and ultimately more widely — encouraging locals to make use of mobile payments.

To support this ambitious growth strategy, Alibaba and Tencent are quickly expanding their presence outside China through partnerships and investments in global brands and foreign payment networks.

Tencent has acquired a stake in over 15 foreign companies at a cost of US$4.3b, including 10 per cent in Snap (the parent company of social media craze Snapchat) and 5 per cent in Telsa.

Tencent’s music unit recently exchanged equity stakes of just under 10 percent with Spotify.

Alibaba has also been investing globally over the past few years, including Southeast Asian e-commerce company Lazada, India’s largest online food and grocery store BigBasket, and Indian payment app Paytm.

Analysts say these investments are made for a variety of reasons: to help Alibaba and Tencent capture data and gain intel from market leaders, to export what they have learned from their operations in China to other countries, and in some cases to encourage customers in global markets to use their online payment system, cloud services, and other infrastructure.

Cracking the global payment system will lay the foundation to provide other services, including insurance, loans, and investment offerings.

Despite this growth in acquisitions, the US is starting to hit back at China’s expansion.

Ant Financial made a US$1.2b move to acquire MoneyGram — an American money transfer company with around 350,000 remittance locations in over 200 countries.
This takeover was under a year-long regulatory review as questions were raised over customer data and privacy.

In January, the US Committee on Foreign Investment — a multi-agency government panel — scuppered the deal over national security concerns.

This has been the most high-profile Chinese deal to be axed by the Trump administration to date — occurring despite Alibaba’s founder and executive chairman Jack Ma wooing then-US President-elect Donald Trump prior to his inauguration with a promise to bring a million jobs to the US.

Piyush Gupta, chief executive of Singapore’s DBS bank, also recognises Alibaba and Tencent as among the bank’s biggest competitors and considers their rapid rise in China a salient reminder of the disruption that can occur if banks don’t react swiftly to innovation.

Gupta told McKinsey that it is not enough to apply digital “lipstick”.

“In 2013, the DBS board therefore took the view that the future for us and for our industry would have to be digital. We felt that if we didn’t lead the charge, frankly, we might die,” he says.

DBS recently launched its mobile-only bank to take on China’s e-banking giants. The bank is using the service as a strategic tool to strengthen its presence in emerging Asean markets — where the World Bank estimates 264 million people do not have access to banking facilities, and just 30 per cent of adults have debit cards.

The opportunity is significant, and the race to cash in is well and truly under way.

China Business: Blurring online with offline (NZ Herald)

Tim McCready visited Alibaba’s supermarket chain Hema, to understand what the future of retail has in store.

Alibaba’s ambition is to blur the boundary between shopping online and offline — so much so that last year’s Double 11 shopping festival was themed around it.

Nothing showcases this “new retail” convergence of bricks and mortar retailers with online shopping better than Alibaba’s new Hema supermarkets. They offer a fascinating insight into where the company is heading, and, for those of us living outside China, a peek into what the future of retail shopping might look like.

Fresh focus

The first thing you notice when stepping into a Hema supermarket is how remarkably tidy it is. The store is reminiscent of walking into a high-end department store instead of a supermarket.

Alongside with cleanliness, Hema is rigorous about the freshness of its products. In order to keep stock moving quickly off the shelf, items are packaged in very small qualities — enough for a single meal or for a family (bearing in mind Chinese families tend to be small).

My visit to the Hema supermarket was on a Saturday, and all bags of salad were branded ‘SATURDAY’ — indicating they had arrived in-store that day. Fish, crabs and shellfish are kept alive in large tanks. Cartons of eggs are labelled to show they were laid less than 48 hours ago. Butchers prepare cuts of meat for display, fill packs with ready-to-cook family-sized portions, and perform cooking demonstrations.

Hema’s app can be used by customers, allowing them to scan QR codes that accompany every product with their phone and receive details about the product, including its provenance, how to prepare it, and recipe ideas.

Prices are reasonable by New Zealand standards. A small pack of bok choy is 12.80RMB (NZ$2.81), a tray of Tim Tam’s 19RMB ($4.16), and a pack of six Zespri golden kiwifruit sets you back 29.91RMB ($6.55).

The Hema stores include a dining area that encourages customers to “eat as you shop”.

Along with regular food-court cuisine, an in-store chef cooks up seafood that customers have hand-selected.

Dispatch

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Hema supermarket are the chains whirring high up in the ceiling, carrying green canvas bags across the supermarket like something out of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

This is all part of the secret behind Hema’s ability to get products out the door quickly.

Hema’s mobile app allows customers to browse the aisles of the supermarket from home and add items to a virtual shopping basket. If you live with a 3km radius of the store, they aim to have products delivered within 30 minutes of ordering — if you realise you’re missing an ingredient for a recipe, it can be delivered before you finish cooking.

There are 25 Hema stores spread across seven Chinese cities: 14 in Shanghai, five in Beijing, two in Ningpo, and one each in Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Suzhou and Guiyang.

Hema’s rapid growth continues, with Alibaba expecting to open 30 new stores in Beijing by the end of the year, and expand into Fuzhou, Chengdu and Guangzhou — opening up rapid delivery of fresh produce to millions more customers.

Alibaba’s use of smart logistics technology ensures the inventory inside your local store matches exactly with what is shown online — meaning all products are immediately available and ensure Hema’s supply-chain management system runs efficiently.

The supermarket doubles as a warehouse, and dozens of packers (Alibaba calls them “order-fulfilment specialists”) rush around each department armed with reusable shopping bags and scanners. When an order for home delivery is placed, they receive a list of those items that fall within their area of responsibility, scan the items, fill the basket, and place it on a hook attached to the conveyer belt system.

Items from various departments are collated in an area at the back of the supermarket and packaged — ready to go on the back of a motorbike and to the customer’s door — or perhaps to their car in the nearby carpark, timed to coincide with when the customer’s movie wraps up.

Alibaba says the first two years of Hema’s operations have yielded promising results.

Online purchases account for more than 50 per cent of total orders. For mature stores this number can be as high as 70 per cent.

By linking to a customer’s Alibaba account, the Hema supermarket allows Alibaba to learn more about its shoppers. Collecting data on every move a customer makes means Alibaba can leverage shopping habits and product inquiries to hyper-optimise its offering.
Payment

The supermarkets run almost exclusively on cashless payment. Alibaba’s Alipay technology uses facial recognition at self-service checkouts to identify the customer and charge their account.

Payment is made in seconds, and means the customer walks out with their goods without ever reaching for their wallet or a phone — let alone speaking to a real person.

I asked a shop assistant what happens if an elderly customer doesn’t have a mobile phone or an Alipay account, or — as in my case — if a foreign tourist wanted to buy a bottle of water to rehydrate.

She was surprised by my question — mobile phones and AliPay have become so ubiquitous in China. But after checking with store management she was able to confirm there was a counter in the corner of the store that could accept cash.

The Future

In China, innovation and competition follows fast. Already this year, JD.com — one of the other major ecommerce players in China — has followed Alibaba’s lead and opened its first bricks and mortar supermarket in Beijing.

Like Hema, JD’s 7Fresh supermarket offers a mobile app, digital payments, and 30-minute delivery. It also offers smart shopping carts, which follow a shopper around while avoiding obstacles (and other customers). JD says it plans to open 1000 supermarkets in China over the next three to five years.

American ecommerce giant Amazon has recently opened Amazon Go — a supermarket with no checkouts — in Seattle earlier this year.

Instead, cameras and sensors identify customers and keep track of the items they select.

Amazon calls this “grab-and-go” shopping, where customers can walk out of the store without any human interaction. They are emailed an electronic receipt as they leave.

If this convergence of innovation tells us anything, it’s that those pesky “unexpected item in the bagging area” self-service machines — and the queues we all dread — could soon be a thing of the past.

Fonterra partners for milk supply

Fonterra announced earlier this year that it has partnered with Alibaba’s Hema, to supply a new Daily Fresh milk range to the supermarkets. The fresh milk comes in 750ml bottles, sourced directly from Fonterra’s farm hub in China’s Hebei province.

The New Zealand dairy giant says initial volumes of its fresh milk are around three metric tonnes a day, with plans to scale up over time and expand with Alibaba as it progresses its rapid expansion of stores across China.

In addition to fresh milk, Fonterra also offers Anchor UHT milk products and its range of butter, cream, and cheese products in Hema. The in-store bakery uses Fonterra’s Anchor Food Professionals products in its items.

Hema Fresh’s CEO and Founder Hou Yi says he is excited by the strategic co-operation between the two companies.

“This co-operation between two powerful companies is set to redefine the concept of fresh milk in the new retail era. As a global leader in the dairy industry, Fonterra is well-known for quality milk pools, world-class breeding techniques and advanced experience in food safety and quality, which matches well with what we advocate.”

President of Fonterra Greater China Christina Zhu says the new product highlights how Fonterra’s business in China is leveraging the strength of its local milk pool, spread across three farming hubs.

“No other multinational dairy company in China has a local milk pool to draw from, so we are in an advantageous position.

“This milestone with Hema is a sign of things to come and indicates that our push to shift more of our local milk into higher-yielding consumer and foodservice products is well-and-truly under way.”

Disclosure: Tim McCready was a guest of Alibaba in China.

China Business: Rethinking the future of retail (NZ Herald)

Last year Alibaba announced its “New Five” strategy, which comprises New Retail, New Finance, New Manufacturing, New Technology, and New Energy.

At the time, Alibaba founder Jack Ma told shareholders the Chinese Government’s push for the One Belt One Road initiative presented Alibaba with a unique opportunity to grow its business globally:
“New Retail will bring about a restructuring of the global supply chain and change the complexion of globalisation from the domain of big companies to small businesses.”

Alibaba’s vision is to use its ecosystem — which now includes commerce, logistics, entertainment, cloud, and physical stores — to support its new strategy and provide a platform for individuals, SMEs and large corporates to do business globally.

This strategy has seen Alibaba experiment with new technologies over the past year, culminating in a showcase of technologies during last year’s 11.11 shopping festival that demonstrated the increased blurring between online and offline shopping.

Customers can apply makeup using augmented reality “magic mirrors”. This means they can apply as many different colours and styles as they like, and then — through the use of the mirror — immediately buy the makeup and have it home delivered.

Providing customers with the means to test different shades in a short amount of time adds an extra layer of confidence and assurance they are buying makeup that will suit them. In addition to being placed instore and in mall kiosks, the mirrors are also undergoing trials in public restrooms.

Clothing stores have begun introducing similar technology. Alibaba’s virtual dressing rooms allow customers to quickly try on a wide variety of clothes — without removing any. A shopper can find a pair of jeans they like instore, try them on virtually, then receive suggestions using artificial intelligence and their previous shopping history on alternative styles and colours that might be of interest.

“In 2016 we had a small trial of augmented reality, and we are now starting to use it on a much larger scale — this is the future,” says Maggie Zhou, Managing Director of Alibaba Group Australia & New Zealand.

Alibaba has also started rolling out its technology to transform traditional retailers throughout China, providing them with data-backed point-of-sale systems.

This will allow stores, even some in rural areas which may not have previously used any technology whatsoever, to obtain access to Alibaba’s marketing, delivery, inventory management and payment capabilities.

One example is a point-of-sale kiosk that can use facial recognition cameras to track what shoppers do, identify who they are or estimate their age, and make insights into shopping preferences — effectively bringing what already happens online into physical stores.

Alibaba’s chief marketing officer Chris Tung says the enormous pool of data and analytics expertise will help change the offline shopping experience and bring retailing back into the real world.

“We know a lot. We can model the lifestyle of 500 million people,” he says. “Bricks and mortar retailers are suffering today, but there is a way to make them just as successful as online.”

Zhou adds: “As we continue to adapt operations to better suit the digital world, traditional retailers must look at ways to restructure and enhance the customer experience and the physical retail space. New Retail is the way forward.

“By leveraging the Alibaba ecosystem and technology such as big data and smart logistics, merchants can offer consumers a more efficient and flexible shopping experience, while also improving their bottom line.”

Zhou says the success of Alibaba has been possible thanks to the internet, and believes big data will become increasingly important to business in the future.

“The next 30 years will see the era of the internet flourish. We have the opportunity to change the world and to change people’s lives,” she says.

Will we see magic mirrors, virtual dressing rooms, and Alibaba’s point-of-sale kiosks in New Zealand?

Ultimately, that is part of Alibaba’s globalisation strategy. But for now, Zhou says China’s scale makes it an ideal market to test new e-commerce innovation before taking it global.

“China is a very large market, with millions of digitally savvy consumers. This makes it a great environment to trial new technologies, fine tune them, and see what works.”

Project Auckland: A view from the summits (NZ Herald)

The Memorandum of Understanding of Economic Alliance between sister city triplets Auckland, Guangzhou and Los Angeles was signed in 2014 – and if a week is a long time in politics, three years certainly is.

Since then, New Zealand has had three prime ministers. Former Auckland mayor Len Brown “The Singing Mayor” hung up his chains – replaced by Phil Goff, known less for his singing abilities and instead for his prowess in forging New Zealand’s free trade agreement with China.

Guangzhou also changed its mayor in 2016, and although Democratic Party superdelegate Eric Garcetti is still mayor of LA, President Obama was replaced by the entirely different Trump Presidency.

Over that time, three summits were held to recognise the alliance. And just as with geopolitics, the alliance has come a long way.

The first summit, hosted by LA in 2015, was attended by a humble delegation of about 43 Auckland businesses.

In 2016, Auckland outdid the council’s own expectations with over 700 delegates and more than 330 formal business matching meetings.

Guangzhou’s turn to host took place last month, and saw 70 Auckland businesses take 97 delegates, with around 800 others from LA and Guangzhou.

“Auckland companies need to internationalise,” says Pam Ford, General Manager – Business, Innovation and Skills (Acting) at Ateed.

“They have to go global from day one – and it’s hard. “That’s why we ran workshops for attendees ahead of this latest summit. They helped to build the capability of businesses to maximise their time offshore, and gave them the confidence to take part.”

Alongside business matching, networking events and showcase functions, panel discussions and keynote presenters shared insights and ideas from speakers across the alliance.

Los Angeles 2015: New York is a river, Los Angeles is a lake

The first summit saw panellists discuss the cartoonish view of cities that people – including Americans – have about the US, and stressed that the City of Angels should be seen as more than just a gateway to the US, and certainly more than just Hollywood.

Hollywood makes up only a fraction of Los Angeles’ economy. As well as tourism, it is the US’ largest manufacturing centre, a hub for aerospace, logistics, clean technology and innovation, and home to the largest port in the Western hemisphere.

It is the country’s fastest growing tech start-up region – many arguing it has benefits over San Francisco or Silicon Valley for a tech launchpad.

Despite this, there is no denying LA remains the creative capital of the US. One in seven people are employed in a creative field, and it is the top American metro area for art, design and media employment, providing more than US$140b (NZ$203b) of annual economic impact to the city.

“One of the things the LA summit did was open people’s minds that it is more than just film,” says Ford.

“LA is the place for many of Auckland’s companies that create content. Content now fits across so many more mediums – from gaming and television to social media and particularly the influencer economy.”

“But LA is also about cleantech, food and beverage, design and manufacturing. “Because of this three-year relationship, we’ve developed solid partnerships with the organisations for our companies to access – whether that is through the World Trade Center Los Angeles or the Los Angeles Business Council – that we would not otherwise have had.”

One panellist – a resident of LA – described how the city unfolds as you spend more time there. “New York is a river, but Los Angeles is a lake. If you step outside in New York you will naturally go somewhere, the city itself will take you and it is simple to navigate.

“In Los Angeles, to get anywhere you have to actively swim there – or you risk never getting anywhere at all. But that’s what makes it so exciting.”

Auckland 2016: Partnerships, People, and Cross-pollination

The Auckland summit saw global heavyweights take to the stage at the Viaduct Events Centre, speaking about the importance of partnerships and collaboration, and the opportunities that arise when you bring people together and ‘cross-pollinate’ ideas.

Sunny Bates, a serial entrepreneur and a founding board member of Kickstarter who has served as an adviser to companies including GE, TED and P&G, insisted the economic driver of the future won’t come from factories, technology, or software – it will be down to the networks of people.

“Networks are the structural basis for globalisation and for modernisation,” says Bates.

“Networks know no boundaries, and cultural networks are extremely powerful.”

Former Nike innovation expert Erez Morag agreed that networks were critical, but said it wasn’t those networks on their own that lead to innovation, but instead the cross-pollination of ideas through those networks.

“Instead of chasing the competition, chase the insights, listen to everyone, and play bigger than your size,” he says.

Morag used jogging as an example of cross pollination. In 1961, Kiwi runner and athletics coach Arthur Lydiard organised the world’s first jogging club in Auckland, promoting the cardiovascular health benefits of easy distance running.

Lydiard introduced Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman to the concept of jogging on a chance visit to New Zealand.

“[Jogging was] invented in New Zealand and commercialised in the United States,” says Morag – all through the cross-pollination of ideas.

Throughout the Auckland Summit, then-Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell reinforced the importance of trusted partnerships to the Maori economy. “Maori want to hear your heart, not just slick words.

“If there is no connection to your heart, then there can be no deal – because it will be doomed from the start” – a message that resonated strongly with Chinese delegates, who rely on guanxi – long-term, strong business relationships, based on trust and mutual reciprocity.

Guangzhou 2017: Leverage our Chinese diaspora

Auckland-based Kenneth Leong, co-founder and director at Healthy Breath – an anti-pollution mask using natural New Zealand wool filter media for international markets – spoke about leveraging the Chinese diaspora.

“We sometimes forget Auckland is home to a large, well-connected Chinese business community,” he says.

The summit and surrounding events enabled new connections between the business delegates, and deepened existing relationships.

“Cross-cultural partnerships enrich all parties, by bringing people with great ideas together with people who have connections, capital and channels to market,” says Leong.

“There is a need to accelerate integration between the migrant Chinese and mainstream business communities in Auckland. Everyone is keen to do business together, we just need to create more opportunities for interaction and relationship building.”

New Zealand’s connection to Guangzhou goes back a long way – many of the first Chinese immigrants to New Zealand came from the Pearl River Delta region, including Guangzhou.

Now, Guangzhou is China’s third largest city, contains seemingly endless skyscrapers, and is considered a manufacturing and commercial hub.

It has been consistently ranked by Forbes magazine as the best commercial city in mainland China for ease of doing business, talent, location, and international connectivity, and in many cases, could be a more accessible market for New Zealand businesses than the more recognised larger markets of Shanghai and Beijing.

Project Auckland: A positive vector for growth (NZ Herald)

Tim McCready sat down with Vector chief executive Simon Mackenzie to discuss the future of Auckland’s energy sector, and beyond.

“It’s almost like we’re back to the future,” explains Vector chief executive Simon Mackenzie as he discusses the energy industry’s shift towards distributed energy systems.

It’s a future Mackenzie seems relatively at ease with, despite it completely disrupting the business models of the industry in which Vector operates as a distributor.

“The whole investment focus is now turning to: how do we utilise technology in the energy sector to still deliver energy in an affordable, yet renewable, sense?” explains Mackenzie.

“We’re seeing a huge tipping point in terms of customers driving what they require from energy.”

Where energy is currently generated at a centralised location — say, a dam — and then transmitted via the national grid to distributors such as Vector, increasingly customers are gaining the ability to generate the energy themselves, within — or on top of — their homes.

This shift has been driven and accelerated by global initiatives to reduce the use of fossil fuels from transport and energy sources in response to the threat of climate change.

And while the lack of international progress on emission reduction targets is often lamented, beneath the surface there has been significant subsidies provided for the development of renewable energy generation and a reduction in the price of technologies, such as solar panels.

“The customer has choice and may send energy back out to others, but even in urban environments they still probably need to move that energy around within the urban environments.”

In this context, says Mackenzie, “transmission and generation are becoming more and more commoditised. At some point in time it will be there more for a backup, or segmented needs.”

The position of Vector as a distribution company — downstream from those increasingly commoditised sectors — appears to be enabling the company to embrace the disruption.

“There’s a desire for more physical solutions — things like solar and batteries and the like — but I think one of the other sides is that we’re now seeing the convergence of transport coming into energy with electric vehicles, and that whole infrastructure to support that,” he says.

“Essentially, an electric vehicle could also be a mobile battery that you connect into your home, so we’ve got technology that enables that.”

And to complement the physical technologies being developed and deployed, Vector is heavily invested in software and digital innovation too. Data analytics is increasingly playing a role in how the company makes decisions, for example.

“We do a huge amount of work on data analytics, and we’ve worked really well and collaboratively with Auckland Council,” says Mackenzie. “We’ve got a huge amount of data and information with them.”

That includes layering data relating to housing construction and demographic trends with behavioural economics insights to generate predictions about future energy and transport usage.

Mackenzie says this unlocks “latent capacity” in the market currently; getting more usage hours for less, without necessarily needing to construct new hardware assets.

Similarly, giving customers the ability to optimise their energy usage by controlling devices from their mobile phones is another way Vector are hoping to use technology to access efficiencies.

“That’s all centred around de-complicating,” says Mackenzie. “Because we don’t believe customers want to be computer programmers to run their energy lives.”

“That sophistication now of being able to co-ordinate and optimise everything, we can provide through technology that we’re utilising.”

“That means there will be a lot more customers with those types of solutions either in their homes or on their roofs. Or they could be connected through other community initiatives such as peer-to-peer trading, or a school might have solar and battery in it that’s not used in the weekends or holidays — so then how does that get shared with communities?”

“The way we see the overall picture is Auckland becomes more and more self-sufficient, so the remote transmission and generation becomes more of a backup in the long-run, and more of a security layer, as opposed to the primary.”

Mackenzie says this vision is one in which Auckland is also a more resilient city, no longer dependent on remote transmission.

Interestingly, Vector’s modelling predicts the primary climate change impact in Auckland to be more high wind events, meaning building resilience and continuity of supply is of heightened importance.

The company also wants to raise the awareness on how climate change will differentially impact New Zealand’s various areas — with some areas more susceptible to sea level rises, for example, than Auckland.

“From the modelling we’ve done, from the global research, we worry about the fact that things are changing a lot quicker than people think, and I think we need to raise the debate and awareness around New Zealand on that.”

A company target of net zero emissions by 2030 reflects that awareness.

Another example of how the company is looking to lead the community and shift attitudes about how energy can be generated, traded, and used is the project with Auckland Council to light the Harbour Bridge using smart energy technology.

From this coming Auckland Anniversary Weekend, the bridge will be lit by some 90,000 LED lights, utilising solar-generated energy, new battery technology, and peer-to-peer energy trading.

“We saw that as a great fit for us, because it’s really iconic,” says Mackenzie of the project.

“For us, it’s a representation of giving back to Auckland but also displaying how we see the future of energy.”

The bridge will have static ambient lighting on most nights, but can be programmed with dramatic animated displays for special events, such as Waitangi or Diwali or the America’s Cup. The intention is to have between 12 and 15 of these events over the first year.

Partnerships, collaboration, and cross-industry learnings underpin much of how Mackenzie discusses Vector’s strategy in this fast-changing industry.

The company has worked with companies such as LG Chem and Tesla to bring their energy storage products to New Zealand consumers, for example.

Though there is not a great deal that is fundamentally unique about the Auckland energy market and infrastructure, or the city from an environmental perspective, these are features that has made the city amenable to innovation.

“Auckland is of a large enough scale to be globally recognised as an international city,” explains Mackenzie. “It’s got a political and regulatory environment which is seen as pretty conducive to actually adopting these technologies.

“For some of the technology companies we work with, they see that as a real positive because it becomes a proving ground for what they want to deploy into markets which are going to be a lot slower to adopt.”

Adopting new technologies early is seen as vital given Auckland’s pace of growth.

“What we’ve found, is that using technology has enabled us to build a whole new layer of networks internationally — and it’s not all from the energy sector — a lot is from outside of the sector, or from adjacencies,” says Mackenzie.

“Although we are small on a global scale, the reality is that doing these deployments or adopting these technologies early is advantageous.

“If you’re not an early adopter, by the time technologies gain a lot of interest from other parties, you’ll end up falling right down the pecking order.”

Dynamic Business: Air New Zealand, Excellence in Governance (NZ Herald)

Air New Zealand has taken out the MinterEllisonRuddWatts Excellence in Governance award in 2017 in recognition of the company’s world-class track record and its emphasis on broad stakeholder management.

Air NZ has consistently been recognised for its excellence in governance — this is the company’s third appearance in this category at the Deloitte Top 200 awards.

Of particular note, is the seamless way in which the airline has managed board and CEO transitions through its robust succession planning processes.

Since the Government-backed recapitalisation of the national carrier in 2001, it has had just two chairmen: John Palmer (appointed in November 2001) and Tony Carter (appointed in December 2010).

In that time there have been three chief executives: Sir Ralph Norris — who came off the board in February 2002 to pilot Air NZ through a major rebuild following a near bankruptcy; Rob Fyfe — who brought marketing pizzazz to the role when he took up the CEO reins in 2005 following Norris’ move to Australia to become chief executive of Commonwealth Bank; and, Christopher Luxon, who became chief executive in early 2013 introducing a global management style to the airline.

Both Fyfe and Luxon were internal appointments who were thoroughly blooded by their predecessors before stepping up to the top job.

In September, former Prime Minister and Tourism Minister Sir John Key joined Carter and fellow members Jan Dawson (deputy chairman), Rob Jager, Linda Jenkinson, Jonathan Mason and Dame Therese Walsh on the board.

Air New Zealand was recently rated New Zealand’s most reputable company for the second year in a row.

The company has continued to sport outstanding financial results since it was named Company of the Year in the 2014 Deloitte Top 200 awards.

Both Carter (2014) and Luxon (2015) have taken out the top honours, for chairman and chief executive respectively, which is another testament to the company’s overall governance record.

It was recently nominated “Airline of the Year” by leading international aviation website AirlineRatings.com for the fifth consecutive year.

The Deloitte Top 200 judges said New Zealanders’ continued faith in Air NZ was a stellar reflection of the airline’s successful governance and the positive impact it has in the country.

They added: “Air New Zealand does the best job of broad stakeholder management. The company does an excellent job for the shareholders, but beyond that it really thinks about the country.”

Air New Zealand’s concern for its wider stakeholder group is evidenced by the airline’s annual sustainability report.

First published in 2015, this annual report tracks the company’s performance socially, economically and environmentally.

These three pillars are supported by six key focus areas — the airline’s people, the communities it operates within, carbon, nature and science, tourism, and trade and enterprise.

The judges remarked that the sustainability reports were a fantastic resource and said Air New Zealand is considered among the best in the country in this area.

The airline has formed a sustainability advisory panel, which includes British environmentalist Sir Jonathon Porritt, New Zealand entrepreneur and environmentalist Sir Rob Fenwick and US biofuels expert Suzanne Hunt.

The airline industry contributes around 2 to 4 per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions.

As part of the sustainability framework, Air NZ is committed to working closely with key regional stakeholders, collaborating and helping them to develop attractive tourism propositions.

An example of Air New Zealand’s work is in Northland where, with local tourism operators, the council and other stakeholders it created a “Summer of Safety” inflight safety video, which was complemented by other tourism marketing campaigns both in New Zealand and internationally.

The judges also noted that the airline’s board had applied best practice in a number of important areas — including its commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce.

The airline says its workforce reflects its diverse customer base and helps it to better serve their needs.

The company also acknowledges that its diversity helps it to be more innovative, challenging traditional ways of thinking, and introduces fresh perspectives.

Air New Zealand has made strong progress in delivering on its diversity and inclusion objectives, focusing strongly on gender representation and growing the cultural capability and fluency of leaders.

The airline recently achieved 39 per cent female membership on its senior leadership team, and has committed to reaching 40 per cent by 2020.

It has established a women’s network around the country to coach and mentor women throughout the business.

Air New Zealand has also implemented other employee networks, including Young Professionals, Maori and Pacific Islands, Pride (LGBTQI) and an Asian employee network.

These have helped to promote a sense of community and belonging across different employee groups, and increase the visibility and awareness of its diverse workforce.

The judges commended Air New Zealand’s commitment to Maori language and culture.

The airline has placed an increased focus on making this a core part of its identify — reinforcing the company’s role as the national airline of New Zealand.

Air New Zealand provides executive coaching and intensive residential, marae-based workshops for members of the senior leadership team to help them to develop greater Maori fluency. The company has also established Maori ambassadors to promote Maori culture and language among all its employees.

Finalist: Abano Healthcare

Abano Healthcare received high praise from the judges for its successful business model and steadfast focus on growing shareholder returns while fending off disruptive hostile takeover offers.

The Abano board, led by chairman Trevor Janes is focused on growing its trans-Tasman dental group — which is benefiting from economies of scale and increasing market share.

The Top 200 judges were impressed with how the board and shareholders have backed the company, particularly in light of the hostile partial takeover bid from Healthcare Partners.

Janes is joined on the board by Pip Dunphy (deputy chair), Danny Chan, Murray Boyte, Dr Ginni Mansberg and Ted van Arkel.

“The board’s resistance to attempted takeover offers has resulted in shareholders continuing to receive growing returns,” the judges said.

In particular, they were impressed that the company has not been distracted while dealing with attempted takeovers, instead remaining focused on the business and implementing strategy.

They noted the successful transition of Richard Keys into the role of chief executive. Keys was previously the company’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer, and took up the role at the company’s 2015 annual meeting following Alan Clarke’s retirement.

The board undertook a considered process to identify the best and most capable person to fill the role. Under Keys’ leadership, Abano reported a record net profit after tax of $11.1 million for the 2017 financial year, enabling an increase in its full year dividend by 20 per cent on last year.

The judges also commended Abano Healthcare for its recent record dividend of 36 cents per share, and payment of $25 million in dividends over the past five years – an indication on why shareholders continue to back the company.

Finalist: Sanford

Sanford’s recognition as a finalist is the result of the freshness of strategy and a focus on broader considerations beyond the company’s commercial activity.

The directors are acutely aware the company’s future depends on its long-term sustainability. This commitment to rigorous management of environmental performance and sustainability across all areas of the business was commended by the Deloitte Top 200 judges.

They said: “Sanford is clearly transitioning strategy around their footprint and sustainability throughout the business to build a long-term business.”

The Sanford board chaired by independent director Paul Norling includes Liz Coutts, Bruce Goodfellow, Peter Goodfellow, Peter Kean and Rob McLeod.

Sanford has placed strong emphasis on offering meaningful opportunities for continual learning and development, setting a goal to maximise the prospects of all its people.

The company has acknowledged this is not an area that has previously been managed as effectively as it could, and has put in place management systems to make it a priority.

Sanford has made a commitment to improving the wellbeing of its employees, adopting the WorkWell programme developed by Toi Te Ora Public Health to support the development of a healthy working team.

Sanford’s annual report was referred to as “absolutely outstanding” by the judges. It includes a touching story from an employee, who credits turning her family’s health and lifestyle around following a visit to Sanford by a diabetes specialist.

The judges also commend Sanford’s very strong integrated reporting. The company has been recognised by the market for this — providing a balanced picture of their economic, environmental, and social performance; facilitating comparability, benchmarking and assessing performance; and addressing issues of concern to stakeholders