Christopher Adams

Christopher Adams is the Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Mussel farmer goes from winner to loser

Six months after gaining an award for export success, Greenshell is in receivership

Peter Vitasovich, managing director of Greenshell New Zealand. Photo / Richard Robinson
Peter Vitasovich, managing director of Greenshell New Zealand. Photo / Richard Robinson

One of New Zealand's biggest mussel farming companies, named Food and Beverage Exporter of the Year by industry group ExportNZ in June, has gone into receivership.

Receivers KordaMentha have been appointed to Greenshell New Zealand and an associated company, Ikana, by the firms' main secured creditor, Rabobank.

KordaMentha's Brendon Gibson said he could not comment on how much creditors were owed.

Greenshell New Zealand was continuing to trade and the receivers were aiming to sell the business, whose main assets were leases and licences on several Coromandel mussel farms, as a going concern.

Gibson said Ikana - the retail arm of the business, which sold chilled and frozen mussels - had been unprofitable and ceased trading, resulting in four to five job losses.

Greenshell New Zealand's website says it farms around 10,000 tonnes of mussels each year, more than 10 per cent of the national harvest.

The company, which is headquartered in Auckland, has about 20 staff.

Gibson said he could not discuss the causes of the receivership.

Greenshell New Zealand and Ikana's sole director and shareholder, Peter Vitasovich, did not return calls.

A seafood industry source said the companies had borrowed heavily to invest in equipment without having sufficient sales to justify the debt.

The company spent more than two years developing Ikana packaging to sell live mussels in retail-ready packs with a 10-day shelf-life.

ExportNZ executive director Catherine Beard said the receivership was disappointing and reflected badly on the industry group's awards.

"I'll be sitting down with the team and talking about what we can do to ensure that this sort of thing doesn't happen," Beard said. "It's unfortunate, but I think the embarrassment also has to go on that company for putting itself up for it [the award]."

She said the goal of the awards was to champion successful exporters.

Judges visited companies that had nominated themselves, and also requested financial information.

"You do have to go on some sort of trust, otherwise you'd turn the awards into a huge auditing affair."

In August Greenshell New Zealand received two other awards - the Supreme Award and Exporter of the Year ($500,000 to $5 million revenue) at the American Chamber of Commerce Success and Innovation Awards.

Vitasovich was presented with those prizes by Prime Minister John Key at a black-tie event in Auckland. The judges commented that Greenshell NZ was an "excellent example" of a commodity supplier evolving into a value-added exporter.

Receivers were called into North Island Mussel Processors - a joint venture between Greenshell New Zealand and fishing companies Sanford and Sealord - in September last year.

At the time, Sanford said the receivership was the result of Greenshell New Zealand failing to pay processing fees of $1.2 million and other associated debts.

Sanford and Sealord went on to buy North Island Mussel Processors from the receivers, McGrathNicol, and establish a new joint venture company, North Island Mussels, which owns a Tauranga processing plant and Coromandel mussel farming operations.

Vitasovich stepped down as chairman of Aquaculture New Zealand and the New Zealand Mussel Industry Council in July.

- NZ Herald

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