An argument over the ownership of the high-profile company responsible for producing the miniature Rockit apples has been resolved, with Bay of Plenty-based Oriens Capital and Auckland's Pioneer Capital buying out company founder Phil Alison.
The Havelock North Fruit Company had been producing the apples, which are marketed in plastic tubes as a high quality snack food in New Zealand and internationally.
Mr Alison, who controlled a 49.5 per cent share of the company, originally wanted to buy out the remaining shareholders, which included a number of prominent Bay of Plenty investors. The disagreement went to the High Court last year after the parties failed to agree on price.
However, the company announced yesterday that an agreement had been reached by the shareholders under which the two experienced private equity companies would acquire all of Mr Alison's shareholding. The transaction was also significant in being the first investment by Oriens Capital, the regions-focused Tauranga private equity firm launched last year.
Mr Alison has sold all his Rockit-related interests and would no longer be involved with the company, its subsidiaries, or related orchard suppliers of fruit.
Effective immediately, the company would begin trading as Rockit Global Ltd. Acting chief executive Austin Mortimer has been appointed chief executive of Rockit Global.
Chairman John Loughlin said the value of the transaction remained confidential.
Rockit snacks were now grown in seven countries and sold through partners in 22 countries, he said. In 2016, the company exported 77 containers of fruit and earned its maiden profit.
"With only 3 per cent of Rockit apple snacks sold in New Zealand, our sales and marketing focus is on key international markets," Mr Loughlin said.
"We have strong growth plans for 2017 and the years ahead. The new shareholders have experience in growing New Zealand export businesses. They will contribute governance expertise and additional capital to help the company deliver on its ambitious growth plans."
The Rockit Global board will include four members of the previous board - Mr Loughlin, plus well-known Tauranga investors Murray Denyer, Steve Saunders and Neil Craig. They would be joined by Oriens Capital chief executive James Beale and Pioneer Capital investment director Craig Styris.
Mr Loughlin said Mr Alison had made a huge contribution in recognising the potential of the fruit, then establishing and leading the business toward building the Rockit global brand.
"We will always be greatly appreciative of the work he put in to creating the international platform for the business," he said.
Mr Denyer, a partner with Cooney Lees Morgan, Steve Saunders, founder of the Plus Group, and Neil Craig, founder of Craigs Investment Partners, are all Tauranga members of the Bay of Plenty's Enterprise Angels start-up funding group.
"This is a major milestone for us," said Mr Denyer.
"Bringing Pioneer and Oriens Capital into the business strengthens our share register enormously, and gives us access to their business expertise and experience," he said.
"It's also a success story for Enterprise Angels. Steve, Neil, John McDonald and myself all invested into this business back in 2011 when the founder first sought to raise capital. We've worked very hard to get the business to where it is today - to a point where it has gained the attention of and attracted investment from private equity players. It has graduated out of the angel investment space - something that few start-ups ever manage."
Mr Mortimer described Rockit as significant New Zealand success story.
"It clearly demonstrates how high-quality fruit can be positioned as a premium, value-added product through a robust brand strategy. Rockit Global is now well-positioned to continue its rapid growth and capitalise on the substantial grab and go, healthy snack market."
- Rockit are miniature apples (1.5 x the size of a golf ball) with a sweet flavour, thin skin, and distinctive bright red blush.
- North Havelock Fruit Company worked with Plant & Food Research, together with Hawke's Bay company Prevar, to develop the apple.
- Rockit Global now has the exclusive international licence to grow and market the PremA96 apple variety.