Peter Reidie, Goodman Fielder's freshly appointed New Zealand boss, is a big fan of the type of grizzly rugby they play in his native Southland.

The sort of grinding forward play that can soak up time to retain a Ranfurly Shield or run down the clock to win a World Cup.

The 49-year-old will be hoping he can bring similar winning ingredients to help turn around the embattled Sydney-based food giant with about a third of its sales here.

He was appointed New Zealand managing director last month after Goodman Fielder merged its three divisions here into a single business. Reidie was dairy and meats chief for three years and now oversees the integrated baking, dairy and home ingredients businesses in this country, which has annual sales of more than $1 billion.

Advertisement

Invercargill born and bred, he has been described by a food industry leader as a "straight shooter" and takes the hot seat at a pivotal time for the company once owned by billionaire Graeme Hart.

In August the company with brands including Edmonds baking products, Vogel's bread and Kiwi Bacon, announced underlying annual net profit fell 17.3 per cent after a big decline in the second half of the past financial year, particularly in its baking and dairy divisions.

It took a A$300 million ($392 million) writedown in the value of its baking division, resulting in a bottom line loss of A$166.7 million.

Goodman Fielder blamed weakened consumer confidence, higher commodity costs such as wheat, sugar and milk and fierce retail competition plus natural disasters here and in Australia.

Late last week Goodman came up short in the retail component of a A$259 million capital raising.

Earlier in the week it was forced to temporarily close three upper North Island bakeries, a meat plant and an oils business because of the Maui gas pipeline cut and remains locked in a bitter legal stoush with delivery contractors over pay rates.

With Southland understatement he describes the past year for the company as "character building".

When he appointed Reidie, Goodman chief executive Chris Delaney said even though it was one of the biggest suppliers to the retail grocery trade, Goodman was operating as three semi-independent companies.

Advertisement

"This makes it hard for our customers and suppliers to do business with us and it also means that we have not been able to use our scale to drive efficiencies."

Reidie cut his career teeth in the hurly burly of Labour's mid-1980s reforms, working first as an economist in Government research and then for State Owned Enterprises Minister Richard Prebble, who eventually fell out with Prime Minister David Lange and was sacked.

"They were exciting times for a budding economist. I ended up as an economic adviser in the SOE unit under Richard Prebble and so when he went I went too."

The private sector beckoned and led to stints at Fletcher Challenge, brokers Hendry Hay Mcintosh and then Lion Nathan for 12 years where he had a number of roles, ending as national sales director in Australia.

"They were really the making of me career-wise," he said.

"It was a real culture of can-do and innovation, taking the breweries out of old-school 'one tap and a tanker' to brands that win in the market place. I was very fortunate to be there at that time."

He went on to work for Arnotts in Australia, and then the Campbell Soup Company in that country and in the United States before his divisional role for Goodman Fielder in 2008.

The two supermarket chains - Progressive and Foodstuffs - account for 60 per cent of Goodman's sales. The rest goes to hospitals, fast food chains and prisons. There are about 13,000 customers who take daily deliveries throughout the country.

It is brands that get him excited and Goodman has plenty of them - an estimated 25 per cent to 50 per cent in the average fridge and pantry.

"My wife says when I move jobs I pick up a whole set of new brands and none of the previous ones go and when I move countries I pick up a new sports team and none of the old ones go."

He's keen to play the Kiwi card as part of the turnaround plan. He's not big on business buzzwords and with his rolling rs and love of the "almighty All Blacks but first and foremost the Southland Stags" he's got the attributes to pull it off.

"We know the Kiwi idiosyncrasies and their palettes. That gives us a huge advantage over some of the international players who don't have that."

The other side of the equation is cost, where the company has made itself unpopular with contractors.

"You've got to drive costs out and do things smarter as there's a part of the market place that is buying on cost alone. If you're not low-cost producing then it's very tough to compete in that segment," he said.

"We have had commodity cost increases which have been a challenge. Our challenge is passing this on and demonstrating value."

Goodman is part of the Food and Grocery Council whose other big members include Heinz Wattie, Fonterra and George Weston Foods.

The council's chief executive Katherine Rich said the restructuring and consolidation around one job was logical for Goodman Fielder.

The company had drifted in people's perception to being just part of an Australian conglomerate rather than a recognised New Zealand company with strong loyalty to well-known brands.

"You could put Ernest Adams on a ballot paper and he'd probably be elected," said Rich, a former National MP.

"It makes sense to elevate that to a very significant business leadership role. I think the aim of it is to draw on the strength of the whole organisation rather than three different chunks.

"One of the things that is good about creating this mega-role is that it very much elevates Peter Reidie to a significant New Zealand business position. The hard stuff is making the change but the greater challenge is making it work over the next few years," she said.

Reidie is acutely aware of what's ahead. Cutting costs and improving margins is not tiddlywinks.

"We don't do it because we're nice people at the end of the day. We have to be viable, we've got shareholders who have invested in us and given our track record in recent times we're under the spotlight."