Comvita chief executive Brett Hewlett has announced at the company's annual shareholders meeting today that he will step down from the head of the natural health product company.

"I've been with the company for 10 years, the company's in very, very good shape."

Hewlett said he was stepping down from the head of the company with his full confidence in the rest of the board.

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"The company's in very good hands and I think it's time to let somebody else have a bit of a crack.

"Ten years is a pretty good tenure and [Comvita chairman Neil Craig] and I have worked very hard over the last 10 years to get this business in shape and prepare everything for this.

"It's been something that I've had in discussion with the board for some time now."

Craig said Hewlett's decision has been discussed openly with the board and a comprehensive transition plan was in place.

"We've got a very, very strong leadership team beneath Brett.

"The board will conduct a process to review potential candidates, including internal candidates from the strong senior bench of Comvita, and anticipates announcing an appointment before the end of 2015."

Hewlett would also be invited to join the board within 12 months of his departure to continue to contribute to the business' growth Craig said.

The announcement came as Comvita announced a revised guidance on future earnings to the end of March 2016, signalling an expected increase in net earnings in excess of 35 per cent over 2015, and sales in excess of $180 million.

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Comvita announced a revised guidance on future earnings to the end of March 2016, signalling an expected increase in net earnings in excess of 35 per cent over 2015, and sales in excess of $180m.
Comvita announced a revised guidance on future earnings to the end of March 2016, signalling an expected increase in net earnings in excess of 35 per cent over 2015, and sales in excess of $180m.

The revised forecast was a strong endorsement of the company's growth strategy and high-value-adding business model, which was expected to drive the company towards $400 million in sales by 2020, Craig said.

"The current financial year has started well supported by larger than normal raw material inventory levels, very strong demand from the market and an active process of optimising returns from individual markets and product ranges.

"We believe we will beat the percentage uplift in earnings that we delivered during the last fiscal year, and growth in earnings will again outpace growth in revenue."

Hewlett said Comvita had undergone significant restructuring during his 10 years at the helm and there had been a "rather orchestrated approach to engineering a business model which has economic sustainability wrapped around it".

The company had invested in vertical integration and become a high-end retail business as well as an agribusiness, he said.

"[We're] about as vertically integrated as you'll find any company out of New Zealand operating at.

"We're starting to see the benefits of that investment in infrastructure and the business model really starting to play out and our earnings growth has been very, very solid and we're forecasting that it'll continue to be so in the short and medium term."

"We have the envious challenge of managing incredibly strong demand and we operate pretty constantly in a supply-constrained environment, so for us it's around 'how do we optimise and maximise the opportunity and keep pace of the growth and demand'."

Craig said by putting the vertically-integrated systems in place, the company's earning growth was now at a faster pace than its sales growth.

"We're starting to reap the return on capital that we always envisioned by this significant infrastructure and supply chain investments in place."