Kiwi billionaire Graeme Hart has purchased one of the country's biggest food manufacturing firms, according to a filing with the NZ Companies Office.

Hansells Food Group managing director Ross MacKenzie was not available for comment to the Herald on the purchase and there was "no comment" from Hart's Rank Group.

The Companies Office website shows Hansells Food Group has been transferred to new shareholder HFC Acquisition Ltd - wholly owned entity of Hart's Rank Group.

The sole director of HFG is listed as Harrison Richard Francis Hart - understood to be Graeme Hart's son Harry.


Hansells company's latest available financial statements show the group posted a loss of about $6.7 million for the year to March 2017.

New Zealand's richest man Graeme Hart added $4.6 billion to his wealth in 2017.

The Hansells name has been part of New Zealand for 80 years. Hansells Food Group was created when Old Fashioned Foods acquired Hansells and the two company's brands were integrated.

Hansells was known for its essences and baking products as well as iconic New Zealand brands such as Vitafresh as well as the WeightWatchers brand.

Old Fashioned Foods was behind the traditional steamed pudding brand Aunt Betty's, which began selling in 1996, according to the company's website.

Hansells has had a checkered history.

In 2015 the company was taken over by Thai rice baron Varapong Supachok, who stepped in to save the company from receivership.

Last September Hansells' auditor cited material uncertainty related to the food ingredients company's ability to continue as a going concern after it posted a drop in sales and a narrower full-year loss.


Hansells recorded a loss of $6.8 million in the year ended March 31, from a loss of $9.4m a year earlier. Revenue fell 15 per cent to $103.7m, according to the Auckland-based company's annual report. Cost of sales fell 12 per cent to $79.7m.

Auditor BDO Auckland cited the loss in its audit of the accounts while noting that current liabilities exceeded current assets by $34m and negative net assets had widened to $7.4m from $1.6m in 2016.

Notes to the company's accounts said has received continued support letters from controlling shareholder Varapong Supachok, with a 65.9 per cent holding, and from Thailand's Kasisuri Co, which owns about 5 per cent and is associated with Varapong Supachok.

Hansells, founded in Masterton in 1934 by a chemist called Hansen and an entrepreneur called Maunsell, became famous for its range of pre-mixed and pre-prepared goods, including Jungle Juice and Vitafresh.

Food chemist MacKenzie took over Hansells in 2006 and merged the business with his own Old Fashioned Foods - based around the Aunt Betty's brand of pudding - and installed himself as managing director and centralised production at the company's Penrose headquarters.

Australian merchant bankers Gresham Rabo had part-financed the 2006 purchase and became major shareholders. It is understood they exited the company in 2009.

Hart added nearly $2 billion to his fortune in 2017, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The owner of Auckland-based private equity firm Rank Group saw his net worth jump 21 per cent to NZ$11.03b in the year to December 28.

That's an increase of some $1.92b and makes him the 203rd richest person in the world, according to the index.

Rank Group's three main divisions are Reynolds Group, which owns food packaging and consumer products businesses, building materials supplier Carter Holt Harvey and vehicle parts business Automotive Group.

Hart, 62, was reported by Forbes magazine in March this year to be worth even more than Bloomberg's estimate, putting him at number 133 on its billionaires list with net worth of $13.5b.