Fonterra chairman John Monaghan says shareholders of New Zealand's biggest company are "demanding things be different" and are prepared to back the change of leadership to make that happen.

He's expecting a big turnout to tomorrow's annual meeting given shareholders have made their disappointment in the company's results "very clear" to him.

The meeting at Fonterra's Lichfield plant in South Waikato comes hard on the heels of this week's director election results, where farmers vented their frustration, ousting sitting director Ashley Waugh and voting back in outspoken former director Leonie Guiney, along with new blood, outgoing Zespri chairman Peter McBride.

The ballot box protest also saw a third board vacancy left unfilled. The other three election candidates, Waugh, Maori Television chairman Jamie Tuuta and Canterbury farmer John Nicholls, failed to achieve the support of more than 50 per cent of the votes cast.


A second election, open to unsuccessful candidates and fresh contenders, will be held to fill this seat. Meanwhile the board may appoint a director to the seat until the next election but cannot appoint an unsuccessful candidate.

Waugh was seeking his second term.

Fonterra recently posted the first net loss in its 17 year history against a backdrop of $1.5 billion of shareholder wealth destruction, troubled major capital investments in China and a stretched balance sheet.

Monaghan, a long-time director who took the helm when former chairman John Wilson stepped aside for health reasons shortly after the exit of chief executive Theo Spierings, said the election results and his own discussions with shareholders set the scene for a strong turnout tomorrow.

"[Those] I've spoken to have been very clear in their disappointment around the results we delivered last [financial] year. But I hear that conversation starting to look forward about what we are doing as we start to talk about our portfolio review and getting back to basics and more accurate forecasting."

Fonterra leaders announced a strategic review of the $20 billion revenue business when the 2018 annual results were published.

Those results, which included a net loss of $196m, would be discussed again tomorrow but Monaghan said time would also be devoted to discussing Fonterra's future with its farmer-owners.

He said work on the review was "reasonably well-progressed".


"Lines in the sand" had been drawn around targets like reducing capital spend and retaining Fonterra's credit rating.

A priority was a commitment to transparency so "it becomes part of normal business".

At Spierings exit, the board appointed long-serving Kiwi executive Miles Hurrell as interim chief executive and cancelled a global search for Spierings' replacement.

The board had not revisited the chief executive status issue since, and was unlikely to do so until next year, Monaghan said.

"But let's be very clear, he [Hurrell] is CEO - he's CEO in an interim capacity.

"He's very much the CEO and is fully-powered up to do what he needs to do and he has the full support of the board. He has unanimous support to do the work that needs to happen."

First of Fonterra's assets and partnerships to be reviewed was its investment in Chinese infant food company Beingmate, Monaghan said.

Fonterra has lost $405m of a $750m investment in Beingmate. It is Fonterra's second disastrous investment in a Chinese company - shareholders lost more than $200m when the Sanlu company failed after being heavily implicated in melamine poisoning which killed and injured Chinese children.

Fonterra has also experienced heavy annual losses from its investment in building a hub of dairy farms in China.

Monaghan rejected a suggestion he'd been given a hospital pass when appointed to succeed Wilson.

"No, not at all. I'm part of the past and part of the future. At its core this cooperative is in fairly good heart.

"We just need to do some things differently."