Shares in Comvita slumped by nearly 18 per cent after the company turned in a loss in the first half and signalled that its full-year profit would fall short of the previous year's.

By late morning, the company's share price was 93 cents down at $4.25 after it had reported a loss of $2.7 million in the first half to December 31 against a profit $3.7m a year earlier.

Comvita - New Zealand's biggest manuka honey maker - also said it would not pay an interim dividend, compared with a 4c payout last year.

The company said changes to the way it does business with China, a lack of orders from a major existing US customer, and another poor pre-Christmas honey harvest, drove the company into the red over the six months.


Chairman Neil Craig said these issues would impact on the full-year result to June 30 to the extent that it would not exceed the previous year's profit of $8.2m.

"However, we have set up the business from a revenue and margin point of view to deliver strongly in the balance of the 2019 calendar year and beyond," Craig said.

"We believe our efforts with respect to price harmonisation between markets and channels and our brand building work in China over the last 12 months will reward us for years to come," he said.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation slumped to $1.3m from $9.9 million a year earlier.

Craig said Comvita had ushered in some fundamental changes to the business that would result in "long term, competitive advantage" for the company.

Comvita, as advised at last year's annual meeting, had adopted a greater focus on manuka honey and propolis and less on other ingredient platforms and that there had been a harmonisation of prices across the various sales channels into China.

There had been sales growth and improved margins for the company's distribution Joint Venture in China.

Craig said there had been reduced dependence on the unofficial daigou market out of Australia and New Zealand into China.


"We believe the strategic shift to focus on the formal channels into China will provide a sustainable competitive advantage for Comvita," Craig said.

"Implementing some of these changes has taken longer to complete than we originally anticipated," he said.

"Consequently, improved financial performance from implemented changes has been slower to materialise than forecast."

In particular, Craig said it has taken longer than earlier anticipated to conclude sales agreements with all major cross border e-commerce (CBEC) sellers into China.

"We believe that between our China Joint Venture, the formal CBEC channels and the daigou sellers from New Zealand and Australia into China, we now have 'all bases covered' in order to optimise profit on sales to Chinese consumers in the long term," he said.

Comvita said that, from early January to mid-February, it had achieved strong yields from the central and western part of the North Island, which would help counter the poor pre-Christmas crop from Northland and the northern and eastern parts of the North Island.

"We are optimistic that, while the crop is lower than our budget, it is significantly better in terms of quantity and quality than the last two years," the company said.