5 mins to read

Emerald Foods on acquisition hunt

There could soon be a new jewel in Diane Foreman's Emerald Group crown, as the company starts the year on the hunt for a new business.

Georgina Bond
Wed, 11 Jul 2018

Speaking to NBR ONLINE at the East Tamaki headquarters of her investment vehicle Emerald Group, Mrs Foreman said was looking for new opportunities and hunting for a new business to buy.

"It doesn’t have to be food," Mrs Foreman said. "If you stretch your mind it could be anything as long as it compliments us, allowing us to leverage the [New Zealand Natural] brand internationally."

Asked if Emerald Group would consider listing on the NZX, executive director Shane Lamont said it can’t be ruled out.

"Never say never," Mr Lamont says. But certainly it’s not on our agenda. Our agenda is to grow."

Burgeoning ice-cream business

Turnover has more than tripled since Emerald Group bought the loss-making New Zealand Natural in 2005 and merged it with Emerald Foods, which already had premium ice cream brands Killinchy Gold and Movenpick in its stable.

The Middle East was one of its fastest growing and highest potential regions for ice cream – with a larger middle class than people would realise, said Mr Lamont.

India was proving to be the most difficult market to manage from a distance, due to various challenges around infrastructure and delivery.

Praying for the dollar to come down

But the toughest challenge of all remained the double-high of the high Kiwi dollar and cost of dairy products.

Although Emerald Foods revenue grew at double-digit export figures last year, the ability to pass on the price increases did not exist in most markets.

"We have to sell more to stand still," Mr Lamont said.

And the high Kiwi dollar was also a problem for Mrs Foreman as she looked to invest in the business.

"A lot of my contemporaries have taken the dollar and invested offshore," Mrs Foreman said.

"But New Zealand is the only place we can be because of our raw materials. It doesn’t suit us to consider moving countries - we are 'made in New Zealand'. But the dollar makes it scary."

Mrs Foreman did not have an opinion on how the government might tackle the currency issue to bring some relief to manufacturers.

"I’ve been in export all my life and one thing I know is there’s no quick fix.

"It’s for the economists to work it out, but I wish they would listen to the manufacturers."

A "more instinctive" businesswoman

These days Emerald Foods, 100% owned by Emerald Group, demands most of Mrs Foreman's time.

She described her role as chairman as being active in governance and guidance.

"I like understanding what’s going on and being able to say, have you thought of this or, do you think..."

Export opportunities keep her energised.

"Nothing beats the thrill of being in another country and seeing your product, which you tasted in development, for sale.

"That's my motivation - walking down the street in another country and seeing our brand."

Mrs Foreman's 16-year-old daughter has appeared on some of the advertising campaigns for New Zealand Natural. And one of her granddaughters will feature on a billboard promoting New Zealand Natural in Beijing.

Heading up an ice-cream empire is certainly not what Ms Foreman thought she would be doing in the earlier stages of her life. When her first marriage ended in her 20s she worked as a waitress and typist while raising her children alone.

After marrying millionaire businessman Bill Foreman she started working in the family plastics manufacturer Trigon, managing its $130 million sale in 1996.

The former couple separated in 2006. Mrs Foreman was emphatic she would not discuss a matrimonial property issue with the retired Mr Foreman or comment on whether it was a distraction from the business.

Today, Emerald Group has interests in commercial and industrial property in Waikato and Auckland, the boutique hotel Emerald Inn on Auckland's North Shore, and a 50% stake in executive recruitment firm Emergent - providing a first-look at good executive talent, which was how she found Mr Lamont.

Ice cream was a "happy product" unlike selling brain surgery, which Mrs Foreman did previously when Emerald Group held a 23% stake interest in Healthcare Holdings, owner of the country’s largest private surgical hospital MercyAscot.

Investment success has seen Ms Foreman named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009 and made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business in 2011.

She is worth an estimated $175 million on the annual National Business Review Rich List.

She told the National Business Review she was learning to trust her instinct more in business.

"I’m a more instinctive person as far as people are concerned."

"Politics is for the politicians"

A former deputy chairman of the Business Roundtable, Mrs Foreman is no longer part of any formal business group. Her business was her voice instead, she said.

"I came to the conclusion politics is for the politicians. And the politicians have all sorts of different drivers, they don’t care much about Diane Foreman making ice cream in Lady Ruby Drive."

One group Mrs Foreman is involved with is Global Women – a not-for-profit organisation that works to mentor and develop leadership opportunities for qualified women.

However, discussion about gender diversity in the boardroom is one of Mrs Foreman’s bugbears. More important than diversity is having the right person at the table, she said.

"It’s wrong to say we should have ‘X’ per cent of women or men. We should have the best people. You get some very short-term thinking when you try to fill quotas."

She disagreed with a mooted target of 25% of women in governance roles for listed companies, and said quota systems were a "form of apartheid".

"If there are not 25% capable, exceptional women then they shoudn’t be there.

"If you’re really good the cream will come to the top, whether you are male or female."

On her bike
Training for the Round Lake Taupo bike race is getting Mrs Foreman out on the road and away from her home-gym workout routine.

She will ride a 40km leg of event as part of the New Zealand Natural Team.

The mother of four children has also been paddle boarding over summer at her Omaha beachfront holiday home.


Georgina Bond
Wed, 11 Jul 2018
© All content copyright NBR. Do not reproduce in any form without permission, even if you have a paid subscription.
Emerald Foods on acquisition hunt