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Hart healthy for Hansells

Executive chairman of Hansells Masterton, Alan Stewart. PHOTO/FILE

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Kiwi billionaire Graeme Hart started with the purchase of Government Print in Masterton and made his fortune, and now his son is working to turnaround a food company that also has a connection with the town.

All the documents for the purchase of Hansells Group have the name Harrison Hart on them, says Masterton businessman Alan Stewart, who has met the 26-year-old and thinks if he succeeds like his father it’ll be good for Masterton.

Hansells Group owns a 25 per cent stake in Hansells Masterton and is its largest customer, accounting for about a third of its business.

Stewart said the only person he had had dealings with was Harry Hart – it was his deal.

It’s business as usual at Hansells Masterton after the purchase on Monday – all that’s happened, Stewart says, is that a minority shareholder has changed.

But he reflected that Graeme Hart bought Government Print, now known as Webstar, for a song and made money out of it and Harry Hart would not have paid much for Hansells, because it had been making losses for years.

He said Harry Hart had purchased a business he had been looking at for a while, and wanted to make his fortune out of it.

“I hope he is going to turn it around and make it successful and profitable and build it up.

“He wouldn’t have bought it otherwise.

“How he is going to do it, I don’t know.”

He said Hansells Group had some good brands that had been poorly managed. With good management it could do very well.

He believes all the products had potential to gain market share with the right promotion, and if that happened, Hansells Masterton would be marking of the product for its customer, Hansells Group.

“If they can develop the business and make it bigger then we will get more business out of it.”

Stewart has been involved with the food manufacturing business now known as Hansells Masterton since 1983, and has seen it go through many ownership changes while working himself in many roles.

In 2014, he saved it from closure by putting a consortium together. Hansells Group kept a quarter, Stewart has a quarter, an Australian company he has an association with has a quarter, and two other Masterton parties have a quarter.

Hansells Masterton employs 63 people, down from 87 at its peak, and is profitable, though Stewart will not disclosure either turnover or profit figures.

He said it was a contract manufacturer, specialising in small product runs.

At the time it became separated from Hansells Group, the group was the Masterton operation’s sole customer.

Since then, new customers had been found and the company had competed successfully in the dairy sector, turning milk powder into ice cream and yoghurt mixes. It sources the milk powder from
Westland Dairy.

Hansells Masterton also makes Vitafresh, Weight Watchers’ products, Chef’s Kitchen dessert mixes, Thriftee, artificial sweeteners and curry powders.

“Probably our second biggest product is the soup mix we do for the King brand,” he said.

He said Hansells Masterton did not need a big public profile and just quietly dealt with suppliers and customers, nationally and around the world, including in China.

It exports product on containers out of Wellington’s port, and when the earthquake occurred was able to get product out via Napier’s port.

“We are based in Masterton because it is a good place to work and a good place to get good staff, and we have good facilities here.”

Back in the 1980s, the business was owned by the Maunsell family.

An outside shareholder who bought in went bust and then Auckland businessman Gary Lane became an investor. Stewart was a 26 per cent shareholder during that period.

It was very much a Masterton business then, and Stewart grew its turnover from $10 million a year to $60 million.

About 1998, Old Fashioned Foods bought the business and the name was changed to Hansells and the Masterton business became part of the Auckland company.

It struggled, and Stewart later took the opportunity to bring it back to local ownership.

“When I was running the company back in the 80s, I employed people and they are still here.”

He said the workers had a family attitude and Hansells Masterton was a “people company”.

“Things run smoothly – everyone knows what they are doing.”

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