21 Apr 2023

Hamilton businesses fear Fonterra ready to move

12:29 pm on 21 April 2023
Fonterra’s current building on London Street.

Fonterra’s current building on London Street. Photo: Libby Kirkby-McLeod / RNZ

It is lunchtime in Hamilton, and groups of workers pop in and out of the Fonterra offices, at the end of Barton Street, with takeaway lunches and coffees in hand.

It is a sight which could become a thing of the past as Fonterra looks for new premises.

For over 60 years, dairy giant Fonterra and its predecessors have been one of the biggest employers in central Hamilton. The company said it was committed to retaining an office in Waikato, but it was looking all over - not just in Kirikiriroa.

General manager of the Hamilton Business Association, Vanessa Williams, said she desperately hoped Fonterra and its 400 staff stayed in town. Williams said the city was built on agri-businesses like Fonterra.

"I think it's huge to have them here, and to continue to have them here."

Willaims said the 400 staff at Fonterra's downtown office were a great support to other local businesses like clothes boutique Sisters on London, which was across the road from the imposing white Fonterra tower.

Sisters on London director Le Rogers said they had customers who popped in because they worked locally. She said losing Fonterra from the city would make a difference, but she did not know how much.

"We do have a lot of people pop in and go, 'I'm just on my lunch break, I'm not here, you haven't seen me.' We get that a lot, but I don't know if they are from Fonterra or not."

Le Rogers from Sisters on London.

Le Rogers from Sisters on London. Photo: Libby Kirkby-McLeod / RNZ

While Fonterra is considering moving out of the Hamilton CBD, others are moving in.

ACC has opened a new office for more than 800 staff and is bringing in some of its national operations to the CBD.

Rabobank also moved its New Zealand head office to the city in 2021.

Chief executive Todd Charteris said it made sense to get out of Wellington where there were not many farmers. He said the move had worked out well.

"It's a much better climate [compared to Wellington], and a much closer connection to our customers and our purpose - that has really come through."

Charteris said Waikato was such a New Zealand agricultural heartland, and they were much closer to it being in Hamilton.

Vanessa Williams, general manager of the Hamilton Business Association.

Vanessa Williams, general manager of the Hamilton Business Association. Photo: Libby Kirkby-McLeod / RNZ

Williams had a strong pitch to Fonterra while it considered its options.

"Being based in the central city is an enormous benefit. You've got all that local amenity that staff can duck out to at lunchtime, it's all on the doorstep."

Local businesses can expect to sell a few more lunches and coffees to Fonterra staff for a while yet. Wherever it decides to move, it will not happen until the end of 2026.