Whakatāne mill's sale to investors a 'sigh of relief' for families

6:47 pm on 31 May 2021

Whakatāne Mayor Judy Turner is thrilled Whakatāne Mill has been officially sold.

Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner.

Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Mill owners SIG Combibloc announced today it has sold the mill to a consortium of investors led by European investor Dr Dermot Smurfit.

The announcement means that, besides staff who have chosen to take redundancy, more than 200 mill staff will keep their jobs.

"It's really exciting news, it's a great outcome and well done to all parties involved," Turner said.

"I'm particularly thrilled for the contractors outside the direct employment of the mill as this has been a very nervous time for them and their staff."

Turner said she was relieved the mill had been saved as its closure and loss of jobs would have been devastating for the local economy.

"To the new owners, congratulations and well done. We're really pleased to have you on board," she said.

Karl Gradon of Toi Economic Development Agency said close to 300 families would be breathing a sigh of relief with the announcement.

"We really welcome Smurfit to the business community, we have a wonderful opportunity to take the momentum that Smurfit brings to their alternative to plastic packaging technology, and it looks like we will have an impressive customer base that they will link Whakatāne Mill into globally," he said.

"It's very exciting for us."

The Smurfit consortium includes New Zealand investors, and many have experience in owning and operating paper-packaging businesses.

A spokesperson for the Smurfit Consortium, Ian Halliday, who will become chair of the Whakatane Mill, said the consortium looked forward to developing a more competitive operation to support customers in New Zealand and around the world.

"We believe that the Whakatāne Mill has a very bright future as the only folding box board mill in Oceania, and we intend to invest heavily in the mill to support both our customers and New Zealand's forest products industry," he said.

The mill will stop producing liquid packaging board and will focus on its customers' requirements for high-quality folding box board, carrier board, and food service board, all of which are already manufactured at the mill.

Mill general manager Juha Verajankorva said the agreed acquisition by the Smurfit Consortium was a positive outcome and represented a new and exciting era for the mill.

All senior management would remain under the new owners.

"This is a welcome development for Whakatāne and the wider Bay of Plenty region," he said.

"It's also great news for the New Zealand paper packaging sector and we appreciate the positive support of our workforce, our suppliers and customers in working towards this outcome which has been welcomed by all.

"Our preference was always for a sale of these assets so that they could continue to be productive. It took until almost the final whistle, but this is a satisfying outcome," Verajankorva said.

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