Harry Debney to replace Sean Hallahan as Costa Group interim CEO

AUSTRALIA- Avocado and fresh produce grower Costa Group has announced Harry Debney as the Interim CEO following the sudden resignation of its chief executive, Sean Hallahan.

Hallahan had been a senior executive at Costa for five years and has only been in the chief executive officer role for 18 months after being appointed in March 2021.

As a replacement is sought, Debney will take over as interim CEO and managing director, another position held by Hallahan.

“Reaching my decision has been a process and there are several things that have gone into my decision,” said Hallahan.

He added that it has been an intense couple of years in agriculture made even more challenging with the overlay of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chairman Neil Chatfield described the last two years as “challenging” for Costa amid the pandemic and “extreme” weather conditions.

However, the company returned to profitability in the 2020 fiscal year, and in 2021, it initiated the purchase of Central Queensland citrus farmer 2PH Farms.

Costa’s shares ended the day more than 14% lower due to Hallahan’s departure from.

In the first six months of 2022 to 3 July, underlying net profit after tax (NPAT-S) climbed 10.8% to AUD49.2m (US$31.9m). Revenue was up 15.7% at AUD708.7m, while EBITDA rose 12.6% to AUD140.1m.

Revenue was relatively flat last year at AUD1.2bn, compared to AUD1.1bn. NPAT-S was up 16.2% at AUD64m, and EBITDA was AUD218.2m, a 10.6% increase over the previous 12 months.

Meanwhile, in August, the firm issued an urgent plea for the Albanese Government to prioritize export market access for horticultural products in key markets.

Meanwhile, in August, the firm issued an urgent plea for the Albanese Government to prioritize export market access for horticultural products in key markets.

Sean said the lack of access to key markets, especially Japan for Australia’s avocados was affecting the entire industry.

“It is vitally important for the new Albanese government to prioritize export market access for horticultural products into key markets, most prominently Japan,” Mr. Hallahan said.

Japan imports huge volumes of avocados principally from South America and small volumes from Western Australia.

Most Australian avocados are however grown in Queensland, which is prevented from exporting to Japan due to Queensland Fruit Fly.

“I encourage both the Federal Agriculture and Trade Ministers to work together to address this issue as a matter of absolute urgency for the greater good of the avocado industry, and the economic sustainability of regional and rural communities where avocados are grown.”

Mr. Hallahan said other countries, including Peru, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, and the United States had successfully gained access to China and other southeast Asian countries for their fresh produce.

He noted that the common denominator at play appears to be that these countries take a whole government approach to trade access negotiations.

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