3 Dec 2013

Fonterra confident over Danone situation

6:56 am on 3 December 2013

Fonterra is confident it has minimum liability in its contract with the French company Danone.

Unit holders at the Fonterra Shareholders' Fund's first annual meeting on Monday were told it has been working on a commercial solution with customer Danone for months.

Danone, which sells infant formula, says it lost 350 million euro from Fonterra's contamination scare.

A unit holder at the meeting asked if Fonterra's $14 million contingent liability was adequate.

Chief executive Theo Spierings admits he's worried about Danone's claims and was awaiting a decision by the French food giant on a commercial deal Fonterra was offering it.

"So I'm waiting a reply (on) whether we go the commercial route or the legal route. That's the next question," he said.

"If we go the legal route, there is a contract, we have lawyers, there's minimum liability for Fonterra."

The Fonterra board also faced questions over the co-operative's flat earnings, its drop in share price and sustainability.

One unit holder warned that Europeans would not accept Fonterra products if they knew about the poor sustainability and animal welfare of some farms, and Mr Spierings admitted Fonterra was 10 years behind Europe on sustainability.

However, Fonterra and its farmers were quickly catching up, he said. It had developed a 10-year sustainable growth plan, which would drive 3.5% - 4% growth per year.

"The next big platform is sustainability. On-farm but also in factories - our entire supply chain. We should not limit ourselves only to farmers, and I've never done that," Mr Spierings said.

"For me it's the whole business model. End to end, we need to be sustainable."

It was too early in the season to forecast Fonterra's 2014 earnings but it would give an update on the forecast milk payout and dividend next week, he said.