Fonterra's interim CEO admits performance must improve as $196 million loss announced today

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has just announced a massive $196 million net loss, after tax.

The Fiscal Year 2018 results come after a tumultuous year for the company that saw CEO Theo Spierings announce his resignation in March and chairman John Wilson step down after a health scare in July.

Interim CEO Miles Hurrell, who was appointed last month, said of the results that the co-operative's business performance must improve.

"There's no two ways about it, these results don't meet the standards we need to live up to," he said in a statement announcing the loss. "We needed to deliver an outstanding third and fourth quarter, after an extremely strong second quarter for sales and earnings - but that didn't happen."

The company's woes over the past year have also included a $232 million payment to French food giant Danone following years of legal wrangling over the 2013 botulism scare. The international arbitration tribunal decision last December first prompted Fonterra to cut its earnings forecast.

The botulism scare stemmed from Fonterra quarantining several batches of whey protein concentrate after there were concerns they could have been contaminated with clostridium bacteria.

Danone, then a buyer of Fonterra products, began a large-scale recall which they said cost about $610 million, and ceased doing business with Fonterra. It was later confirmed there had been no food safety risk to the public.

"We have learned from this experience and as a result have made improvements to our escalation, product traceability and recall processes, and incident management systems," Mr Spierings said in December.

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"Fonterra is in a strong financial position and is able to meet the recall costs," he added.

Mr Hurrell said today that there were four other reasons, in addition to the Danone decision, for the gloomy year-end results. The company's forecasting was "too optimistic", butter prices remained higher than anticipated, there were increased operating costs in some parts of the business and the company was hurt by an increase in the forecast Farmgate Milk Price late in the season, he explained.   

However, the silver lining of the report today was the business' performance in China, Mr Hurrell said.

"Of particular note, our Consumer business in China broke even this year, two years ahead of schedule," he said. "A big contributor to this success is the popularity of Anchor, which is now the number one brand of imported UHT milk in both online and offline sales in China."