Bega Cheese’s Paul van Heerwaarden plans to step down as CEO of the Australian dairy-to-spreads and infant-formula supplier after six years.

Van Heerwaarden, who would have marked six years in the job in January, will stay on through a transition period, with recently-appointed chief operating officer Pete Findlay taking up the helm in the “coming months”.

The outgoing CEO has worked for publicly-listed Bega Cheese for 13 years in various executive roles. Findlay, meanwhile, joined the Vegemite spreads and Happi Day formula brand owner in 2019 as finance chief before taking up the position of COO.

Barry Irvin, the chairman of the business based in Bega Valley on the south coast of New South Wales, commended van Heerwaarden on his achievements, including securing a purchase deal for Australia’s Lion Dairy & Drinks, the owner of the Pura and Farmer’s milk brands, finalised in 2021.

Earlier in October, Bega Cheese said it would exit a plant-based beverages venture – Vitasoy Australia – as its Vitasoy International partner in Hong Kong exercised a buy-out clause. The Australian firm had entered the project as part of the Lion Dairy & Drinks deal.

In 2018, he oversaw the Koroit milk-powder plant acquisition from Canadian dairy major Saputo and the previous year negotiated the purchase of assets in Australia and New Zealand from US food giant Mondelez International, including Vegemite. Also in 2017, Heerwaarden instigated the sale of Mead Johnson assets before the infant-formula business was acquired by Reckitt Benckiser the same year.

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Chairman Irvin said: “Paul has been a wonderful CEO for Bega Cheese and has led the organisation through a period of great change and development, always giving his all to deal with challenges and execute opportunities.”

He added: “While Paul’s achievements are many it would be appropriate to highlight the key role he has played in the acquisition of the Mondelez grocery business in Australia (bringing home Vegemite), the re-shaping of our dairy nutritionals business through the execution of the various Reckitt’s transactions, the acquisition of Koroit, the acquisition of Lion Dairy & Drinks and his leadership of the diversity and inclusion programmes of the combined group.”

More recently, van Heerwaarden has navigated the challenges around Covid, pandemic-related supply-chain disruptions and floods for the branded and private-label products supplier.

“This year we have seen a rise in commodities and inflation levels not seen for many years,” he said in the latest annual report for the fiscal year to 30 June.

“Further increases across the cost base for the Branded segment required us to balance maintaining market share with maintaining margins through price increases. While we managed to achieve this balance, the timing of our prices generally lagged the cost increases.”

Revenue climbed 45% to AUD3.01bn (US$1.94bn), with branded sales surpassing 80% for the first time. EBITDA fell, however, on a statutory basis to AUD149.9m, down 19% largely due to the incorporation of Lion Dairy & Drinks. Net profit after tax dropped to AUD24.2m from AUD78m.

Excluding extraordinary items such as one-off costs, normalised EBITDA was up 27% at AUD180.1m and net profit climbed 17% to AUD46.3m.