Australia fruit-and-veg supplier Costa Group is looking for a new CEO as Sean Hallahan steps down.

Hallahan, who relinquishes the position today (26 September), has only occupied the chief executive seat since March last year, when Harry Debney retired and became a non-executive director. Meanwhile, Debney will step in as interim CEO and managing director, another role held by Hallahan, as a search begins for a replacement.

Chairman Neil Chatfield described the last two years as “challenging” for Costa amid the pandemic and “extreme” weather conditions. However, the business swung back to profit in the 2020 fiscal year and then instigated the acquisition of citrus grower 2PH Farms in Central Queensland in 2021.

Costa’s shares closed the day more than 14% lower in Sydney today on the back of Hallahan’s departure from the supplier of berries, mushrooms, glasshouse tomatoes and avocados.

Chatfield said: “We understand that the last two years, particularly in Victoria, have taken a large toll on the business and personal lives of individuals. Under Sean’s leadership, Costa has performed extremely well during a challenging period with global Covid-19 disruptions and extreme weather conditions being successfully navigated and is in a strong financial position.”

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The business farms more than 7,200 hectares and 40 hectares of glasshouses in Australia. It also has a majority holding in a Morocco joint venture with blueberry grower African Blue, numbering six farms. Costa operates another four berry sites in China.

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 on the previous 12 months.

Hallahan said: “I am proud to leave Costa in a strong position financially and operationally. Reaching my decision has been a process and there are several things that have gone into my decision. It has been an intense couple of years in agriculture made even more challenging with the overlay of the Covid-19 pandemic.”