Century-old Australian chocolatier Ernest Hillier has been acquired by Re:Capital, the international investment arm of British restructuring company Hillco.
Ernest Hillier operates under the Hillier’s and Newman’s brands and is Australia’s first chocolate manufacturer.
It was the oldest privately owned chocolatier still in operation and was owned by the Piedimonte family.
The chocolatier turns over between $15 million and $25 million annually and was sold for an undisclosed sum by the Piedimonte family to Re:Capital and local private investors.
Re:Capital is now the majority shareholder and plans to take advantage of its global network to take the Hillier’s brand overseas and explore new channels in Australia.
It will preserve the Hillier’s chocolates name and corporate identity as well as its facilities.
Ernest Hillier’s chief executive Mark Campbell told SmartCompany Re:Capital will invest to grow the business.
“The reason for the sale was the Piedimonte family decided to move out of manufacturing and concentrate on their supermarket and distribution assets,” he says.
“As part of that they looked at options to sell the chocolate business and part of the reason is the current operating environment and stresses on manufacturing really required some specialist attention.”
Campbell says he plans to expand Ernest Hillier both domestically and internationally.
“The business is a very good business and it has a tremendous history, it’s 100 years old this September and has a wonderful base of craftsmanship and quality,” he says.
Like Darrell Lea which collapsed two years ago, Hillier has been losing market shares to premium brands such as Lindt and Haigh’s and cheaper brands such as Cadbury.
But Campbell says Ernest Hillier can succeed as an Australian chocolate maker and will focus on using Australian produce in its products.
“We are very positive about manufacturing in Australia and we think if you run a good business you can be successful,” he says.
Paul McGowan, global chief executive of Re:Capital said in a statement that Ernest Hillier is a “very strong brand” in the Australian market.
“As we invest funds into Australia to help Ernest Hillier and similar businesses grow, we can also capitalise on our global network to help take Ernest Hillier’s great reputation for quality products to a worldwide audience,” he said.