Food & Beverage

Hain CEO seeks to reassure shareholders after probe finds no financial wrongdoing

Key Points
  • Lengthy accounting probe cleared Hain Celestial of wrongdoing and found "no material change" needed to previous financials.
  • Hain CEO Irwin Simon says "now is the time to move on and build our business."
  • Simon sees silver lining to Amazon-Whole Foods deal.
Hain CEO: I feel good about the plan we have in place
Hain CEO: I feel good about the plan we have in place

Hain Celestial founder and CEO Irwin Simon on Thursday sought to reassure weary investors even as a lengthy accounting probe cleared the company of wrongdoing but failed to help its battered stock price.

Weighing on the shares is a weak outlook provided by management. Nonetheless, the chief executive was upbeat on the company's future and also saw a silver lining in Amazon's planned purchase of Whole Foods.

"Now is the time to move on and build our business and take it to the next level," Simon said in an interview Thursday on CNBC's "Squawk Alley."

The CEO said the company completed the accounting review and audit process and found there was "no material change" to previously reported financials. He called it "a great outcome."

Simon also was upbeat about Hain's general business outlook and its positioning in the organic and natural products space.

"We're in a great category in health and wellness," he said. "The consumer will continue to eat healthy. We'll continue to look for 'better for you' products. And we have the brands and products that consumers want."

Hain's brands include Celestial Seasonings, Terra Chips and Garden of Eatin', among others. The company also is known for personal care products from Alba, Jason and Live Clean.

On Thursday, Hain reported its delayed fiscal 2016 results after going more than a year without disclosing financials.

The company also provided results for the first nine months of the current fiscal year ending June 30. It revealed that Hain's U.S. sales slowed in the nine-month stretch compared with the year-ago period and total sales were relatively flat.

"It's been a difficult year," said the CEO. "There were a lot of things out of my control."

In particular, Simon said currency impacted the company's U.K. business and its turkey protein operation was hurt after prices came down. He also said there were issues with Hain's fruit business in the U.K.

Hain Celestial releases financial results for the first time in a year
Hain Celestial releases financial results for the first time in a year

Hain also announced Thursday it would take $350 million of costs out of the business.

Additionally, the company provided an initial fiscal 2018 outlook that was seen by some as rather optimistic.

"I feel good about going into 2018," Simon said. "But what I feel good about is the brands that we own today, the products that we own globally around the world."

In addition to the internal accounting probe, Hain in February received a subpoena seeking "relevant documents" from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Hain's stock still hasn't fully recovered and remains 40 percent below where it was trading before the accounting issues were first disclosed in August.

Even so, Simon has no plans to step aside.

"This is something that continues to grow, continues to evolve, and with that I think there's lots of runway left in Hain," he said. "And there's lots of runway left within me."

Simon also was asked about Amazon's proposed purchase of Whole Foods, a major retailer selling organic and natural products. The CEO believes the deal is a good thing ultimately for Hain although some investors worry Amazon's bigger push into grocery will squeeze profit margins of big-brand consumer-packaged goods suppliers.

"Amazon is one of our fastest-growing customers," he said while also noting that Whole Foods is one of Hain's big customers. "They want natural and organic products. Hain is in a strong position there."

Moreover, he said if there is price pressure from consolidation on the retail side it will be offset because Hain is cutting costs in its business to "enhance our margins."

On Thursday, Hain's stock closed down 1.5 percent, but it was fractionally higher during part of the session. More than 14 million shares changed hands, or roughly seven times its average daily volume.