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Hain Celestial CEO: 'I went through a year of hell' during accounting probe

  • "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer sat down with Irwin Simon, Hain Celestial's founder, chairman, president and CEO.
  • Simon said he went through a "year of hell" while his company underwent a lengthy review and audit of its accounting practices.
  • The CEO also said his health food company will invest $50 million in consumer engagement this year.

It hasn't been an easy year for Hain Celestial Group founder, Chairman, President and CEO Irwin Simon.

"I went through a year of hell," Simon told CNBC's Jim Cramer in a Wednesday interview on "Mad Money," referring to a lengthy accounting probe into Hain's financial practices. In his 24 years at Hain, Simon said "2017 was one of my toughest years ever."

The review found no financial wrongdoing, but Hain's stock has struggled to fully bounce back to its levels before the investigation.

Still, Simon said that he and his employees learned some valuable lessons from the probe.

"At the end of the day, we came out a much stronger company. And as you go in as deep as we did and you look at the company, you say, 'Hey, we're not so bad at all,'" Simon told Cramer. "What you learn is this here: it's all about your brands and your people."

Hain, which reported fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday in its second report since the probe halted its earnings releases, will now focus on targeting millennial consumers, Simon said.

The CEO said Hain, the parent company of health-oriented brands including Terra Chips, Garden of Eatin' and Earth's Best, sees abundant market opportunity in consumers who opt for natural, organic choices over more mainstream options.

"Consumers going into brick-and-mortar today want healthier food," Simon said. "Consumers are going to buy Earth's Best versus Gerber, going to buy MaraNatha versus a Skippy. And that's where our opportunity is."

Beyond the benefits Hain might reap from the Amazon-Whole Foods tie-up, the company will also make a major investment in the consumer, the CEO said.

"Something that Hain has not done is invested into the consumer the way we're going to do it this year. We're going to spend $50 million investing in the consumer to bring that millennial in to connect to our MaraNatha brand, to our Earth's Best brand, to our Sensible Portion brand. And that's a big, big, big expenditure we're going to make on the consumer," Simon told Cramer.

The CEO also addressed Engaged Capital's involvement with Hain. The activist firm disclosed a 9.9 percent stake in the food product giant and is reportedly pushing for seven new board members.

Simon recalled his company's 2012 run-in with investor Carl Icahn, who elected two members to Hain's board and walked away with $430 million.

Simon said that Icahn's involvement resulted in growth for the company, adding that he and Icahn maintain an "excellent relationship."

"Listen, I want the best for shareholders, OK? And if Engaged has great, independent board members, I'm open to it. The last thing I'm open to is a distraction from the company, [to] get into some type of proxy fight," Simon told Cramer. "It's [about] moving forward and invest[ing] in our brands and returning to our shareholders."

Watch Irwin Simon's full interview:

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