New Zealand-based dairy cooperative Fonterra’s chief executive Theo Spierings is to leave his role later this year.

The company board and Spierings have begun the changeover process as it looks to identify potential candidates. It did initially plan to make the announcement in April, but chairman John Wilson says the board was taking the decision to bring it forward in order to avoid speculation.

“It is not yet clear exactly when any appointment for Theo’s replacement will be made, but it is absolutely clear that Theo will continue in the meantime to drive the co-operative’s strategy and business, with special emphasis on China,” explained Wilson.

“The board and Theo are committed to a high-quality transition to a new chief and when we have more information in regards to timing we will let our farmers and the wider market know. Until then it is business as usual with the focus on driving returns to our farmers and unit holders.”

Spierings added: “It is now time for a new chief who can lead the co-operative through this next phase. The time is right for the co-operative and that is important to me and to the board. It is also the right time for me personally. I look forward to new challenges, but right now my focus is on Fonterra. That will be the case until I finish with the co-operative.”