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Driscoll's owns stealth stake in joint venture partner Costa

A stealth shareholder in embattled fruit and vegetable grower Costa Group is none other than its very own joint venture partner and California-headquartered berry growing giant Driscoll's.

Street Talk has confirmed that Driscoll's has built a stake in Costa, a company that had more than $2 billion wiped off its market cap in the past 18 months, to just below the 5 percent "substantial shareholder" threshold. Above this threshold, its holding would have to be disclosed.

A spokesman for Costa confirmed on Tuesday that the ASX-listed company was aware of Driscoll's presence on its register: "Costa has a long-standing relationship with Driscoll’s, successfully operating joint ventures in both Australia and China," chief executive Harry Debney said. "It is a relationship built on mutual respect and I look forward to this continuing."

While it is not known when the stake was first established, its existence will interest long-suffering shareholders nonetheless.

Any corporate jumping on another corporate's register will always raise eyebrows - particularly when the two companies have a decades-long history. Shareholders would point out that Costa shares have been battered in the past 18 months, trading down 67.33 per cent since the start of July 2018. Back then, they were trading at $8.25; on Tuesday Costa shares closed at $2.86.

News of Driscoll's holding also comes after the berries, citrus and tomato grower's shares were suspended from trading last October pending an update to its "trading outlook".


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