Difficulties for Northern Irish processors despite bullish forecasts

One Northern Irish business has entered administration and another has shut down meat production and sold its poultry business, only days after industry officials welcomed 2013 as a year of investment and expansion for the processing sector.

Empire Meats in Roslea, Co Fermanagh, went into administration last week with the immediate loss of 40 jobs, while a restructuring at Crossgar Foodservice saw almost 20 jobs axed as production ceases at its meat plant in Downpatrick, Co Down and a further 40 positions at risk across its warehouse and administration staff.

Speaking before the announcements, the Northern Irish processing sector was described as “more a story of investment than rationalisation”, by Phelim O’Neill, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association.

Processor investment and year-on-year growth were also highlighted by Ian Stevenson, chief executive of the Livestock & Meat Commission, citing the continued expansion of major processors such as Linden, ABP and Dunbia.

Market conditions have been more difficult for smaller plants, with Empire Meats, which traded as Flynn’s Fine Foods and supplied cooked meats, bacon, sausages, pork and gammon to retailers in Ireland and the UK, already ceasing to trade before entering administration.   

“Unfortunately the company experienced deterioration in trading over the past number of months, which resulted in significant cashflow pressures,” said Gregg Sterritt, joint administrator at RSM McClure Watters.

Back in February, the business was fined £4,000 at Enniskillen Magistrates’ Court after a routine inspection by trading standards found pre-packed bacon and chicken in its Roslea plant to be significantly under-weight due to insufficient quality control systems.

Crossgar Foodservice, the sole all-Ireland distributor for 3663, supplying to restaurants, hospitals, schools and hotel groups, was acquired by a subsidiary of US food group Sysco in July 2012 and has been renamed Crossgar Pallas following the restructure.

“The decision to consider closing the meat production facility is based on the scale of the operation,” said a spokesperson for Crossgar. “To meet customer needs, Crossgar Foodservice will continue to supply meat products in Northern Ireland through strategic agreements with local suppliers.”

In addition to the 19 compulsory redundancies among meat plant employees, the business is seeking 40 voluntary redundancies in warehousing, sales support and administration to streamline operations, while seven new posts are to be added in sales and customer service.

Crossgar Poultry has been sold back to Lissara Farm, operated by its former owners before last year’s acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, with all 46 jobs to remain.


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