Goodman firm says horse meat crisis has changed it for the better

ABP Food Group says business grew by €100m despite the scandal

APB Food chief executive Paul Finnerty: “There was a suggestion that we were guilty until proven innocent.  Photograph: Eric Luke

APB Food chief executive Paul Finnerty: “There was a suggestion that we were guilty until proven innocent. Photograph: Eric Luke

Mon, Jan 13, 2014, 01:00

It’s fair to say that ABP Food Group does not court publicity. Before the horse meat scandal, the average man on the street would have been hardpressed to tell you anything about it. He probably wouldn’t have known that it is the biggest beef processor in Britain and Ireland, or that it employs 8,000 people around the world.

But when you mention its chairman, Larry Goodman, everyone nods. When ABP found itself at the centre of the horse meat controversy this time last year, the Goodman connection was highlighted more than once.

ABP’s chief executive, Paul Finnerty, acknowledges the interest in the empire of the media-shy 76-year-old. “At the beginning of the crisis, ABP was very much in the spotlight and that’s not a situation that we, as a company are used to. We are a low-profile business. We work business to business, not business to consumer,” he says.

When the Food Safety Authority of Ireland tests found 29 per cent horse DNA in the meat of a frozen burger made by ABP’s Silvercrest plant in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, he instantly knew it would be an “enormous” story.

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He first heard about the scandal on the evening before it became public. “I got a call driving home, at about 7.30pm, to say we had a problem.” A team worked through the night to assemble the facts and reported to him at 7am the next day. Action was swift. All product was withdrawn from the market and staff were suspended.

He says ABP never knowingly processed product that contained horse meat. “We said that on day one . . . And that was subsequently validated by all the investigations that were done by Government authorities and by reviews by our customers. While we got it wrong in Silvercrest, we were also the victim of a fraud here, a fraud that was subsequently shown to have been perpetrated on the industry as a whole across Europe.”

The frozen burger business at Silvercrest and its sister plant, Dalepak, in Yorkshire was only 5 per cent of ABP’s total turnover, so protecting ABP’s much more valuable fresh beef business was the biggest concern. “We opened our doors across the group to our customers to say this was essentially a Silvercrest-related issue and that the fresh [beef] business was not affected. We were subject to thorough examination and in tandem with all of that we made very significant changes.”

ABP announced the sale of Silvercrest to Kepak in April and it is now known as Kepak Ballybay. Dalepak is now ABP’s sole frozen burger site. “We did lose custom arising out of Silvercrest,” Mr Finnerty says. “But today, when you factor in the customers that migrated from Silvercrest over to the UK, we are now producing the burgers for five of the top seven retailers in the UK out of that facility.”

While ABP won back most of the burger contracts it lost, it didn’t regain the contracts with Tesco and Burger King. Kepak won the Burger King business while Tesco introduced a new version of its Everyday Value burger in September, made with Republic of Ireland beef by Eurostock Foods in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, ABP still works with Tesco “across multiple other product areas”.

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