A major row has broken out between the shareholders of Fulfil Nutrition, a fast-growing Irish food company backed by Barry Connolly, whose Richmond Marketing is the Irish distributor for Red Bull.
Mr Connolly, who owns 50 per cent of the near €25-million-a-year business, has fallen out with Fulfil's co-founders, Niall McGrath and Tom Gannon, who each own 25 per cent of the business.
Mr McGrath and Mr Gannon confirmed they are taking legal advice in relation to the dispute.
Fulfil, which sells nutrition snack bars and only launched in 2016, has quickly emerged as a rising star among Irish food brands, and sells to multiples such as Tesco and Supervalu in Ireland, as well as Sainsbury and WH Smith in the UK.
It also recently signed a contract with Ryanair, and was a finalist in the Irish Times Innovation Awards in 2017. In its first year of trading, its sales reached about €12 million, before doubling in size last year.
The falling-out is over a proposed expansion plan to make Fulfil a major global brand. The shareholders had agreed a plan to rapidly quadruple in size. However, a dispute has emerged over a proposal to scrap that in favour of an even more ambitious, exponentially larger scheme to take it into new continents and market segments.
It is understood that Mr McGrath and Mr Gannon, who oppose the exponentially larger plan, have been sacked from their executive roles, although they remain shareholders and directors of Bartoni, the Dublin company behind Fulfil.
Mr Gannon and Mr McGrath worked with Mr Connolly at Richmond for years, before devising the Fulfil concept in 2014. In 2015, Mr Connolly came on board as financial backer. All shareholders own the shares via Isle of Man entities.
It launched in January 2016 and the scale of the opportunity quickly became apparent. Richmond took on the distribution for Ireland, while another company controlled by Mr Connolly took on distribution for the UK.
It was agreed in 2016 that the board of the business would expand, and Richmond's finance chief, Ivan Walpole, joined. Brian O'Sullivan, the former managing director of Cadbury Ireland, was retained to advise the business on the growth plans, and subsequently became chief executive.
Late last year, the falling-out developed over the scheme backed by Mr Connolly and Mr O’Sullivan to super-size the previously agreed growth plan. Talks took place between Mr Connolly and the two co-founders over buying out some or all of their shares, but agreement was not reached.
In recent weeks, Mr Gannon and Mr McGrath were told they were being let go.
“The founders, builders and key drivers of highly successful protein bar Fulfil, Niall McGrath and Tom Gannon, have been compelled to take legal advice and will take whatever steps are required to protect and vindicate their position,” said a statement issued on their behalf.
They declined to comment further. Bartoni said it “believes that the success of Fulfil in Ireland can be replicated in other markets”.
“We have a duty to protect the privacy of all employees. We have a policy of not sharing any current or former employee information,” said Bartoni.
Mr Connolly declined to comment.