Ornua buys US cheese business Whitehall Specialties

Dairy exporter moves to increase its footprint in lucrative US cheese market

Ornua chief executive John Jordan

Ornua chief executive John Jordan

 

Kerrygold owner Ornua has acquired US cheese business Whitehall Specialties for an undisclosed sum, doubling its footprint in the US cheese ingredients market.

The Irish dairy group acquired Whitehall from private equity group Mason Wells. According to industry sources it had a $200 million (€173 million) turnover last year.

Ornua said the acquisition would “ significantly increase” its current position in the US cheese ingredients market, expanding its production footprint from two to six facilities across Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

A company source said the move would effectively double its production capacity – in terms of cheese ingredients – in the US.

Whitehall Specialties, which has its headquarters in Wisconsin, provides cheese ingredient products to customers in the food manufacturing, retail and food service sectors. It employs 450 people across four sites.

“ It will be an important enabler of Ornua’s long-term growth strategy, unlocking significant growth capacity and flexibility to support its existing and new customers’ ambitious growth plans,” Ornua said.

Largest dairy exporter

Chief executive John Jordan said: “Ornua Ingredients North America is a core part of the Ornua business, delivering strong growth over the last 10 years.

“ By bringing together two market leaders, in complementary parts of the ingredients sector, we are creating a powerful partnership that builds a strong foundation for a long-term, sustainable future,” he said.

Ornua, the State’s largest dairy exporter, aims to increase Kerrygold sales to €2 billion by 2025, mainly by securing a greater market share in the US, where it is now the No 2 butter brand.

Kerrygold became the first Irish food brand to exceed €1 billion in annual sales in 2018.

Ornua saw turnover rise 1 per cent to €2.34 billion in the 12 months to the end of December.

The strong performance came despite the disruption of Covid, the threat of Brexit and the imposition of punitive US tariffs, which are estimated to have cost it €50 million.