The ABP Food Group has agreed a deal to sell the Silvercrest facility at Ballybay, Co Monaghan, as part of its plan to exit the frozen burger sector in Ireland.
The company is being sold to the Kepak Group, subject to Competition Authority approval. The value of the deal was not disclosed. The sale involves the transfer of 122 staff currently employed at Silvercrest , who have been kept on full pay while the future of the plant was being resolved.Silvercrest in Ballybay was the first company to show positive results for horse DNA in its burgers, following a round of sample tests carried out at the plant by the Department of Agriculture in January. These results sparked the beginning of the horsemeat controversy which resulted in production being suspended at the plant and the loss of three contracts from Tesco, Aldi and the UK Co-operative Group believed to be worth in the region of €60 million annually. In the wake of the controversy, Silvercrest Foods withdrew ten million burgers from store shelves. CEO of the ABP Food Group, Paul Finnerty said the decision to sell the plant is the right one for both the wider Group and also for the employees. Mr Finnerty said it had become apparent that the Group was only one of a large number of leading European operations affected by the equine issue. The company has assured customers that its chilled business has been unaffected by the horsemeat issue and sales of its chilled beef products have remained unaffected. "Irish beef is held in the highest regard internationally and, as Europe's largest beef exporter, ABP Food Group will continue to invest in expanding and developing this and the other businesses within the group,"said Mr Finnerty. Earlier this week, the beef processing industry in Ireland and the UK got a clean bill of health following a series of sample tests by European officials for horse meat contamination. Yesterday, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney welcomed the announcment and said it was good news "for the companies concerned and the Irish food industry generally." Kepak said the accquisition of Silvercrest would fit in well with its burger and convenience food strategy. Managing Director of Kepak John Horgan said he was looking forward, to subject to approval of the compeition authority, to working with staff at the Ballybay plant and returning the facility to full production in the coming months. Kepak supply fresh and frozen meat products and also own the Rustlers and Feasters range of microwavable burger products. Feasters was bought by Kepak from Eatwell as subsidary of ABP in in February last year. ABP employs 8,000 people in 36 facilities in eight countries, of which 2,500 are employed in Ireland. It has invested €150 million in the expansion and development of its businesses in Ireland and abroad in the past three years. Although ABP will not produce frozen burgers in Ireland anymore they will continue to make frozen meat products, indcluding burgers at its plant in Yorkshire, England.