LacPatrick’s potential suitors: Who might be interested and why?

Bosses at LacPatrick may be eyeing up a slice of Glanbia and Lakeland’s cross-border milk as part of the firm’s decision to actively pursue a merger, AgriLand believes.

It’s understood that the move is not financially driven, as the company has stated on numerous occasions that it is on a strong financial footing.

In September, AgriLand revealed that LacPatrick’s new Northern Ireland plant could be brought into action to process milk for rival suppliers in the event of a hard Brexit; and now it seems the plans could be turning into a reality.

Speaking to this publication, the chief executive of LacPatrick Dairies, Gabriel D’Arcy, confirmed in September that the firm had – at that stage – already been approached by a number of other processors regarding post-Brexit plans.

Brexit and the firm’s proximity to the border are understood to be the main drivers behind this latest announcement.

The potential suitors

AgriLand takes a look at some of the industry’s key players and examines how they might be positioned for any potential deal:

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Glanbia

With more than 200,000L produced in Northern Ireland crossing the border a day, Glanbia is understood to be one of the main contenders in LacPatrick’s sights.

In 2013, the firm’s chief executive Paul Vernon told press its northern suppliers produce around 1.2 million litres a day.

Vernon explained one million litres of this is used to make mozzarella cheese at Magheralin, Co. Armagh, with the remainder going to the firm’s facility in Virginia, Co. Cavan.

Lakeland

Similarly, while the majority of Lakeland suppliers are based in the Republic of Ireland, the firm’s 750 Northern Irish producers produce almost three times as much milk as the 1,750 south of the border.

It means the firm’s suppliers in Northern Ireland produce 600 million litres annually.

The new drier and logistics centre operating at its Newtownards plant and the Fane Valley takeover will boost Lakeland’s processing capacity, but it’s unlikely to be enough to handle all of the firm’s Northern Irish milk.

However, it’s likely a lot of the white stuff will still head across the border to the firm’s plants in Killeshandra and Balieboro in Co. Cavan.

Lakeland Dairies
Lakeland Dairies’ new global logistics centre in Co. Down

The decision was taken to seasonalise production at the Banbridge plant in August 2016, with the plant now used to control excess butterfat and skimmed milk during peak seasons.

There could be the potential to bring this back into full production should the need arise.

Lakeland produces 200 branded products and exports to across 80 countries worldwide. The opening of LacPatrick’s new powdered milk drier in Artigarvan brings it into a similar market, as Lakeland has already seen sustained success in this area.

Strathroy

Strathroy is another of the region’s major dairy firms which would be affected by any changes to the flow of goods across the border.

However, this firm may be more interested in teaming up with processors south of the border – since it currently processes all of its milk in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, and distributes nationwide.

Strathroy’s Republic of Ireland milk pool is estimated at around 80 million litres. Directors had previously told the farming press that they would consider setting up a plant in the Republic if it was necessary.

The firm is Ireland’s oldest family-run dairy company, with a history dating back more than 150 years.

Today, it is run by brothers Cormac and Ruairi; but despite having a homely feel, the company has been successful island-wide and has several depots across the island.

Its sites include its headquarters and processing plant in Omagh; and depots in counties Dublin, Cavan, Limerick, Galway and Sligo.

Dale Farm

Dale Farm is the largest of Northern Ireland’s milk processors.

The firm has 1,300 UK suppliers and is thought to process all of its milk pool within the UK.

Dale

Dale Farm processes most of its Northern Ireland milk between its Dromona processing plant and the £10 million (€11.5 million) Pennybridge processing plant it opened in 2012 – which specialises in fresh milk and cream production.

In recent years, the firm has also taken over Mullins ice-cream and the Fivemiletown plant in Co. Tyrone, which it also uses to process Northern Irish milk.

In 2014, the firm opened its £39 million (€44.7 million) factory in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. The investment included a new whey protein nanofiltration plant and the expansion of the company’s existing cheddar cheese facility.

Aurivo

Aurivo is the largest multipurpose co-operative in the west of Ireland. The firm has recently increased its supply pool in Northern Ireland, although its supplier numbers here are still very small.

It’s understood that LacPatrick’s Artigarvan plant may already be processing some of Aurivo’s milk, so a deal between the two firms could be a natural progression.

LacPatrick is also already processing Marks & Spencer’s Northern Irish suppliers’ milk. However, it’s not expected that these suppliers would formally join LacPatrick through any merger deal.

Both Glanbia and Lakeland declined to comment.