Fane Valley co-operative sees success

A new abattoir for its Slaney Foods division in the Republic of Ireland is the latest in a series of bold investments, which have propelled Northern Irish agri-food co-operative Fane Valley’s turnover from £269m to £430m over 2007-2011.

Speaking at last week’s LMC conference, CEO of Fane Valley and chairman of Linden Foods Trevor Lockhart identified the strength of its co-operative structure and integrated operations, and its willingness to invest and take a longer-term view, as key factors in the group’s success.

Lockhart identified challenges in the Northern Irish red meat industry as including energy costs above the UK average and bureaucracy – “the bane of all our lives. There is still an opportunity to have a more risk-based approach,” he said. Further, vital to the Province’s potential is the ability to growth its agricultural base and offer competitive scale in processing.

Also speaking at the conference, LMC economist Conall Donnelly said a 14% decline in beef supply over 2012 to date (year-on-year) is starting to steady up but is a concern. “You might as well take one plant out of business,” he said. “There must be plants out there suffering in terms of profitability.”

For Fane Valley, last year saw the acquisition of Belgian lamb market leader A Lonhienne and the official opening of a new £10m retail packing and product development site for Linden Foods in Dungannon.

As well as beef processors Slaney, Linden and Kettyle Irish Foods, the group includes sheep and lamb processors Irish Country Meats and A Lonhienne, offal processor Hilton Meats, and divisions producing dairy, oats, feed and renewable energy, as well as livestock sales and agricultural supply stores.

Lockhart said Fane Valley has refocused on core activities, with its red meat businesses aiming to offer “a range of products that keep ahead of the pack”. Innovation and initiatives, such as its livestock schemes, ensure Fane Valley’s red meat divisions are producing or processing “the right animals for the right product for the right market”, he added.