Ireland’s largest pig factory, the Karro facility at Cookstown, Co Tyrone, is now onto its fifth owner in less than 12 years having been part of a deal that saw Canada-based Sofina Foods acquire businesses within the Eight Fifty Food Group at the end of March 2021.
The move by Sofina across the Atlantic has created a much larger company, with turnover expected to be over £4bn
Founded by Iranian-Canadian businessman, Michael Latifi (the father of Formula 1 driver Nicholas Latifi), Sofina Foods is one of Canada’s largest food companies, operating from 21 sites and employing approximately 5,000 people.
The move by Sofina across the Atlantic has created a much larger company, with turnover expected to be over £4bn, and total employees of around 13,000 spread across 44 sites.
In November 2021, Latifi confirmed that he could be assuming leadership of new European operations, with Eight Fifty chief executive Di Walker and chief financial officer Michael Kestemont both leaving the company.
The Eight Fifty Food Group had been owned by private equity firm, CapVest. It acquired Karro Food Group (including the Cookstown pig factory) in 2017 from another private equity firm, Endless.
When CapVest added the Grimsby-based Young’s Seafood business in 2019, it created the Eight Fifty Food Group.
Eight Fifty then went on the acquisition trail, to include in May 2020 the Republic of Ireland based M&M Walshe, trading as RibWorld, Callan Bacon and Stirchley Bacon, and a few months later the Co Offaly based Carroll’s Cuisine.
The Karro Food Group brand had been established in early 2013 on the back of Dutch food company Vion’s announcement that it was selling its entire UK food operation after racking up multi-million pound losses.
The sale included beef, lamb and poultry processing facilities, and pig factories at Cookstown and Malton in north Yorkshire.
While the red meat and poultry parts of the Vion business were acquired by Birmingham-based 2 Sisters Food Group, the pork operations were the subject of a management buyout, which created the Karro Food Group.
That deal was led by the managing director of Vion’s Pork Business Unit, Co Down native Seamus Carr, and backed by Endless.
Prior to being part of Vion, the Cookstown and Malton pig factories had been owned by Scottish company, Grampian Country Food Group
Also included as part of the package was the McGees butcher business, which now operates in NI Asda stores.
Carr, who was chief operating officer at Karro, resigned as a director in November 2021.
Prior to being part of Vion, the Cookstown and Malton pig factories had been owned by Scottish company, Grampian Country Food Group from 2001-2009.
However, high debts within the Grampian business forced its sale to Vion.
Now under the ownership of Sofina Foods Ltd, the Karro Pork business continues to be led from its Malton head office by CEO Steve Ellis, who has been in post since 2017.