A cross-border merger is on the table at two of Ireland’s oldest dairy co-ops. Northern Ireland’s Ballyrashane Co-op and the Republic of Ireland’s Town of Monaghan Co-op are in formal talks about joining forces.
A joint statement said the proposed merger would create a “powerful new force in the Ulster dairy sector, with the scale and ambition to win in the increasingly challenging and competitive marketplace”.
Town of Monaghan, a farmer-owned co-op with a €250m turnover, was established in 1901 and employs 150 people. Around 950 farmers supply it with 460m litres of milk annually.
Its milk is processed at its headquarters in Coolshannagh, Monaghan, and at TMC Dairies (NI) Ltd in Artigavan, County Tyrone. Yogurt, liquid milk, cream, butter, bulk skim milk and bulk evaporated skim milk are produced at Monaghan and spray-dried, whole and skim milk dairy powders are produced at Artigarvin.
Ballyrashane Co-op’s main site is near Giant’s Causeway on the North Antrim Coast. The co-op has recently expanded its global reach and its range of products, but is still owned by local farmers and contributes to the local rural community.
Ballyrashane has a turnover of £80m and buys 100m litres of milk from around 100 local farmers each year. It employs 150 staff.
Town of Monaghan chief executive Gabriel D’Arcy said: “Our complementary geography and production facilities, technologies and customer listings, together with the combined balance sheet strength, offers the unique opportunity to create a true leader in the Ulster dairy food sector focused on innovation and competitiveness. This potential for clear and endurable market leadership will ensure that the new merged entity will continue to make competitive and sustainable returns to our members, the dairy farmers of Ulster.”
His Ballyrashane counterpart Nigel Kemps added: “Both co-operatives have similar ethos, values and culture. We’ve entered these discussions with the best interests of our suppliers and shareholders at the fore, while also being cognisant of the strong potential benefits to our staff and customers. We believe this is a potentially powerful partnership that will enable both co-ops to achieve more together than we could on our own.”
One possibility for the two co-ops is to set up a European Cooperative Society (SCE), a legal form which removes the need for co-ops to establish a subsidiary in each member state they operate in. If they were to adopt this model it would be a first for Britain and Ireland – Europe only has around 40 SCEs.
Klaus Niederländer, director of Cooperatives Europe, said: “The SCE has not been very much used as it’s not very well known, in particular by lawyers, and the statutes make many references to national laws, which then prevail.”
A spokesperson for Ballyrashane and Town of Monaghan said: “The boards will be looking at the most suitable structure that enables the merged entity make the best returns to its shareholders while driving the business for the benefits of customers, suppliers and employees alike.”