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'Business as usual' as Cookstown sausages firm changes hands

By Margaret Canning

The management team behind Cookstown sausages - one of Northern Ireland's best-known foods brands - has vowed to grow their business after a change of ownership.

Karro Food Group, which employs 880 people in Cookstown, has been sold to CapVest Partners in London by former private equity owner Endless, based in the north of England.

The deal completed this week after receiving the green light from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in Ireland.

Cookstown is one of Northern Ireland's most beloved brands after a famous series of TV advertisements featuring George Best.

The footballer was approached in the late 1960s to become the face of the brand - and the association remains, decades on.

The sale of Karro by Endless is the latest change in ownership to affect Cookstown's best-known product, which has been owned by a number of English and international companies. Dutch food conglomerate Vion acquired Cookstown when it bought over Grampian Food Group in 2008 - seven years after Grampian bought over its former owner, Malton Foods.

Then Karro, with the backing of Endless, took over Cookstown and the rest of Vion's UK pork division in a management buy-out in 2013. Now Endless has sold Karro to CapVest - but the existing management team of Karro, including chief executive Seamus Carr, from Warrenpoint, will remain in place.

A spokesman for Endless said it had "transformed the group from a heavy loss-making business into a highly profitable, dynamic and well respected player in the domestic and international pork market". Karro has annual turnover of £550m and has seven sites across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Endless partner Aidan Robson said: "Karro is another fantastic turnaround story for Endless. Over the last four years, we have worked with a very talented management team, led by Di Walker, to transform what was a heavily loss-making, non-core division of a European cooperative into one of the leading British pork producers.

"During this time, we have invested over £45m in capital improvement projects, focused primarily on locally reared British pork and produced enough bacon for over 1 billion bacon butties."

Karro executive chairperson, Di Walker, said: "Endless has been a great owner of Karro and I would like to thank them for all their support and input over the last four years.

"This has helped us transform and grow Karro into the highly successful business it is today, with a clear strategic role in the supply of British pork.

"Along with our new owners, CapVest, we have ambitious plans to grow the business further and we are very excited about the scale of the future opportunities.

"In the meantime, it's very much business as usual for our management, employees and customers as we look with confidence to the next phase in our journey."

The sale of Karro by Endless is the latest big deal affecting the pork processing industry in Northern Ireland.

Last year, Dungannon meat giant Dunbia announced the sale of its pork division in Ballymena to Cranswick plc. Dunbia chief, Jim Dobson, said: "Cranswick specialises in pork production and has the scale and growth potential to continue this work, which is a natural fit for its business. Dunbia is pleased to welcome the investment of a major UK PLC into the Northern Ireland economy and we wish them every success."

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