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Innovation a key driver in Moy Park's success, says boss McCollum

My Margaret Canning

Moy Park chief executive Janet McCollum has said the food giant best known for its poultry was "bleeding cash" as recently as 2007 before a turnaround transformed its fortunes.

The company boss - who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at last week's Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with Ulster Bank - told an industry lunch at the Balmoral Show that opportunities brought by international ownership had enabled Moy Park to expand.

The firm was part of Brazilian giant Marfrig from 2008 until two years ago, when it was brought over by another Brazilian company, JBS.

JBS is the biggest protein company in the world, and the world's second-largest food company.

Ms McCollum said the input of US giant OSI, which acquired Moy Park in 1996, had been key to its earlier phases of expansion, doubling in size with two acquisitions in Britain in 2004.

The company now employs 12,000 people across 11 sites - including 6,300 in Northern Ireland - and processes five million chickens a week.

Its product range has also broadened out from poultry to beef products, vegetarian ranges and desserts.

Ms McCollum told industry leaders at the lunch hosted by Ulster Bank at the show, where the bank is main sponsor, that Craigavon-based Moy Park meant "many things to many people".

"It's local, it's national and it's international - and to JBS, Moy Park is 'JBS Europe'," she said.

But she said the business had been through difficulties before reaching its present level as one of the UK's top 10 food firms. "We were bleeding cash back in 2007," she said, adding that a turnaround led by Nigel Dunlop, her predecessor as chief executive, had brought the company back to profitability.

That period included moves such as the purchase of O'Kane Poultry in Ballymena in 2010.

In its most recently published results, Moy Park posted pre-tax profits of £35.7m, putting it at number nine in the Belfast Telegraph Top 100 Companies.

Ms McCollum said innovation had been key to the company's longevity. With roots going back to Moygashel in Co Tyrone in 1943, it will soon mark its 75th anniversary.

But she said that innovative ideas did not come overnight - and one project with Devenish Nutrition had taken 10 years, culminating in the production of Omega 3-enriched chicken for upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose.

Other innovations included the chicken Kiev, and later, free range and organic chicken.

But she added: "As we look to the future, no doubt there will be challenges ahead. Although there will be changes to the environment in which we operate, we are confident that we have a robust business that can continue to innovate, thrive and grow."

Ms McCollum has been chief executive since 2014, having joined the business as European accountant in 1993.

Richard Donnan, head of Northern Ireland for Ulster Bank, said: "The food and drink sector continues to be a key driver of the Northern Ireland economy and the leadership of people like Janet and other members of our audience today is absolutely central to that.

"Ulster Bank is strongly committed to continuing to support innovation throughout the food chain and our principal sponsorship of the Balmoral Show helps us communicate that and our involvement in the sector as a whole."

At last week's Belfast Telegraph Business Awards, Ms McCollum was praised for making a "hugely positive impact" in the business community here, as well as playing a major role in representing the agri-food industry nationally and internationally.

On receiving her award, she praised the work of her team.

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