Sligo-based Aurivo latest firm to declare an interest in LacPatrick
A dairy co-op in Sligo has become the third party to say it's interested in snapping up rival LacPatrick.
Aurivo already has a limited relationship with the dairy industry here, taking milk from farmers in the west of Northern Ireland.
It joins Dale Farm and Lakeland Dairies in eyeing up LacPatrick.
The firm has now formed a project team to assess the potential of each option.
Aurivo's Northern Ireland milk pool amounts to around 75 million litres, compared to LacPatrick's pool of 500 million litres from around 700 farmers in border counties.
Co Monaghan-based LacPatrick was formed in 2015 following a merger of Town of Monaghan Co-op and Ballyrashane Creameries in Coleraine.
In a statement on its website, Aurivo said: "Aurivo has noted the developments in LacPatrick Dairies in recent days, and following a meeting on Monday, the board of Aurivo has agreed to participate in its formal process to assess strategic options.
"We believe that there would be a very good fit between the businesses of LacPatrick and Aurivo, given our complementary dairy portfolios and milk pools across the Republic and Northern Ireland.
"The consolidation process, in which Aurivo have a successful history, would strengthen our commitment to improving the lives of our member owners in the combined business."
LacPatrick, which is led by chairman Andrew McConkey and chief executive Gabriel D'Arcy, said it would not comment on whether one of its three suitors was in with a stronger chance.
An international operator - which has not yet been identified - is also in the running.
A spokeswoman for the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) said: "With rumours continuing to circulate, the UFU are meeting with LacPatrick representatives next week to establish the facts in relation to last week's announcement."
Last week LacPatrick announced it was considering a merger, joint venture or partnership after receiving approaches from other businesses.
The business is profitable and has made significant investment to Brexit-proof its operations, with investment in a processing centre in Artigarvan near Strabane.
But many suppliers were left disgruntled after its most recent milk price announcement.
Last week Dale Farm confirmed it was interested in a tie-in, joining Lakeland Dairies which had earlier indicated it was following the proceedings. Dale Farm is Northern Ireland's biggest dairy processor and also has major interests in Britain.
It owns Dale Farm Milk, Dale Farm Ice Cream, Dromona, Spelga, Fivemiletown, Mullins Ice Cream, Rowan Glen and Loseley.
Its broad dairy portfolio spans milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, sports nutrition drinks, cultured products and desserts.
However, it does not have significant operations in the Republic.
Jim Bergin, chief executive of Irish food and dairy giant Glanbia, refused to say if it would be interested in a tie-up with Lacpatrick.