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Fermanagh-based egg firm planning for hard Brexit

Success: Charles Crawford
Success: Charles Crawford
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

The head of a major egg processing operation in Co Fermanagh says he is planning for a hard Brexit, as his company announced a 5.4% rise in pre-tax profits to £7.1m for 2017.

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Charles Crawford is chief executive of Lough Erne Investments, which owns Ready Egg Products.

The Lisnaskea company, which produces four million eggs per day, is one of the biggest operations of its kind in the UK.

The family-owned firm produces and processes a range of cooked egg products, including pasteurised liquid eggs, scrambled eggs and hard boiled eggs.

Its products are primarily used in the food manufacturing industry in Britain.

New financial results for the 12 months to December 25, 2017, revealed a massive surge in turnover for Lough Erne Investments, rising by more than 50% from £43.1m in 2016 to £65.4m last year.

The report showed that the company employed 149 in 2017, 36 more than in 2016, with the latest annual wage bill sitting at just under £4m.

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It's understood the workforce has continued to grow in 2018.

"We're just a successful company in a competitive market and we have plans to continue in that vein," explained Mr Crawford.

Based at Manor Waterhouse Farm, just eight miles from the border, the chief executive said that while Brexit will pose challenges for the business, he believes there are opportunities.

"I'm planning for a hard Brexit.

"The United Kingdom is about 85% self-sufficient in eggs and a hard Brexit will give us an opportunity to squeeze out the Europeans.

"Whether there's a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, our job is to be efficient and compete." Around 95% of its products go to processors Britain, with around 3% going over the border and just 2% staying in Northern Ireland.

"Although based in Lisnaskea, we're the biggest egg processor in the UK," he added.

"We produce four million eggs per day. For manufacturing, that can go into mayonnaise, meringues, cakes, sandwich mixes, you name it.

"We don't sell shell eggs as such, you won't buy our eggs on the supermarket shelf.

"We're continuing to invest in efficient production and efficient means of processing it. That's really all you can do. It's nothing to do with Brexit, that's how you run a business. You remain ahead of the posse at all times, don't ever take your foot off the throttle.

"We see Brexit as a challenge and if it's handled right, which it might not be, it's an opportunity. If there are import levies on stuff coming in, it's an opportunity for people to produce more car components, to produce more eggs, we just have to step up to the challenge."

Mr Crawford said the £20m surge in turnover was down to securing new customers and the co-packaging end of the business, which services some of the firm's competitors. He said the large rise in cost of sales was partly down to investment in the business. "We invest heavily in automation if we can," he said.

However, he had harsh words for Westminster, accusing it of having no corporate plan for Northern Ireland.

"There's no joined-up thinking in Government. Some would say we don't have a Government, but I would argue that you don't need a Government if you have a good Civil Service. I'm not sure anyone in Government knows that the headquarters of the UK's egg processing industry is in Fermanagh," he said.

Mr Crawford added the aim for the business this year is to secure the gains it has made, with plans to diversify into producing dried and powdered egg products in the next year.

"Whatever you do you have to think outside the box and make sure you're ahead of the posse, Brexit or no Brexit," he added.

Belfast Telegraph