Belfast Telegraph

Sausage maker in sizzling form as it upscales

factfile

THE owner of one of Northern Ireland's best-known food brands, Cookstown Sausages, has unveiled ambitious plans to expand its Co Tyrone site.

Yorkshire-based Karro Group, formed from a management buy-out of Vion at the beginning of this year, currently slaughters around 22,000 pigs per week in Cookstown.

The pork processor supplies fresh pork, cured and cooked meats – as well as its famous sausages – to retailers, food service and manufacturing customers.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, managing director Seamus Carr said he hoped that with the backing of the embryonic agri-fund, Karro could increase the number of pigs slaughtered in Cookstown from 22,000 per week to up to 30,000 per week. That would see it boost its Cookstown workforce – currently 750 – by up to 200 people.

Mr Carr said: "To grow from 22,000 to 30,000 per week would be quite significant upscaling. To achieve that, it would be a £10m investment into Cookstown.

"We have to stagger supply of pigs to make that happen.

"We'd like to achieve it over the next three years but it depends on funding.

"We are at capacity for pig units."

He said the company would hope to make an application to the agri-fund, an initiative by the departments of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and Finance and Personnel to fund expansion by agri-food companies.

It's understood work on setting up the fund is continuing at the moment, with the main Northern Ireland banks expected to sign up to it at around the end of this month.

Some work has already started on expansion, Mr Carr said.

"We have started enabling work in Cookstown for that expansion after obtaining planning permission."

The company also invested around £3m in a group stunner, the only one if its kind in Ireland. Use of a group stunner to kill pigs is believed to be more humane than stunning them individually.

The company rears its own pigs in Scotland but in Northern Ireland, around 12,000 per week are bought from pig farmers in the province, including major suppliers such as JMW Farms.

Around 10,000 come from suppliers in the Republic.

Mr Carr said the proposed expansion in Cookstown will help it increase its share of the UK market.

It is presently the only supplier for pork products in Northern Ireland for Tesco and Asda.

It has nine locations around the UK and Ireland, and also operates Magee's, the in-store butchery for Asda stores.

Karro Group, based in Yorkshire and owner of the pigmeat processing plant in Cookstown –most closely associated with sausages – is planning a major expansion in its Co Tyrone facility. That will see it aim to increase its share of the UK market, but China is also in its sights. The company, which employs 750 people in Cookstown, is awaiting export clearance from the Chinese government so that it can export pig parts such as heads, trotters and cheeks to China, where they are considered a delicacy. It also wants to increase its capacity from 22,000 pigs per week to around 28,000.

Belfast Telegraph