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Uncertain future for indebted food firm

A LONDONDERRY family-run food company which made pies with celebrity chef Paul Rankin has gone into administration.

Millar Savoury Foods in Eglinton employs 36 people supplying convenience foods to supermarkets like Asda and Sainsbury's.

The company, which has been in business for 40 years, is understood to have debts of up to £500,000 owed to its bank and other creditors.

Invest NI said it had paid the firm £59,764 over the past five years for marketing, improving its computer systems and other activities. But a spokeswoman said it was too soon to say if the company had to return any funding.

The firm is run by Hezlett Millar and his sons Clarke and Robert. The directors took the decision last week to ask for administrators to be appointed by the High Court.

Administrator Ronan Duffy of McCambridge Duffy in Londonderry, who was appointed on June 1, said: "We're looking to try and sell the business as a whole so as to maintain the employment but if that it is not possible it will be broken up."

Mr Duffy said soaring commodity prices had created difficulties for the company. "They were unable to pass the rising prices onto the supermarkets which are their end customers."

The company's products include sausage rolls, hot dogs, burgers and Scotch eggs.

In 2009 Millar Savoury Foods teamed up with Paul Rankin to produce Rankin Selection Pies, sold in Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Dunnes Stores and convenience stores.

Last year they announced that turnover in their Millar Family Foods brand had increased by 50% to £1m in the 12 months to June 2010.

Michael Bell, head of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said the administration of Millar Savoury Foods was a "sad and isolated case" in an otherwise healthy food industry in Northern Ireland.

"Whilst there have been a few failures, in general the industry is incredibly successful in Northern Ireland. Last year four of our largest member companies - Coca-Cola, Linden Foods, O'Kanes and Dromona - made total investments of £180m in new manufacturing facilities."

Meanwhile, Antrim bakery company Steve's Cakes, whose caramel squares were sold in Asda, is to be wound up. Gregg Sterritt and Stephen Armstrong of FGS McClure Watters were appointed liquidators on May 31.