The last few months have certainly been different for many of Northern Ireland’s largest firms.
Moy Park, which has once again taken the top spot for the ninth year running in the Ulster Business Top 100, remains a giant of the poultry processing and food sector, with sales rising to £1.58bn for the year ending December 2019, while pre-tax profits rose to more than £70m.
But boss Chris Kirke says the Craigavon-based firm has had to undergo major investment and a transformation since the outbreak of Covid-19, while demand for many of its products continued.
Speaking about the latest performance, he says last year was a “tough year”, which saw grain prices rising by around 50%.
“There was a mixture of working with key customers to mitigate and working hard to ensure our network was performing well,” Chris told Ulster Business. “We made the right capital investments – £45m on capital expenditure last year.”
“We work very hard with our key customers to create and an all-embracing portfolio. We like to go wide and deep with key customers for consumer-focused products. Last year we had things like our pie business into quick service restaurants, there was growth in the Far East. We also did development around dark meat, balancing the bird utilisation.
“There was also good progress into international sales, and our egg sales, expanding our customer portfolio around the Middle East.”
In numbers, Moy Park processes six million fresh chickens each week, 600,000 turkeys a year, along with 200,000 tonnes of other ‘added value products’.
Speaking about coming out on top of the list again this year, Chris said: “The more I spend in the company I (understand) we are a community business.
“Wherever we work, and we have 12 sites in Europe, our home Is Northern Ireland. Every day I’m made more conscious, especially given the pandemic, how important it is.
“First of all, I want to call out the 10,000 colleagues which have been here in the last three months. In a time of crisis, people did depend on high quality food… everyone came in as the pandemic broke out to give those high quality products to all of the nation.
“We work with key customers to make sure we are delivering against demand. There was panic buying at start… we were working to make sure people had access to products.”
Chris says the business has invested around £4m in the last few months to prepare for the new way of working to ensuring social distancing and high standards of hygiene.
“It was about making sure people are safe. It wasn’t easy for us but we responded quickly. It’s about people and protecting futures. We pride ourselves in making sure they are safe.”
Some of the measures include thermal image testing to ensure staff do not enter the premises with a high temperature, along with staggering the beginning of shifts to allow people to move through the firm’s sites without congestion.
“We made sure to improve hygiene further – sanitising stations, personal protection equipment (PPE), one way systems, social distancing, reducing capacity by 50% (in social areas) and perspex screens,” he said.
And as for business performance, Chris says a third of the company’s business disappeared overnight, with sales into the quick and fast food sector stopping amid lockdown.
“Those units closed down at the height of the pandemic,” he said. “The rest of our plants were at max capacity to cope with retail demand. There were big spikes in three week, then a more manageable level.
“We are now seeing food services sales going back – drive throughs and home delivery.
“The next issue to ensure we are developing the right products for key customers. We know the economy is going to be particularly challenging. I think more people will be moving towards home consumption and we have to increase that area.”