Meat processor ABP has bought the southwest beef and lamb processor RWM Food Group for an undisclosed sum.
RWM is made up of a number of companies, which include the contract calf and cattle rearing business Blade Farming as well as Southern Counties Fresh Foods - previously one of the largest exporters of cattle meat to Europe. RWM has beef and lamb processing facilities in Langport, Somerset and Yetminster, Dorset respectively. The Dorset plant also includes a retail packing operation.
ABP managing director Tom Kirwan said the deal, effective from 9 October, was an "important milestone in the development of ABP UK" and would strengthen its beef supply in southwest England and give the business a platform to develop its existing lamb processing activity in Northern Ireland.
A spokesman for the company said it would be business as usual for existing farmers working with the RWM Group and Blade contracts would continue as normal. "ABP is keen to develop Blade as a good example of a sustainable integrated supply chain. They look forward to working with staff, customers and finishers and to developing it further. There are no plans for staff redundancies."
Blade Farming's managing director, Richard Phelps, acknowledged that some farmers would feel more power was being handed to fewer large processors, but said the deal was ultimately good news for the sector and all involved.
"ABP has a strong commitment to grow its business in the UK and they also have a very good reputation for paying a good price and paying quickly, so I think it will improve relationships going forward," he said.
ABP currently has 10 units in NI, Scotland, England, plus others elsewhere in Europe.
Blade Farming SW was set up 10 years ago to supply Southern Counties Fresh Foods with consistently high-quality beef. It is a franchise business for beef finishers, where farmers sign forward price commitments backed by the abattoir they supply and pay Blade a franchise fee as the cattle are slaughtered.
It has been held as a good example of supply chain integration and now has more than 16,000 head of cattle in its operation, making it one of the largest beef farming operations in England.