Ray Ryan reports on the new era for Irish food development, heralded with the formal opening of Kerry Group’s new innovation centre in Naas.
A CATHEDRAL of discovery that has risen from the ground was how Taoiseach Enda Kenny described Kerry Group’s new global technology and innovation centre which he officially opened in Naas, Co Kildare, the other day.
The description was apt because Mr Kenny had participated in cutting the first sod for the €100m centre in July 2013 and was back to see the transformation of the 28 acre site beside the M7 and M50 Dubin motorways.
But the scale of the project and the phenomenal growth of Kerry Group is even more impressive when set against the company’s humble beginnings in 1972.
Denis Brosnan and others started what became Kerry Group in a muddy field in Listowel without a telephone and using a caravan for an office, showing a courage and a vision that was rare in the Irish agri- food sector at that time.
That small private dairy company has since grown into a world leader in taste and nutrition, serving the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries, and a leading consumer foods processing and marketing organisation in selected EU markets.
It started off with three shareholders, the State- owned Dairy Disposal Company, a federation of eight small farmer co-operatives and the Erie Casein company from the US.
They committed to invest some €200,000 to finance a €1m dairy processing facility in Listowel, for the manufacture of milk protein (casein) for export to the US.
Ownership of what was then known as North Kerry Milk Products Ltd (NKMP) was shared with the Dairy Disposal company holding 42.5%, the federation 42.5% and Erie Casein 15%.
The link to Illinois-based Erie Casein provided a guaranteed market for the edible casein output, a relatively new dairy product for Ireland at that time.
In the first year, NKMP processed 16m gallons of skim milk to produce 2,000 tonnes of casein with a staff of about 40 people, and recorded profits of €127,000 on a turnover of €1.3m. Since then, Kerry Group has grown into a highly successful public company, quoted on the London and Irish stock exchanges.
Structured across three business areas — ingredients and flavours, consumer foods and agribusiness — it is headquartered in Tralee.
The group continues to achieve sustained growth with 2014 revenue of €5.8bn and a €636m trading profit.
Every day, millions of people worldwide consume food or beverage products containing Kerry Group ingredients, flavour, or nutritional products, It employs more than 24,000 people globally, including 800 plus scientists, produces 15,000 products in more than 100 plants and has markets in more than 140 countries.
The global technology and innovation centre in the Millennium Business Park, Naas, is to serve the group’s global and regional customers in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region.
Mr Kenny called it a landmark project that will have a significant impact on the Irish food industry , the food research community and a wider knock-on impact for the economy.
“Having a centre of food innovation on this scale will be a beacon to the global food industry that Ireland is where you need to be for the best in food innovation,” he said. “Now fully operational, I understand the centre currently has over 800 staff on site and this number is growing on a weekly basis.
“At its peak it is expected to employ over 960 staff by 2019. About half of these jobs will be involved directly in food research.
“The calibre of the majority of the jobs on the campus will be extremely high, including graduate, post graduate and doctorate level positions.”
The Taoiseach said the food sector had been a ray of hope in the darkest days of recession, and remains the lifeblood of rural Ireland.
“The sector supports close to 170,000 jobs and 12% of Ireland’s exports,” he said. “It still has a big role to play in securing the emerging recovery. The ambitions for the sector, which are set out in the roadmap for the industry, ‘Food Wise 2025’, are demanding.
“By 2025, we want to see exports grow to €19bn while supporting an additional 23,000 jobs.”
Kerry Group CEO Stan McCarthy said the centre will provide key customers with access to technologies, scientific research, innovation and applications expertise, across food, beverage and pharmaceutical markets.
It will also serve as the group’s global centre of excellence for nutrition and will optimise product differentiation in the marketplace while providing unrivalled speed to market.
Mr McCarthy said Kerry Group is extremely proud of the new world-class centre which received tremendous support from the Government, state agencies and Kildare County Council.
Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation Minister Richard Bruton, whose department provided support for the project, put the significance of the project in context.
Creating a powerful engine of Irish enterprise is at the heart of jobs strategy. The new centre was a brilliant example of what they are trying to achieve.
“Here is a strong Irish multinational company, making world-leading products in Kildare, exporting them all around the world, investing €100m and creating 900 jobs from scratch,” said Mr Bruton. “This project is an inspiration to our industrial efforts,”
The project was praised by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who said it was the largest single investment in food innovation ever by a company in Ireland. It represented a huge vote of confidence in the Irish economy.
“Equally importantly, it represents a resounding endorsement in the quality and expertise of Irish food science graduates to deliver food innovation in the most modern global facility producing world class ingredients and consumer products,” said Mr Coveney.
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