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Friday 22 June 2018

Why this dairy processor wants more women on its board

Gabriel D'Arcy, chief exec of Lacpatrick. Photo/Paul McErlane
Gabriel D'Arcy, chief exec of Lacpatrick. Photo/Paul McErlane
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The average age of the board of dairy processors LacPatrick has come down, CEO Gabriel D'Arcy says, its all-male status is something he'd like to see change.

While D'Arcy says the all-male board reflects the nature of the industry, he'd like that to change.

"It's fair to say there are some good female farmers coming through, and some good wives who are very exceptionally qualified in their own domain that would make fantastic board members," he says.

Although there is no gender policy as such for his own board, he's a fan of quotas for boards more generally.

"There should be a balance on the board. Females' way of thinking on a lot of things is quite different and often much more thoughtful than the male way on a lot of different issues. I'm not saying that in a sexist way, but there's a lot of studies that show the best decisions are often arrived at by a mixed team of people that contains females and males operating in mutual respect."

LacPatrick, employs 300 and with a turnover of more than €300m, is a prime example of the interwoven nature of the agri-food industry on the island.

Headed up by D'Arcy, it makes butter, liquid milk, cheese and powders. It currently handles and processes more than 600 million litres of milk from more than 1,000 farmers, with more than 500 million litres coming from suppliers in the North, and the remainder in the Republic, from in and around Monaghan.

It has three operations - in Tyrone, Coleraine, and in Monaghan, where it is headquartered and it buys and sells in euros and pounds.

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Its trucks make up to 10,000 border crossings per year and it is the market-leading powder supplier to west Africa, as well as selling product on every continent.

Brexit

D'Arcy, the former managing director of Bord na Móna and a 20-year veteran of Kerry Group, has been vocal about the challenges posed by Brexit, both for the island and his own business and sector.

"What is the single biggest risk facing LacPatrick or any dairy enterprise facing Brexit? In the event of a worst-case scenario, have you got the ability to pick the milk from your suppliers, bring it somewhere, process it and make it into a product? That is the single biggest risk. Can you do that in the same jurisdiction? The risk is that it will be a hard Brexit and you won't be able to freely cross the Border, or you will but you'll be paying tariffs.

"Once that risk was mitigated, the next risk is, do we have access to the markets?"

Everything out of the Artigarvan site is exported outside of the EU. LacPatrick sells into a number of international markets, including the Middle East, US, and is a brand leader in west Africa.

LacPatrick's newly upgraded Artigarvan facility houses an evaporation and spray-drying technology capable of making advanced dairy ingredients for the company's expanding markets in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

It will allow the company to produce up to 12 tonnes of dried dairy ingredients an hour, up from five tonnes previously, and process 2.5 million litres of milk a day on the site, up from one million previously.

And, crucially, it means LacPatrick now has the capacity to process milk in the same jurisdiction in which it collects it.

So, what's the future for LacPatrick?

Further expansion into new markets and products, D'Arcy says, although for now the focus is to generate returns for the investments that have been made.

"We have outstanding opportunities coming in front of us, not to mention further developing our existing markets in west Africa and the Middle East," he says.

The global economic recovery is also helping, he adds.

"The food industry is actually in an exciting phase at the moment.

"Yes, there are challenges, but the world population is increasing. There is certainly a movement back to dairy as a key nutritional element in your diet.

"Consumption is increasing. Uniquely, at this point in time, we have the American market, China and Europe all coming into a period of fairly stable, and sustained growth, all in unison.

"So there are a lot of positive indicators."

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