Saturday 19 October 2019

AIB takes stake in €40m nutrition firm at centre of dispute

State-controlled bank has taken equity positions in a range of Irish companies

Tom Gannon and Niall McGrath
Tom Gannon and Niall McGrath

Samantha McCaughren Business Editor

AIB is poised to take a stake in Fulfil Nutrition, a company which has been at the centre of a major shareholder dispute.

It is understood that the rapidly-growing business has been valued at close to €40m during a process to find a buyer for 50pc of the business.

A row erupted earlier this year between the shareholders of the company, which is known for its protein and vitamin snack bars.

The company is 50pc owned by Barry Connolly, owner of the Irish distribution business for energy drink Red Bull. The remainder of the business is owned by Fulfil's co-founders, Niall McGrath and Tom Gannon, who each own 25pc of the company. According to the company website, McGrath and Gannon spent two years developing the bars.

The company has achieved significant financial success in a short space of time, and the range is stocked in SuperValu in Ireland, Sainsbury's in the UK and by Ryanair.

The company made profits of €2.9m in 2016, the year the business was launched, and profits have more than doubled since then.

The disagreement reportedly centred on the growth strategy for the business In February, a temporary injunction was granted by the High Court blocking Fulfil from issuing shares to new CEO Brian O'Sullivan, who previously worked for Cadbury's owner Mondelez.

The founders claimed they had been excluded from participation in the management of Bartoni Ltd, the Dublin company behind Fulfil.

The court heard that a "significant" dispute over management was crystallised by the purported dismissal of both men as executive managers of Bartoni.

It is understood that a process to find a buyer for the stakes held by McGrath and Gannon has been under way for several weeks and that AIB will take a stake of around 25pc of the company, suggesting an investment of around €10m.

A spokesman for AIB had no comment in relation to Fulfil Nutrition but said: "AIB Wholesale, Institutional and Corporate Banking offers a wide range of innovative financing solutions to our customers."

It is understood that Department of Finance approval is not needed as it is part of the bank's day-to-day business activities.

AIB has taken equity positions in a number of businesses in recent months. It is an investor in Reit Yew Grove and Green Coat Renewables. Last year it invested €30m in payment firm TransferMate.

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