Tuesday 23 July 2019

Ray Coyle rules out buying back stake in Largo from Germany's Intersnack

Tayto Park near Ashbourne
Tayto Park near Ashbourne

Sarah McCabe

Raymond Coyle has ruled out buying back a large chunk of Tayto crisps maker Largo Foods.

The company's founder, who established it in 1983, had a buy-back option on an 11pc stake in the firm which he sold two years ago to a German snack food company.

The option is due to expire soon but Coyle told the Sunday Independent he had no plans to exercise it.

The businessman, nicknamed 'Mr Tayto', is channelling his wealth into upgrading his Tayto Park theme park and zoo in Ashbourne, Co Meath, he said.

"I doubt that I will. I am using my resources to work on the park and a couple of other projects."

He will remain chairman and a minority shareholder, he added.

Largo owns the King, Hunky Dorys and Perri brands as well as Ireland's most famous crisp - Tayto. Together the four brands account for just under half of the Irish crisps and popcorn market.

It claims to source close to 30,000 tonnes of potatoes from Irish farmers annually, or 10pc of the nation's annual potato crop

Largo's single biggest shareholder is German snack food company Intersnack, which owns 40pc.

Intersnack also owns KP Snacks in Britain, a purchase that prompted a probe by the UK competition authority in 2013.

It increased its stake in Largo over a number of years, and did a deal with Coyle that included buy-back options in 2012.

Under this new ownership model, last year Largo announced it was to close its factory in Gweedore, Co Donegal and transfer production to its facility in Ashbourne to cut costs.

Largo said it had tried everything to make the Gweedore facility work.

Its founder's plans for the expansion of Tayto Park are on track, Coyle added.

Europe's biggest wooden inverted rollercoaster is taking shape, he said.

Construction started last September and the rollercoaster should be completed by May, though the park will reopen in March.

The rollercoaster is themed around Irish history and named The Cú Chulainn Coaster.

Tayto Park first opened at the height of the recession in late 2010. It had 450,000 visitors last year, double the number it handled in its opening year. Coyle acquired land adjoining it in Ashbourne to increase the site to 120 acres.

He hopes it will attract up to 850,000 visitors annually by 2018. Its redevelopment will cost around €25m.

Hoxton boss says Irish start-ups must be more aggressive to compete with Silicon Valley rivals

IRISH start-ups must be far more aggressive in order to compete with US counterparts, according to the country's top venture capitalists.

Rob Kniaz, a founding partner with Hoxton Ventures, said Silicon Valley start-ups operate "as if dogs are snapping at their heels" and that Irish start-ups need to be more aggressive and ambitious to compete.

Will McQuillan, founding partner of technology investor Frontline Ventures, urged Irish start-ups to travel in the early days of their companies' lives in order to gauge how fierce the competition is.

The two were speaking at an event run by taxpayer-backed Enterprise Ireland for more than 100 companies on its High Potential Start-Up Fund.

The companies have each received around €250,000 to help finance their growth.

Irish start-ups have an advantage because the cost of labour, particularly engineering, is much cheaper in Ireland than the US, Mr Kniaz added.

Irish entrepreneurs' ability to pitch their ideas to investors has seriously improved, he said. "Pitch quality has risen to Californian levels. That's the international benchmark," he said.

One of the fastest-growing companies attending the event told the Sunday Independent that successful Irish start-ups come under huge pressure to move to the US.

Paul Savage of NearForm, which helps clients like Universal and Conde Nast to utilise new cloud technologies, said it is difficult for Irish companies to stay in Ireland once they reach a certain size.

His company made a difficult but deliberate decision to stay in Waterford, he said.

"We are from the area and want to add to it. We are bringing skilled people back from around the world, we want to reverse the brain drain.

But it is not easy," he said.

"Successful people want to work in big cities with access to the best people and resources."

Technology is changing this, he added. "Technology means ambitious people can achieve what they want from remote locations."


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