A proposed new state-of-the-art abattoir and meat processing plant at Thainstone Centre is going ahead, despite all the rumours to the contrary, writes Eddie Gillanders.
The site has been earmarked, plans have been drawn up and a planning application for the multi-million pound development will be lodged shortly.
The long-awaited announcement was made on Tuesday night at the AGM of the ANM Group Ltd by new chairman, Pat Machray, who has stood down as chief executive after three years and, as expected, was formally elected non-executive chairman at a hastily-
convened meeting of the board immediately after the AGM.
It is a major boost for North-east beef and sheep farmers and demonstrates a real vote of confidence in the future by the Galloway family of the Bridge of Allan-based Scotbeef meat processing business, who are majority shareholders in Scotbeef Inverurie with a 75% stake, and the 5000-member farmers’ co-operative who own the other 25% and the land where the abattoir will be sited.
Chairman Ian Galloway, the veteran industry guru, did not attend Tuesday night’s meeting but confirmed last Friday in the J W Galloway Ltd boardroom at Bridge of Allan, that investment conditions were now satisfactory and it was all systems go.
He said: “We will be looking to progress plans over the next few months with the appointed project managers, together with local and national government agencies.
“The investment required to relocate the existing Scotbeef Inverurie abattoir from Inverurie to a new facility at Thainstone is significant but the boards of J W Galloway and ANM Group have always been committed to achieving the move.
“The timing of the decision to commence the development has been the subject of considerable discussion and is underpinned by the existence of a stable commercial environment, following the market upheavals of 2013 and 2014.”
The extent of the likely investment is not being revealed but I understand the new abattoir will have the capacity to process 1500 cattle a week (almost double the number currently being processed at the existing plant) and, Mr Galloway points out, will secure employment for the existing workforce and present further employment opportunities.
The move marks a return to the North-east for the Galloway family who back in the 1950s slaughtered cattle at the old local authority slaughterhouse in Turriff.
Mr Galloway recalls holidays spent at Wrae, Turriff, learning the trade from the company’s then buyer, John Gaul, which gave him a great affection for the North-east.
But make no mistake, investment in a new abattoir at Thainstone is a hard-headed business decision and not one based on nostalgia. Mr Galloway has demonstrated his commitment to the industry in Scotland before with an £8.5 million investment a few years ago to upgrade and expand the Bridge of Allan plant and, more recently, a £14 million investment to upgrade the company’s further processing plant in Glasgow. We can be sure that the new abattoir will be state-of-the-art.
Mr Galloway radiates confidence in the future of the industry. Current depressed trading will not, he says, last for ever, people are going to continue to eat meat and the North-east’s long-standing reputation for the production of quality beef is unsurpassed anywhere in the UK.
More importantly, meat plants will have to be of the highest standard to take full advantage of export opportunities, including the opening up of the American market.
The move to Thainstone is also an important development for ANM Group, not only in terms of providing a local processing facility for their members and ensuring competition in the market place, but is an integral part of the group’s plans to further develop the Thainstone site as an agricultural hub for the North-east.
A number of agriculturally-related companies are already based at Thainstone, as well as the Scottish Government’s regional agriculture and animal health headquarters, and machinery dealers, Ravenhill, has recently purchased a site to move their business from Dyce.
It is also hoped to entice Scotland’s agricultural college, SRUC, to move their regional headquarters from Craibstone, Bucksburn, to Thainstone, and a business plan for the move is already being worked up.
ANM Group has made a remarkable recovery since Mr Machray was parachuted in as chief executive three years ago to turn the business round following losses and write-offs of £7 million and £4 million in 2011 and 2012 in its meat division.
His first move was to de-risk the business by selling off the loss-making meat processing activities, apart from retaining the 25% interest in the former Scotch Premier business when it was sold to Scotbeef.
Last year, the core auction business made a trading profit of £682,000 compared with £755,000 in 2013 but land and property sales saw net profit almost double to £1.358 million.
The livestock auction business is likely to continue to experience difficult times because of the downturn in cattle numbers – although sheep numbers have increased – and Mr Machray is looking to land and property developments to generate much of the profit in the future, along with a revitalised land agency division.
Building developments are in the pipeline at Dornoch, Elgin and Balmedie, as well as Thainstone, and the proceeds from the sale of the development site to Ravenhill will be used to develop the infrastructure, including a new road, at Thainstone, which will be the key to further development.