Lurgan haulage firm Agro acquired by US cold storage giant Americold

Agro Merchants acquired Sawyers Transport in 2015. Now the operation is being sold again.
Agro Merchants acquired Sawyers Transport in 2015. Now the operation is being sold again. Agro Merchants acquired Sawyers Transport in 2015. Now the operation is being sold again.

LURGAN-based haulage firm Agro Merchants is set to have new owners as the local operation disclosed a £5.8 million loss last year.

The company, previously known as Sawyers Transport, was acquired by the US temperature-controlled group Agro in August 2015.

It employs around 400 people from its Lurgan base. It also operates in Castleblaney and Dublin.

Now the Agro Merchants Group itself has been bought by cold storage giant Americold in a $1.74 billion (£1.35bn) deal.

The sale, which is expected to be completed in late 2020 or early 2021, will see the ownership of Agro transfer from an investor group led by Oaktree Capital Management to Americold Realty Trust, described as the world’s largest publicly traded real estate investment trust focused on temperature-controlled warehouses.

The Lurgan company, which was set up by the Co Tyrone-based Sawyers family in 1970, had expanded to a fleet of 300 trailers when it was sold in mid-2015.

Atlanta-based Agro, founded in 2013, has embarked on a steady global acquisition strategy. It now owns 46 facilities across ten countries, including 26 in Europe.

It bought Co Monaghan firm Castlecool in May 2014. Last year it acquired a newly constructed cold store at Dublin Airport.

Americold’s acquisition of Agro will take the US group’s portfolio to 229 global facilities, giving it a much larger European presence.

But new accounts for Agro’s Lurgan operation released just last week, revealed a challenging 2019 for the haulage company in Northern Ireland.

The financial report showed a 15 per cent fall in turnover to £70.4 million for the year ending December 31 2019, with the firm swinging from a pre-tax profit of £1.6m in 2018 to a £5.8m pre-tax loss last year.

It halved the operation’s margin from six per cent to three.

But the report confirmed that the profits of 2018 were mainly driven by the sale of property, plant and equipment to another company in the Agro group for £3.8m.

The accounts filed with Companies House last week show Agro cut its Lurgan workforce by 50 to 418 by the end of 2019.

Despite the cut in numbers, staff costs increased 13 per cent to £9.8m.

But a director’s report accompanying the accounts stated that the impact of Covid-19 in the current year had been small, contributing to “a minor decrease” in revenues for the first eight months of 2020 compared to last year.

Agro chief executive Carlos Rodriguez said: “Americold has one of the strongest networks in the world with leading operational capabilities.

"We are confident that by joining Americold, we will accelerate our growth and by combining our complementary networks, we will be able to provide a more comprehensive range of solutions to customers around the world."