Friday, May 24, 2024

Waterford bottling firm seeks court protection as it seeks to save 115 jobs

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The loss of the Russian market and the rise in energy costs due to that country’s invasion of Ukraine had led to a Waterford-based drinks blending, bottling and labelling company seeking court protection from its creditors, a judge was told on Friday.

Barrister Ross Gorman, on behalf of Admiralford Limited, whose biggest customer is Irish Distillers, was granted an order appointing an interim examiner to temporarily run the company’s affairs in a bid to save it from collapse and the loss of 115 full- and part-time jobs in and around Waterford.

Mr Gorman, who appeared with Galway-based solicitors Power Law, told Judge Christopher Callan in the Circuit Civil Court that Admiralford was insolvent and no longer able to pay its debts.

He said chartered accountant and independent expert Dessie Morrow, of Azets, Dublin, claimed with the protection of the court, there was a reasonable prospect, with the agreement of its creditors, of the company being saved.

Mr Gorman sought and was granted an order appointing Padraic Bermingham of Strata Financial, Dublin, as interim examiner.

Counsel told the court the business was that of blending, bottling and labelling of alcoholic beverages at its premises in Ballynaneashagh, Co Waterford, specialising in the bottling of premium whiskies for a number of popular Irish-brands and Irish Cream Liqueur for international-based customers.

Due to losses at a second bottling plant in Enniscorthy, that facility had been closed down in a bid to protect the interests of the Ballynaneashagh plant and the remaining employees. 

The current directors of the company were Patrick Joseph Kickham and his brother John, its chief executive who, for health reasons, had to step back from leading the business.

Mr Gorman said the company’s main customer was and remained Irish Distillers, a subsidiary of the French drinks conglomerate, Pernod Ricard, which listed Jameson among the brands in its portfolio.

He said the plant specialised in premium whiskies, exclusively bottling many of Ireland’s most famous brands such as Midleton Very Rare, Redbreast, Paddy, Cork Dry Gin, Writers Tears, as well as Irishman and Waterford among others.

The company had continued to trade throughout the covid-19 pandemic, reaching a point of bottling the equivalent of more than one million cases of spirits and liqueurs.

Mr Morrow, the independent expert, in an outline of the company’s history, said Admiralford in recent years had experienced a difficult trading environment as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which had a significant impact on energy prices which the directors estimated had driven up energy costs by 50% and resulted in the loss of the Russian market as a customer.

He said the invasion had caused significant increases in the price of glass, labels, cardboard as well as spare parts and consumables. 

Last year, Admiralford lost one product line, Black Barrel, an Irish Distillers’ product which in 2022 had accounted for 25% of Waterford sales.

Irish Distillers was a key stakeholder in the business and had decided to produce the product in its main bottling facility at Fox & Geese. While new products had been found to replace this business, volumes would not immediately return to the higher 2022 levels.

Judge Callan appointed Mr Bermingham as interim examiner and adjourned further matters until later this month.

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