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'We're excited about regaining our reputation as an innovator' - Keenan 'back on track' after takeover

As Keenan saw the first anniversary of its acquisition by Alltech, Alex Black speaks to chief executive Robert Walker about where the company was one year on.


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Keenan 'back on track' after takeover

Irish manufacturer Keenan is ‘back on track’ one year after its takeover from food nutritionists Alltech, according to Keenan chief executive Robert Walker.


Alltech acquired Keenan last April, following the company entering administration after what it said was ‘eight years of decline’.


Mr Walker said the company had faced challenges since the 2008 financial crisis, with high commodity prices in 2010 and low milk prices since 2013 putting pressure on the business.


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He said: “It is pretty well acknowledged in the industry dairy farmers have been really struggling. It hit at the same time as Keenan’s international expansion. Basically, everything happened at the same time.”

 

Profitable


But one year on, as the organisation marked the first anniversary of the takeover, Mr Walker said he believed the company was now profitable again.


He said: “The UK has recovered quite well. France is back on track and we are growing modestly.”


He added the company was in a much better place to deal with any future volatility in the marketplace.


“First of all, we have a global footprint which hedges against low milk prices in the UK.”


He pointed to the company’s presence in Japan, Russia and Brazil, where milk prices have remained higher.


He said: “By being able to help Alltech sell, there is a safety net. Even if times are tough, farmers still need to buy additives.”


Following months of uncertainty, the first key task for Mr Walker was to motivate his staff.


“Without the right people, you cannot do anything. A big job was to reassure people they still had their job.”

 

Sales


Since the takeover, the company has concentrated on geographic expansion, innovation and combining resources with Alltech to create sales.


Using Alltech’s international presence has allowed the company to build up relationships around the world, targeting countries with similar cultures, such as the US, Canada and Australia.


The company was also sending machines to more unusual markets, such as Venezuela.


Mr Walker said: “1.2 million dairy cows eat from a Keenan wagon every day.


“We are able to access more customers and can give them a complete solution. We are selling more and more bundled offerings.”

In previous years, Keenan had concentrated on digital innovation, but Mr Walker said this happened at the expense of engineering innovation.


“Going forward, bringing new products to market is vital. We have three new innovations and I would like to see at least one of these hit the market in the next year.


“We are excited about regaining our reputation as an innovator.”


He added Keenan had put a lot of money into researching the ‘Internet of things’ idea, where everyday devices were connected to the Internet to send and receive data.


The technology could help farmers gather data about their livestock and benchmark, to help drive productivity and profitability.

 

Development


He added Keenan products were now beginning to benefit from this research, following eight years of development.


He was also confident the outlook was ‘positive’ for beef and dairy over the next few years.


Mr Walker said: “On the journey, there will be ups and downs, but I think in general it is an upward trend.”

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