Iceland store

Source: Iceland Foods

In February, the group sold all its Iceland stores in the Republic of Ireland to The Project Point Technologies

Iceland Food executive chairman Richard Walker has said the financial and legal struggles of the buyer of its Irish business earlier this year have come as a “total shock”. 

In February, the group sold all its Iceland stores in the Republic of Ireland to The Project Point Technologies, which is owned by Naeem Maniar, who held the Iceland franchise in Ireland from 2008 to 2013. Project Point was renamed to Metron Stores shortly after the sale.

On 15 June, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) ordered Metron Stores to stop selling frozen animal products imported into Ireland since 3 March, while it investigated what it said were “very serious breaches” of food law. It then issued a recall notice.

Metron was then placed into examinership by the Irish High Court on 20 June, while it seeks investment to pay off €36m debt, RTE reported.

“It came as a total shock to us,” Walker told The Grocer. “We were completely happy and confident, as were they, when we sold the business. So everything was clean.”

He stressed that Iceland Ireland was a completely different commercial entity, but that Iceland Foods would continue to help as best it could, by continuing its side of any wholesale agreements and paperwork it needed to fulfil.

Neither the recall notice or the examinership affect the 35 Iceland and two Food Warehouse stores in Northern Ireland, which are still owned by the UK-based Iceland Foods.

Examinership is similar to a type of administration. The process protects a business from its creditors while it seeks new investment, or restructure. A lawyer for Metron told the court it was insolvent, and had suffered signifcant losses as a result of a high cost base over the past two years, RTE reported.

The FSAI has said that the investigation related to concerns about animal origin, including some instances of non-compliance with import regulations.

A lawyer for Metron Stores told the High Court that the alleged breaches related specifically to veterinary certificates. It’s believed the products only had veterinary certificates from the UK in place, despite having been imported into the UK, and then on to Ireland, reported RTE. Under EU regulations, the imports also require certification from the EU.

The business told the High Court it had identified a possible Irish-based supplier, RTE reported. 

The Grocer has been unable to reach Metron Stores for a response.