Kirwan will replace Richard Cracknell, who has held the top job at ABP since the group was formed in 1986. Cracknell will remain as non-executive vice chairman at the £800m meat producer, which supplies retailers, manufacturers and caterers.
Formerly head of ABP’s frozen and convenience division, Kirwan joined the company in 1990 as head of burger producer Wessex Foods in Lowestoft.
Following his switch to frozen and convenience, Kirwan is credited with helping grow the division with extra operations in Liverpool, Glasgow and Tunbridge Wells.
Despite leaving the group for a brief City role in 2005, he remained a non-executive director of ABP.
Cracknell steered ABP through major industry crises including BSE and two foot and mouth epidemics. He also worked as a commissioner of the Meat and Livestock Commission and chairman of the British Meat Federation.
ABP is a subsidiary of Irish Food Processors and has more than 3000 staff in eight major UK fresh beef processing plants.