On April 6, Peter Queally (81) and his brother John (83) had to sign a standard declaration. The document published in the last few days by the Companies Registration Office discloses that one of the companies they control was about to provide assistance to another in a transaction encompassing three countries.

“This company, Rosefelt Limited (RL), will enter into a loan agreement with QSA Holdings SARL, a company connected with the directors of RL, to facilitate an investment in a South African joint venture for the manufacture of pet food,” they wrote. “The benefit which shall accrue to the company directly or indirectly from entry into the restricted activity as that the transaction effects a diversification of the company’s asset portfolio with a view to increasing investment income and reducing ongoing asset holding costs.”

The announcement illustrates in a few lines what the industrial group built by the two Co Waterford men has become: a multi-billion-euro food processing empire reaching as far as needed to extract the last drop of value from meat and its by-products – whether across supply chains or international borders – with its founding pair of octogenarians still presiding over a phase of bold external growth.

John and Peter Queally are each current directors of over 200 companies, which may well be a record – yet this should not hide the involvement of the second generation in the family business. Their 14 children, along with their own families, co-own all the pork and processed foods industrial assets consolidated under the Arrow Group in Ireland and the UK or Queally SA in South Africa, as well as the beef and lamb Dawn Meats group shared with another Waterford family, the Brownes. On that side, too, co-founder Dan Browne has involved the next generation.

The Currency contacted media relations representatives for the two families as well as their members most publicly involved in overseeing the businesses founded by their parents, Arrow Group director Marie Crowley (née Queally) and Dawn Meats chief executive Niall Browne. They declined to be interviewed.

Their companies, however, tell their own story – with varying degrees of transparency. Drawn from over 300 corporate filings, this is the picture they paint of the Queally group today.

Click on the image to download the map of Queally companies.


Part 1 – From farm to fork, and well beyond: inside the €600 million Arrow Group

Peter and John Queally have always been farmers, and remain so. In fact, they operate the largest farm in Co Waterford in terms of direct payments received from the Department of Agriculture (a function of acreage), pocketing €178,571 in 2020. 

One of their most recently incorporated companies, Fenor Pig Farms Ltd, incorporates three existing intensive pig production units at John’s Matthewstown home address near Tramore and at two other nearby locations. The move led to the addition of pigs worth €2.3 million as “biological assets” on the Arrow Group’s balance sheet in its latest accounts.

Then in their late twenties, the farming brothers began to show their broader entrepreneurial streak when they each invested £999 in their first company on record, South Eastern Enterprises, in 1969. Through the 1970s, they built up the pig processing business that continues to operate under the Dawn Pork and Bacon brand today, and added an expanding cold storage operation. 

In the mid-1980s, the business branched into pet foods as well as bottled water at the Clonmel-based Glenpatrick Spring business. It also established a British cold storage base at Marston, near Nottingham. Its food processing arm evolved into Dawn Farms Foods, a more advanced ingredients manufacturing and distribution business that sits at the core of the Arrow Group today. The idea to manufacture pizza toppings was the brainchild of Larry Murrin, who had started a small business in Dublin and attracted investment from the Queallys. A wild exoticism in Ireland at the time, this ingredient remains a flagship product of Dawn Farm Foods – and Murrin its chief executive, as well as a 10 per cent shareholder in this company.

From the group’s sprawling factory, cold storage and R&D complex in Naas, Co Kildare, Dawn Farms Foods supplies cooked, dried and fermented meat products to customers including the world’s largest fast-food chains. When the company renewed its contract to ship ingredients to Subway outlets across Europe in 2017, the company said it would gross up to €850 million over the following seven years from this deal alone.

Things were not always so good for the Queally group.

In the years preceding the financial crisis, all was going so well. The Arrow Group continued to diversify into ready meals and frozen foods, even acquiring a majority stake in Barcelona-based water cooler supplier Aquadirect (since diluted when the company merged with the larger Spanish operator Blue Planet, generating a capital gain for the Queallys). The Arrow Group also jumped on the property bandwagon from 2005, first reporting its involvement in commercial development. In November that year, its successful division Irish Dog Foods bought a 50 per cent stake in a pet food manufacturer established by Irish businessman Norman Francis Quinn a stone’s throw away from the Queallys’ English cold store.

The group further expanded into the UK with the acquisition of TMI Foods for €10 million in 2006, which boosted group revenue by over €8 million in the three months following that deal alone. At the same time, the Queallys began to invest in South Africa.

In 2007, Dawn Farms formed a 50-50 joint venture with the billion-euro listed Brazilian food processor Minerva to open a frozen cooked meats factory in São Paulo two years later. The Arrow Group’s revenue approached €400m, its operating profit topped €20 million and its pre-tax profit was just under €15 million. 

“This failure on the part of QK Meats senior management showed scant regard for the public good and was a serious failure of judgement.”

Government report on the horsemeat scandal

In 2008, however, the business took a double hit. On the one hand, a salmonella outbreak at the Naas plant caused a product recall, including sandwiches made under the labels of blue-chip customers such as Dunnes Stores, Supervalu and O’Brien’s. The group reported a “continuing impact” of the incident into the following year. 

On the other side, the recession was hitting consumer spending, especially for the busy workers’ staples and family treats using the group’s ingredients, such as pizza and sandwiches. Its subsidiary Dawn Fresh Foods closed down a factory making ready meals in Britain, generating exceptional costs of three quarters of a million euro.

In 2009, the Arrow Group saw its revenue drop by 18 per cent and its bottom line was in the red as debt rose. It was time for tough decisions. The Queallys sold off some of the industrial property earmarked for their South African plans and dropped their stake in the Brazilian joint venture to under 20 per cent, exiting the country completely some time later. The Arrow Group tapped into Enterprise Ireland’s stabilisation fund for €6.4 million.

From 2010, the business regained its lost revenue and returned to modest profit, but this recovery was short-lived. From 2012, two Queally companies were engulfed in the EU-wide horsemeat scandal.

The investigation conducted by the Department of Agriculture after the discovery of horse DNA in beef products in early 2013 was damning for QK Meats, the meat trading arm of the Arrow Group. Investigators found that the company had been importing beef trimmings from 19 Polish suppliers for €400 per tonne cheaper than corresponding Irish products. “It is clear that in a country that is a net exporter of beef products, this competitive pricing aspect of the trade is the primary motivator in utilising imported ingredients in the manufacturing process,” the Department inspectors commented.

In 2012, QK Meats decided to test 15 shipments from nine Polish suppliers for horse DNA. “Seven of these tests had shown to be, on a qualitative basis, positive for equine DNA. The first such positive test result was on 27th June 2012 and the company then contacted the Polish supplier whose representative visited the plant and arranged to take back the consignment,” the investigation found. However, imports from the same suppliers continued and further positive tests occurred until the scandal erupted more than six months later. 

“Other than suggesting that there were ‘mumblings’ in the trade about suspect Polish raw material, QK Meats did not explain fully why it was testing for equine DNA since last June or why, having found equine DNA in some products did not test all such products,” the Department of Agriculture report added. Investigators wrote this was “extremely disturbing,” and the company’s failure to share test results with the authorities was “inexcusable”.

“This failure on the part of QK Meats senior management showed scant regard for the public good and was a serious failure of judgement on its part in not revealing to the official authorities, information that could have shortened the initial phase of the investigation in identifying the likely source of the equine DNA,” investigators concluded. The company issued a public apology and enforcement procedures against it ended there.

The source of horsemeat in QK imports came to light only when Bird’s Eye identified it as the supplier of mince for its contaminated frozen foods. It then emerged that the Queally company had shipped similar products to customers in six countries and to another Arrow Group subsidiary, Dawn Fresh Foods.

Dawn Fresh Foods made ready meals at a plant in Fethard, Co Tipperary and at a British subsidiary called Oak Farm Foods. In March 2013, UK authorities ordered a recall of Oak Farm cottage pies supplied to 47 British schools.

The Department of Agriculture investigation found that all contamination in Dawn Fresh Foods products could be traced back to a consignment imported from Poland by QK Meats as early as January 2012, and exonerated the ready meals subsidiary itself. It was, however, too much to bear for this customer-facing unit.

The Queallys pulled the plug on Dawn Fresh Foods, closing down the Fethard factory with the loss of more than 100 jobs. Redundancy costs alone came to €2.5 million. In Britain, Oak Farm Foods has been wound down too, its latest accounts showing assets finally reduced to zero last year. Dawn Fresh Foods is now listed solely for its property assets in group accounts, and these may be limited since its Fethard factory was sold in 2014.

As a result of beef mislabelling, the Arrow Group recorded a “lost contribution” to its subsidiary of €4.5 million. With other scandal costs and property impairments, exceptionals rose to €9 million in 2013 – in addition to €1.2 million the previous year – and the group was left with a pre-tax loss of €11.6 million. It had to negotiate revised repayment terms for the support funding previously obtained from Enterprise Ireland and dividends paid to preference shareholders show that such payments continued until 2014, at a total cost of €2.5 million to the group.

2013 was the worst year in the recent history of the Queallys’ business, and quite possibly in their 50-year career. It only makes the Arrow Group’s recovery since then more striking.

Faced with the demise of Dawn Fresh Foods, they reorganised the remaining non-meat food assets of the group under a new subsidiary and brand, The Culinary Food Group. The division consolidated separate units producing pasta, soup, sauce and ready-to-eat ranges into a coherent business selling to other manufacturers, foodservice customers and branded distributors or own-brand retailers from four connected factories on the Naas campus.

As it recovered, the Arrow Group resisted the temptation to return to the excesses of the boom years. Profits swelled, hitting an unprecedented €38 million both in operating and pre-tax terms in 2016, but the business did not resume dividend payments, instead accumulating a war chest of €150 million in shareholders’ funds that year. In 2015, the Arrow Group stopped reporting involvement in property development, instead declaring that it “holds property investments”.

Despite a slowdown in turnover growth due to its exposure to the Sterling exchange rate in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum, the group crossed the half-billion revenue mark the following year.

Lily and the chocolate cash factory

When Mary O’Brien looked for a partner to grow her chocolate business Lily O’Briens in the mid-1990s, she found a Waterford-born entrepreneur with a booming food manufacturing operation in Co Kildare and horseracing connections just like her: Peter Queally. 

The Arrow Group first made a £50,000 investment in O’Brien’s chocolate company in 1995 and Queally became a director. He and 17 other members of the family also became personal shareholders of the business’s holding company Kilcone Investments alongside O’Brien in 2001. Although they may have invested further in the business, there is no clear record of an additional equity contribution. At that point, the Queallys owned just under half of Kilcone, which in turn booked the value of its investment in the chocolate business at £1.1 million.

When two private equity funds, US-based Carlyle and Dublin firm Cardinal Capital, jointly acquired a majority stake in Lily O’Brien’s in 2014, the Queallys made a profitable exit. Documents filed at the time show that the deal was routed through another company, O’Brien’s Zatrix Holdings, in which the Queally family and Arrow Group’s shares were “redeemed for cash” for an amount totalling €9.6 million.

The Queallys returned to the acquisition trail in 2014 – first in South Africa. That year, John, Peter, his wife Eileen and their combined 14 children took control of Southland Foods Pty Ltd and placed it with their existing local business Q Pak Pty Ltd into QSA Holdings, a Luxembourg holding company for their South African businesses. Southland Foods’ acquisition price was just over €100,000, but it has since grown to generate shareholder’s equity of €3 million, including €1 million from last year’s profits alone, accounts filed in Luxembourg show. Meanwhile, Q Pak, which presumably holds the other Queally subsidiaries in the country, did not report any significant net value or profits.

One year after the acquisition of Southland Foods, the Irish embassy in Pretoria described the Queally group as “one of the most successful companies doing business in South Africa”.

In 2017, the family paid just under €50,000 for a 19.99 per cent stake in Southern Proteins Pty Ltd. That company now has €1.7 million in shareholders’ equity, having posted a €1.2 million profit last year.

The activities of Queally SA range from cold storage to beef and lamb deboning, further meat packing and processing into prepared foods, as well as ingredients and ready-to-eat preparations such as soups and sauces. It is funded through its Luxembourg holding company by intercompany loans from Irish companies controlled by the family. QSA Holdings reported €2.1 million in outstanding debt to QK Meats last year, having generated over half a million euro to date in interest for its Irish creditor.

As they did first in Ireland, and then in the UK, the Queally brothers are now planning to add pet foods to their South African portfolio through further debt funding from their personal vehicle Rosefelt, as detailed at the start of this article. 

“We now have significant manufacturing footprints in Ireland, the UK and Germany and it cements our position as the leading specialist cooked protein company outside of the United States.”

Dawn Farm Foods chief executive Larry Murrin

Closer to home, in September 2019. Dawn Farms acquired Haas GmbH Fleisch- und Wurstwaren, a German sausage manufacturer focused on fast-food ingredients such as pizza toppings. The company reported supplying mostly one large neighbouring customer that year. It was ripe for a takeover by a group able to broaden its horizons, as it faced a 9 per cent drop in revenue to €38 million. It was still profitable, though, posting €3.2 million Ebitda and just under €1 million in net profit. The Queallys bought it for €18 million.

A new €8.6 million shareholder loan to Haas “to finance investment in fixed assets” presumably came from the Arrow Group. In a statement issued through IMAP, who advised the Haas family founders on the deal, Dawn Farms chief executive Larry Murrin said: “This represents the first important milestone in our strategic European expansion plan. We now have significant manufacturing footprints in Ireland, the UK and Germany and it cements our position as the leading specialist cooked protein company outside of the United States. This provides us with further opportunities to serve our key partners and to deliver new growth opportunities across sectors and markets.”

In its latest acquisition to date, the Arrow Group bought out Norman Francis Quinn’s remaining stake in the Bennington British pet food operation last year. The 2019 phase of the deal saw the Queallys acquire a further 22 per cent in Bennington Foods at a total cost of €5.3 million, valuing the UK sister company of Irish Dog Foods at more than €25 million. Its full takeover was due to close in 2020.

We can expect more. Of the €180 million accumulated in shareholders’ funds at the end of 2019, the Arrow Group held €20 million in cash. This is despite resuming dividend payments in recent years, distributing nearly €20 million to family members between 2017 and 2019. Profits and dividends have decreased since the high of 2016, returning to pre-financial crisis levels. 

As revenue approached €600 million in 2019, the Arrow Group’s latest accounts show a 2.2 per cent operating margin, with just half of that remaining in pre-tax profit. Not its best year, but a common return in the fresh and frozen foods industry. As the group consolidates filings for all Irish subsidiaries, no granular information is available on the performance of its respective divisions. Those based outside the state, however, publish their own accounts. The most significant is TMI Foods in the UK, which did better than the wider group, returning a 3 per cent operating margin over expanding revenue of £64.3 million in 2019. Once intercompany purchases and sales were taken out, this accounted for one eighth of the group’s turnover.

The Arrow Group’s deep integration of the supply chain from farming to the delivery of prepared foods to customers aims at squeezing every possible euro from the livestock entering the business. The Queallys’ own animal feed mill on their home farm in Matthewstown allows them to retain any profit from this key input, while at the other end of the chain, the early addition of Irish Dog Foods was a way of capturing additional value from food by-products – again by feeding animals.

The British arm of this increasingly significant pet food business, Bennington Foods, topped £9 million in 2019 but became loss-making. Its directors Peter and Liam Queally reported: 

“Profitability was hampered due to several factors:

  • Raw material prices have again increased, as economic uncertainty (particularly around exiting the European Union) continues.
  • The market remains extremely competitive, making it impossible to increase sales prices.
  • Growth has largely been in lower margin products.

However, we remain optimistic as to the future of revenue growth within the company. The company undertook a large level of capital expenditure in 2019 in the aim to increase production capacity three-fold within the coming year.”

As they bought founder Quinn out of this business, this new investment is now entirely on the Queallys. Elsewhere, however, the family is happy to continue joint ventures where this helps them expand their footprint, especially in the pet food industry. One example is Rednut, its joint manufacturing plant in Gowran, Co Kilkenny with the Connolly family, otherwise better known for its Red Mills horse feeds. The joint venture is “designed to breakeven” and simply mutualises the production of certain pet foods at scale between the two family businesses.

In-sourcing everything

While the trend across many industries has been for businesses to outsource non-core functions to focus on the area they know best, the Queallys have consistently gone in the opposite direction. Stainless steel machinery is needed for their multiple factories? They become majority investors in Techniform, a family sheet metal fabrication business in Waterford. Waste management and security guarding for the group’s premises? Dedicated subsidiaries take care of everything, down to the corporate secretarial services required by dozens of related entities.

Some of the businesses developed to serve the group’s core food processing function have evolved to serve a wide range of outside customers. The most obvious example is cold storage, which has been central to the Queallys business since the 1970s and gave them experience in dealing with food industry customers who may be their competitors in other areas.

Again, the British section of this business (which is directly owned by a restricted group of 10 Queally family members outside the Arrow Group) files separate accounts allowing a glimpse into its performance. In 2019, a year when UK food businesses stockpiled ahead of anticipated Brexit bottlenecks, QK Cold Stores in Marston grew its revenue by 12.2 per cent to £8.3 million as it added capacity. Its operating margin was a healthy 10 per cent and the company was sitting on £5 million in accumulated profits, nearly £2 million of which in cash.

The group has also opened its wider logistical platform to outside clients with Dawn Farms Distribution, which provides cold chain transport services across Europe. And if customers around the world want to buy fresh or frozen foods that may or may not be made by their companies, the Queallys figured they might as well capture that business as well – its trading broker, Dawn International, buys and sells consignments well outside the group. This business has a US subsidiary, Dawn USA, which survives from a short-lived attempt to establish a wider business in the state of Georgia in the 1990s. 

From horseracing to indoor surfing, property is a sport for the Queallys

The Queally group has expanded its property footprint around its Naas campus and beyond. Land titles and debt documents filed by various related companies show that they are the full owners of industrial properties hosting their activity around the country – but not only.

Hazelmark Developments, a subsidiary of the Arrow Group with a 2.5 per cent shareholding for each of Dawn Farms executives Larry Murrin and Ciaran Murray, has developed the Monread business park and shopping centre on two sites around the corner from the group’s Maudlins manufacturing and cold storage base. The company and another vehicle, Cheekvale, own additional development land adjoining the existing Naas properties.

Topjak, a vehicle set up in Clonmel, Co Tipperary by the Arrow Group and Glenpatrick Spring Water managing director Kieran Hynes, owns a house and land in the area. Topjak has also pledged the town’s racecourse next to the Glenpatrick bottling plant, known as Powerstown Park, as collateral for its debt – even though it is not the registered owner of the property.

A group of companies formed by John and Peter Queally with partners David Hicks, Kevin Hegarty and Patrick O'Brien outside the Arrow Group targeted two property developments. In Ireland, they were planning to redevelop the Old Schoolhouse hostel in Dún Laoghaire into a multi-storey apartment complex, but were refused planning permission twice on appeal. Instead, they sold the site and wind-up documents filed in 2017 by the holding company for the property showed that it left €2.3 million in net assets to share between the five associates.

Over in England, their vehicle Idealsite developed and sold the Cube student accommodation block in Bolton. The building suffered a major fire in November 2019 an Idealsite reported insurance implications “as owners of the Cube ground rent/freehold, the company is technically landlord of the building.”

There were many more property investments in the past, which are difficult to trace today after multiple companies controlled by the family wound up during the financial crisis. Some didn’t work out.

One surviving example is QE Facilities, a 50-50 business between Peter Queally and property developer Mark Elliott, held outside the Arrow Group. The Queally family had invested in Elliott’s development of the Arena complex in Tallaght, and this company leased part of the property to operate it as the Tower Hotel. Danske Bank appointed receivers to QE Facilities in 2014 and the company remains in receivership to this day. Dalata’s Maldron chain has since taken over the hotel.

In another case, Hydroland, a subsidiary of the Queally group, acquired the site of Tramore’s derelict 1940s Hydro hotel and sea baths. The Queallys initially set out to build a leisure park on the beachfront property in 1987, then an 80-bedroom hotel in the late 1990s. After the demolition of the old structure, however, the plans failed to materialise. 

The former Hydro hotel in Tramore, Co Waterford. Photo: Waterford County Museum

Planning records show that Hydroland introduced a new application in 2007 to develop a multi-storey complex including a hotel, restaurant, shops and viewing towers. The project got a cold reception from Waterford County Council, whose planning inspector wrote in an initial report: “The ‘Cape Cod’ architecture which the proposed development is attempting to emulate is alien in an Irish coastal setting and requires substantial revision, in my opinion.” Despite agreed revisions, the project was refused on appeal for visual appeal reasons. 

In a letter to the council in 2012, Peter Queally then allowed agents for Flowhouse, a developer of leisure parks centred around the US-made Flowrider indoor surfing machine, to apply for such a facility on the site. The local authority rejected the plan, but its promoters obtained permission on appeal the following year. However, the surfing pool never came out of the ground and Hydroland finally sold the site in 2017. It remains undeveloped today.

This was not the family’s only venture into sports facilities: Until last year, the Arrow Group was the majority shareholder in International Sports Activities, a loss-making and heavily indebted company trading as Astro Park at two astroturf pitches in Dublin. Mid-pandemic, the family decided to cut their losses last June and sold the business to its management.

A family firmly in charge – with a few selected outsiders

The shareholders of the Arrow Group are all members of the Queally family: Founding brothers John and Peter, along with the latter’s wife Eileen, hold over a quarter of its capital, including shares giving them priority to receive dividends and additional voting rights. The rest of the shareholding is divided between their 14 children, who each own between 4 and 6 per cent of the group.

Some members of the second generation have become more directly involved in the family business. Michael (57), Marie (56), Ivor (51) and Liam (54) sit on the board of the Arrow Group alongside their father and uncle. They received combined directors’ remuneration and pension contributions of €927,675 in 2019.

Michael is managing director of the historic Dawn Pork and Bacon business and a director of over 50 group companies. Marie Crowley represents the family business at rare public engagements. Along with her husband Pat, she oversees the trading brokerage Dawn International, in which they jointly own a minority stake. She is the registered secretary of this business’s US subsidiary and Pat its chief executive.

Liam is in charge of the group’s pet food division. He acts as managing director of Irish Dog Foods and sits on the board of related companies in Ireland and in the UK. Meanwhile, Ivor oversees African operations as a director of all companies registered in South Africa and chief executive of the group’s main QK Meats business in the country. Although his address is in Co Kildare, he can be seen regularly travelling in South Africa and neighbouring countries and was elected vice-chairman of the local Association of Meat Importers and Exporters in 2019.

Ivor Queally (centre) with Irish ambassador to South Africa Liam MacGabhann during a visit to the president of Botswana in 2018.

The family has allowed a selected few outsiders to own minority interests in their companies. One is Ciaran Murray, a senior executive on the group’s Naas manufacturing campus, who co-owns the group’s internal security company and two property vehicles.

Patrick Higgins, meanwhile, has overseen both the group’s financial affairs and the private investments of the Queally family office for more than 30 years. Initially a minority partner in Pasta Concepts, the Arrow Group’s foray into pasta production from 1995, Higgins was bought out in 2018 when this business merged into The Culinary Food Group. Instead, his family’s holding company, Stonepark Capital, last year became the only non-Queally vehicle offered a highly symbolic slice of the historic pork and bacon business alongside the companies controlled by Peter and John’s own children (see below). 

Kieran Hynes, the managing director of Glenpatrick Spring Water, contributed to the acquisition of a subsidiary in Kilkenny in 2002 and continues to own a quarter of it.

Mini-family offices with over €20 million in net assets for the next generation 

While the Arrow Group holds 94 per cent of Queally Pig Slaughtering and all its voting rights, the operator of the historic Dawn Pork and Bacon factory in Grannagh across the river Suir from Waterford City, each family member owns a minority stake through a string of personal holding companies established a decade ago.

Their share rights entitle them to a priority claim on dividends from this division of the group. By contrast, the Arrow Group can collect dividends from Queally Pig Slaughtering only if its directors decide so. Think of it as a universal basic income scheme established by Peter and John Queally for their children on the back of the steady business that formed the foundation of their success.

The same companies also owned minority stakes in Dawn Meats prior to its merger with Dunbia in 2017 (see below).

The spouses and children of second-generation Queallys are also shareholders in each of these personal vehicles, which have evolved into mini family offices. The companies hold the family members’ investments outside the group and stand ready to handle assets as they trickle to a third generation.

The companies’ latest accounts show that the 14 cousins are all millionaires in their own right, with net assets falling into six-figure territory only in those cases where family members have withdrawn significant cash dividends. This wealth, of course, does not include their much more valuable direct shareholdings in the Arrow and Dawn Meats groups, which are locked in for the long term and whose dividends are more volatile.

Parents John, Peter and Eileen use their vehicles Rosefelt and Darglemont primarily to make intercompany loans to other parts of the Arrow Group, while Marie and Pat Crowley hold their interest in Dawn International through their company Beechmart. Other children, however, have built up a variety of alternative investments and businesses.

Ivor’s Taneydale owns €1.2 million worth of investment properties. Since the end of 2019, the company has “acquired a 50 per cent interest in Africa Westport Limited, an investment holding company with interests in an African-based property development company”. Taneydale also provides funding to another company connected to Ivor, RMB Westport Zambia One Ltd.

Irene and her husband Bill Fitzgerald use Avocadale to channel debt and equity funding to their own Waterford-based business Fitzeally, which trades under the Pipin Pear brand of organic baby foods. Their company also owns €758,000 worth of leveraged investment property.

Barbara and her family, through their vehicle Templecrest, have a one-third stake in the fashionable Dublin restaurant Las Tapas de Lola.

Cathal’s vehicle Albancrest established a Dublin subsidiary, CQ Properties, in 2017. The following year, it paid Cathal a €900,000 dividend. Deirdre’s Gilfordton and Liam’s Manorcorn, meanwhile, both report bloodstock investments.

This is not the only connection between the Queallys and horseracing. All family members are shareholders in the Waterford and Tramore Racecourse company and, along with the Arrow Group, hold over 14 per cent of its share capital.

Investment properties, however, are the name of the game for most of the Queallys’ family vehicles. Marie-Louise’s Viewhampton owns the largest portfolio, valued at €3.7 million and largely funded through loans from the shareholder herself. Rebecca’s Templecrest report close to €1 million worth of property and Aisling’s Sommermont €468,000, after paying half a million euro in dividends in two years. Aileen’s Chelmwood and Barbara’s Cedarglen report more modest property portfolios around the €300,000 mark.

Barbara’s main interests are held elsewhere in South Africa, where she lives. She previously told the story of moving there aged 23, having dropped out of college, to start her own business. She first did so with Belgian chocolatier and fellow emigrant Kees Beyers, and she now runs Garden Morris Packaging and Food, which is named after the home place of her father Peter Queally.

Despite Barbara’s presence in South Africa for over two decades, her formal involvement in the family’s meat business there appears to have been limited to the role of temporary director when establishing new companies in the country.

Through their individual companies, Michael, Dermot, Deidre, Aileen, Conor and Marie have also formed a joint vehicle, Duntein, based at Marie’s Co Waterford address under her and her husband’s directorships. The company bought €1.4 million worth of investment property in 2019, entirely funded through shareholder loans. The same group of six also trades under the name Mellow Developments, which they registered to conduct the long-term letting of property.


Part 2 – When the Queallys meet the Brownes and the Dobsons: under the hood at Dawn Meats

In December, the Dawn Meats group registered its second private aeroplane. While it is unclear whether the company intends to keep flying its still-registered Cessna Conquest after a minor landing incident at Glasgow Prestwick Airport two years ago, the addition of a similar-sized Beechcraft Super King Air 9-seater gives executives continued access to their cross-border beef and lamb processing empire regardless of commercial flights’ availability in these uncertain pandemic times.

One detail, however, differentiates the two generations of aircraft: The new Beechcraft, just like the rest of the group, is now owned through the Isle of Man. While this has allowed its new owner to display the vanity registration “M-DAWN”, there are other reasons for the recent wholesale shift in asset ownership by the Queally and Browne families to the secretive Irish sea jurisdiction.

Just like Peter and John Queally, Dan Browne is from a farm. Yet while the Waterford brothers bootstrapped themselves into food entrepreneurs from their livestock rearing background, the Corkman came to business after an early career focused on agri-food science and technology.

Now 83, Browne obtained an agricultural science degree from UCD in 1959 and joined the State’s agricultural R&D agency known today as Teagasc, who sent him home to Co Cork to develop the Moorepark research farm – now one of the world’s foremost dairy science centres.

In the 1970s, farmers’ co-operatives were developing into industrial groups to process their members’ production. In the dairy sector, those have evolved into some of today’s most successful Irish businesses, such as Kerry Group and Ornua. The most advanced effort in the meat industry at the time was International Meat Packers (IMP), a business acquired by the Cork Marts co-op in the late 1960s in an attempt to wrestle more added value for farmers from private processors such as the rising Larry Goodman. 

Browne joined IMP in 1974 to manage the group’s new meat processing plant in Midleton. The Irish co-op experiment in the meat industry, however, ultimately failed and IMP collapsed in the early 1980s. As the project floundered, Browne took his experience and skills to the Queallys.

In 1980, the three men set up Dawn Meats to process beef and lamb at their first factory next door to the Queally’s existing Dawn Pork and Bacon business in Grannagh. From the start, Browne owned more than one third of the business, yet the Queally brothers together held a much larger stake.

This balance between the two families has remained broadly unchanged ever since. Executive management of Dawn Meats, however, rests firmly with the Browne family. Dan was the company’s managing director for 27 years until his son Niall succeeded him.

Over the years, as the second generation of Queallys acquired shareholdings in the business in similar proportions to those observed in the Arrow Group, Dan Browne and his wife Kay allocated stakes in Dawn Meats to their own four children. 

Aside from Niall (48), who is now Dawn Meats group chief executive, French-based Patrick (55) oversees the group’s sales and operations on the continent while Aoidin (53) holds the position of group corporate affairs and telecommunications manager. Their brother Colm (51)  runs his own successful company, Trans-Stock Warehousing and Cold Storage, outside the group. 

The last time Dawn Meats filed public accounts was for 2006. The group had €921 million in consolidated revenue and returned €8.2 million in operating profit – just under 1 per cent margin, which is not unusual in the cut-throat red meat business. After interest costs, it was left with a €4.6 million pre-tax profit.

These figures are well out of date, but they are the most recent indication we have of the group’s overall performance. Its entire corporate structure then became unlimited and stopped publishing financial data.

In the intervening 15 years, the group has more than doubled in size. The only figures we have today are from Dawn Meats’ unaudited public relations materials claiming €2 billion in revenue from the processing of 1 million cattle and 3 million sheep per annum at 10 factories in Ireland, 12 in the UK and one in France.

Dawn Meats could take over France’s No2 beef processor – but is not sure yet

Just like Dawn Meats in Ireland, Elivia is the second largest beef processor in France. The company handled over 163,000 tonnes of carcase beef in 2015, accounting for 13 per cent of the French market, according to the local authorities. It also processes lamb and pork. 

That year its owner, the French farmers’ co-op Terrena, sold a 49 per cent stake in the flagging meat company to Dawn Meats. Although Elivia had €716 million in revenue in 2015, it barely broke even after suffering a heavy loss the previous year and the Irish group snapped up half of its share capital for just €5 million, according to filings by the Luxembourg company used to conduct the transaction, DM Holdings SARL. The deal took more than one year to negotiate and initially provided an option for Dawn Meats to increase its stake to 70 per cent by 2019. 

Elivia embarked a €100 million rationalisation and modernisation plan of its ageing factories, leveraging the expertise of Dawn Meats –  and French government grants. The effort has been partly funded by intercompany debt borrowed from Dawn Meats, with accounts in Luxembourg indicating €45 million outstanding at the end of 2019, repayable by 2027. In 2016, things looked up as turnover jumped to €935 million and the company began to generate profits.

But the following years proved disappointing, with slipping revenue and a return to loss-making territory as the domestically-focused company faces a structural downward trend in French red meat consumption. In 2019, Elivia had just over €900 million in sales and €1.4 million in operating profit, far from the performance achieved by other Queally meat businesses. It was left with a pre-tax loss of €2 million.

Instead of triggering Dawn Meats’ option to take control of Elivia by the late 2019 deadline, Niall and Patrick Browne negotiated an extension. Luxembourg filings show that the Irish group now has two windows to increase its stake if it so decides, after the publications of annual accounts in either 2022 or 2023.

Terrena executives have described the change as a complete “rewriting of the partnership with Dawn Meats on beef” and hope to benefit from the Waterford group’s export record to find new markets and turn the meat business around.

The main factor in Dawn Meats’s recent shift in scale has been the acquisition of Dunbia, starting in 2017. According to the reports by competition authorities that cleared the merger, Dawn Meats had grown into a nationwide beef and lamb processor with five factories from Co Waterford to Co Mayo, including secondary processing and rendering of by-products. It was the second largest beef processor in Ireland after Larry Goodman’s ABP, conducting 20 to 25 per cent of the annual cattle kill. 

Where Arrow Group’s flagship contract is with Subway, Dawn Meats’ is with McDonald’s. Its mince factory in Carroll’s Cross, Co Waterford is largely dedicated to this single customer, for whom it reports producing 400 million beef burgers each year. The contract contributes significantly to making McDonald’s single largest purchaser of Irish beef, shipping 40,000 tonnes to its restaurants across Europe annually.

For smaller restaurants and hotels, Dawn Meats runs its own foodservice operation in Ireland, but the bulk of its business was export, primarily to the UK and France. In addition to sales offices in London and Kent, the group had eight industrial sites in Britain before the Dunbia deal: a beef and lamb processing plant in Carnaby in Yorkshire; beef processing plants in Ayrshire, Cumbria, Cornwall, Devon and Bedfordshire; a retail packing plant in Wales; and a cold store and distribution base near Birmingham. It also runs a secondary beef processing plant in France and has a 50 per cent stake in a UK joint venture, Lincoln Proteins, which processes waste and by-products. 

For its part, Dungannnon, Co Tyrone-headquartered Dunbia had seven beef and lamb processing plants across the UK and two in the Republic – an abattoir in Slane, Co Meath and a secondary processing plant Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath. The business, grown from a butcher’s shop by Jim Dobson and his brother Jack since 1976, posted €912 million in revenue in 2017 – the exact same figure as Dawn Meats a decade earlier.

Under the 2017 deal, Dunbia sold its two factories in the Republic to Dawn Meats and placed its UK business into a joint venture between the Queallys, Brownes and Dobsons. Since then, the wider group has been trading as Dawn Meats in the Republic and Dunbia in the UK, where it purchases between 10 and 20 per cent of Britain’s cattle and sheep.

From the British Virgin Islands to the Isle of Man

As the deal concluded, Dawn Meats’s holding structure was revamped. Until then, the group’s ownership was routed through Immol Ltd and other companies registered in the opaque British Virgin Islands (BVI) jurisdiction – except for minority shares used to deliver regular dividends to family members’ vehicles, as described above for Arrow Group.

The BVI companies in turn fed into QDB Holdings, at the time an Irish unlimited company that did not publish accounts but at least disclosed its ownership. Dan Browne was its largest shareholder with 11.2 per cent, but the Queally family remained in control with 64 per cent between all its members. 

Jim Dobson, meanwhile, owned Dunbia through holding companies located in the Isle of Man. On the occasion of the 2017 merger, the entire Dawn Meats group adopted this model.

Advised by Philip Lee solicitors, the Queally and Browne families established a new QDB Holdings (IOM) company in the Isle of Man to hold the business. After asset transfers, their shares in the Irish-registered QDB Holdings were converted, redeemed and cancelled, with only a nominal amount of €11,201.98 reported in the documents signed by Dan Browne to rubberstamp the transaction.

On October 25, 2018, Immol and eight other BVI companies gave notice that they had appointed Seamus O’Mahony in Bandon, Co Cork as their voluntary liquidator. The following year, QDB Holding was struck off the Irish register. Since then, all transactions involving Dawn Meats’ ownership have been conducted in the Isle of Man, with extremely limited information available.

The successive BVI and Manx corporate structures have been in sharp contrast to the fully Irish, limited companies established by the sole Queally family to manage the Arrow Group and other investments in a much more transparent manner.

On July 30 last year, aged 67, Jim Dobson announced his retirement from Dunbia. He sold his stake in the UK joint venture to Dawn Meats, giving the Queally and Browne families full ownership of the combined business.

Dunbia founder Jim Dobson (left) and Dawn Meats chief executive Niall Browne.

No financial detail is available about the final transaction, except for charge documents filed by multiple group companies showing that the purchase must have been significantly funded through debt raised from Bank of Ireland, which has now taken security over every conceivable asset of the group. The bank had already refinanced Dawn Meats’ existing debt on the occasion of the initial deal four years ago.

The merger, however, allows a clearer view into the performance of the group’s UK operations, now consolidated into Dunbia UK. The British division posted £1.1 billion in revenue in 2019 and returned an operating profit of £8.6 million. This margin was over 20 basis points down on the 1 per cent achieved the previous year, “primarily due to increased input costs together with restructuring costs,” reported Dobson, who was still director at the time.

Dawn Meats and Dunbia’s UK combination ended 2018 with a £7.7 million pre-tax profit in 2018, which halved to £3.7 million in 2019. It dipped into past accumulated profits to pay £27.2 million and £1.3 million in dividends in those two years, which marked its period of joint ownership with Dobson before his retirement. In February of this year, he used some of the proceeds to participate in a funding round for Australian-based livestock management software firm Agriwebb.

Dunbia UK’s accounts give us few but important pieces of information about the performance of the wider Dawn Meats group. Firstly, there is very limited intercompany business between the Irish and British operations, with only £43.6 million in purchases reported from Dawn Meats (and £4.5 million from the Arrow Group). It appears that Dunbia does not act as a significant UK importer for Dawn Meats, which does its own business directly with British customers.

In euro terms, Dunbia is therefore responsible for over €1.1 billion of revenue from its own beef and lamb processing business. Based on the €2 billion reported by the combined Dawn Meats group, this points to over €800 million in Irish-based revenue.

In operating margin terms, the 1 per cent figure comes back consistently over time and across jurisdictions. Applied to the entire group, this would return €20 million annually for Dawn Meats as a whole. How much of this ultimately trickles down to the Queally and Browne families will remain a mystery: it all depends on the cost of the significant debt activity observed around the Dunbia acquisition, and those figures are now hidden away in the Isle of Man.

The Queally view of Covid recovery, multinationals and Brexit

Last September, Arrow Group director Marie Crowley, daughter of John Queally, shared her view of the business climate in a rare appearance at a public discussion organised by the Family Business Network. This was her full contribution:

“In economic terms, Covid-19 has affected different sectors to varying degrees. But the family model is one that's very well placed to deal with the challenges. And family businesses tend to have a long-term outlook when it comes to business strategy. They can make strategic decisions quickly. They don't have to go to boards and different sections and await months for a decision. They are not worried about share price and looking over their shoulder at what the dividend is going to be or the stock exchange is going to say. And furthermore, they're more likely than other types of enterprises to re-invest their profits, rather than take it out of the company. 

"I suppose the various government packages have gone a long way to help support the businesses over the last six months, which is super. But I think there is a lot of uncertainty ahead, as these supports are withdrawn.

"The government and banks and other agencies, you know, they need to take a pragmatic approach to dealing with family businesses over the next couple of years to get through this crisis.

"Michael, I think, said in his opening remarks that family businesses are the backbone of the economy. And I think it's often felt that we're like the forgotten middle child. Foreign direct investment is a long-term focus of government policy as a way to develop the economy. There’s no denying that this has been very successful, but in a changing international landscape, how will this serve our economy going forward? Family businesses are rooted in their communities, they're spread throughout Ireland.

“From my experience in the food and agri sector, it's very difficult to see growth at company level other than by way of acquisition at the moment.”

Marie Crowley

"They're unlikely to switch from the country if, say, the tax regime changes or whatever, they're there for the long term. So where will all this growth come from? I think it depends very much on the sector that the family business is in, obviously. From my experience in the food and agri sector, it's very difficult to see growth at company level other than by way of acquisition at the moment, and this can often mean consolidation at the economy level.

"Any new construction project, from conception to completion, can take so long, and the costs involved can be huge in relation to planning and environmental surveys, and often can be completely out of proportion to the project themselves. I think any reform in this area, and any dialogue with the powers that be, would be very welcome.”

Asked about the price increases observed for some inputs, she added: 

“I don't think the consumer will pay extra, you know, it is very price sensitive. And so it is often left up to the individual family business to bear that cost. So that is going to be a struggle, it's going to be difficult for family businesses as they go forward. And I think certainly in our sector, and in a lot of other sectors, the big, big question coming down the road is Brexit.

"I think that is another area that is going to be obviously very, very difficult. But I think because of Covid it has been a little bit pushed to the back burner, and it's something that we are going to have to put a lot of attention into over the next couple of months.”


Between the Arrow Group, Dawn Meats and related businesses, the Queally family, along with the Brownes, own companies generating over €2.7 billion in annual revenue. They employ more than 10,000 people. Joint ventures in which they hold around 50 per cent account for another €950 million in turnover and over 2,300 employees.

Overall profitability is more difficult to ascertain, but the two families undoubtedly shared over €20 million in pre-tax returns in 2019, which would have been well below the recent years’ average.

There is no doubt that their business has taken a hit from Covid-19. As the experience of the recession that followed the financial crisis showed, the convenience foods, catering customers and export markets served by the Arrow Group have been those most affected by the pandemic. Meanwhile, the disruption and costs associated with keeping the virus out of workplaces have been highest in meat processing. 

One key difference, however, is that the government stepped in this time, as acknowledged by Marie Crowley. Another is that locked-down consumers across Europe turned to traditional foods they had overlooked in recent years, including Dawn Meats’ beef and lamb. The balance between the two Queally businesses is likely to have worked as an efficient hedge and is likely to continue to do so: as the foodservice industry re-opens, propping up demand for the Arrow Group’s products, Dawn Meats is entering a tricky period when Brexit takes full effect from the second half of this year on its crucial export route from Ireland to the UK.

The two successive crises experienced by the Queallys a decade ago proved their ability to recover quickly. If they pull it off again this time, they will have the resources to acquire worse affected businesses cheaply and consolidate their empire.

They will then face the next challenge: Consumers’ shifting attitudes towards meat and ever-increasing scrutiny of its environmental and animal welfare impact. This will be the job of the second and third generations of Queallys. The corporate structure they have built show they have no intention to sell any time soon.