DFDS has agreed to buy Northern Ireland logistics group McBurney Transport for £138m as part of plans to accelerate its drive into the cold chain logistics sector.

McBurney Transport, which has its headquarters in Ballymena in Northern Ireland, specialises in warehousing and transporting cold chain and dry goods between Ireland and the UK for food manufacturers and retailers.

The group, which was founded by Norman McBurney in 1965, annually transports more than 100,000 trailers across the Irish Sea.

It employs over 800 staff and operates around 400 trucks and 1,360 trailers of which 955 are refrigerated. The majority of the fleet is owned.

McBurney runs three depots in Northern Ireland, one in Ireland, three in England and one in Scotland and also operates a 25,000-pallet cold store in Liverpool, from which cold chain goods are transported across the UK.

The group also owns a 10,000 m2 ambient warehouse in Northern Ireland, which operates under the name Bondelivery and is focused on fulfilment for the retail sector and last mile delivery in Ireland.

In 2021, McBurney reported revenues of £115.4m (2020:£104m) whilst pre-tax profit rose to £11.5m (£9m) in the period. DFDS said McBurney’s revenues are set to increase by almost a third this year.

Announcing the agreement to buy the company, DFDS said: “The acquisition of McBurney Transport Group is aligned with DFDS’ strategic focus on cold chain logistics, it overlaps with existing activities in the region, and offers opportunities to connect with other parts of DFDS’ pan-European transport network.”

DFDS added that McBurney will become part of its logistics division’s cold chain business unit and said the integration of McBurney is “expected to generate synergies”, promising more details on completion of the deal.

Torben Carlsen, chief executive of DFDS, added: “The acquisition of McBurney Transport Group greatly enhances the scope of our customer offerings on the island of Ireland and in the UK, particularly towards the resilient food sector.

“It also brings considerable scale to our existing operations in the region."

Norman McBurney, who has stepped down from his position as MD and handed the reins to his daugther, said the purchase would benefit both clients and staff.

“By becoming part of DFDS we gain access to new development opportunities. I am certain the wider market coverage, including access to DFDS’ extensive transport network, will benefit our many longstanding customers.

“I am confident that our many loyal and dedicated employees will be comfortable and happy after this transaction.”

Despite increasing profits in 2021 McBurney has struggled with the impact of Brexit on its business.

In October last year McBurney commercial director Paul Jackson appeared before the House of Lords Committee on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

He told the committee: “The Northern Ireland Protocol for us as a company has been a complete disaster. It simply does not work for our customers,” he said.

“There is a reduction in choice and there is an increase in costs, because we can see what manufacturers are sending into Northern Ireland on a daily basis and every week that reduction in choice becomes more and more apparent.”

He also warned that full implementation of the Protocol would be an economic disaster, warning the government to “make sure anybody in this country has their freezers full, because you will bring a logistics solution to Northern Ireland on its knees within 48 hours, because the east-west movement of traffic will stop.”