The managing director of Arla Foods UK Ash Amirahmadi is set to leave the UK’s largest dairy co-op on July 31, 2023. He has spent 20 years at Arla, the last five as the MD of the UK co-op. Following his departure, Amirahmadi will become the CEO of Sofina Foods Europe, a subsidiary of Canadian food manufacturing producer Sofina Foods Inc., commencing his new role on August 8, 2023.
Amirahmadi is the current chair of Dairy UK and IGD. He was awarded an OBE for services to the dairy industry in the 2023 New Year’s Honors. In 2020, he warned the UK government of the damaging effects of a no-deal Brexit as MPs were racing to pass the Brexit trade bill at the end of 2020, telling Business Insider that UK dairy was “potentially heading for a triple whammy” of price increases, availability issues and the impact of Covid-19 on trade.
The outgoing Arla Foods UK MD was at the helm of the co-op’s UK division when the co-op launched its Climate Action Roadmap, becoming the first dairy cooperative to unveil emissions reduction targets verified by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).
Amirahmadi has also been a vocal supporter of climate management practices and their potential to improve dairy farmers’ profitability. As chairman of Dairy UK, he oversaw the launch of the UK Dairy Roadmap, stating it is ‘fundamental for the sector in driving forward environmental improvements and bringing industry together to move forward as one’.
In October 2022, he told this publication that any decisions made on the environment – whether by industry or government – should be data-led. “There is a lot of work going on both on the processing and farming side, but this needs to be captured fully,” he told us, “so we can show where we are making gains and improvements and where more work is needed. We then need to make those improvements at pace – with a clear understanding that changes are not simple and come at a cost.”
Under his Dairy UK chairmanship, all dairy farmers were urged to undertake carbon footprinting by June 2023, to ensure future reduction targets are data-driven, with Amirahmadi arguing that there is ‘a clear link between carbon footprint and production efficiency’.
The outgoing Arla executive has also spoken of the dangers of worker shortages to UK food security and prices and helped the co-op to negotiate higher prices for Arla farmers amid global commodity price shocks during 2022. Earlier this year, as farmgate milk prices began to slide, Amirahmadi highlighted co-ops have to protect farmers’ profitability as they navigate rising on-farm costs and a transition to greener farming practices.
Speaking during the 2023 National Farmers’ Union conference, he said: “We need to look after our farmers – and I am talking economics – because…what’s probably going to happen is we are going to enter a period when farmgate prices would start to go below the cost of production. And if we don’t want to see a situation…where supplying products onto shelves was being impacted, we need to be really careful about that.”
Announcing his decision to leave Arla Foods UK, Amirahmadi said: “It’s been a difficult decision to leave Arla after a joyful 20 years. I complete my time both with a sense of sadness and pride. I will miss our farmers, our people and the deep friendships I have developed. It is people, relationships, and values that make organisations special, and the cooperation between our farmers and our colleagues gives us the unique culture of Arla. For me, the Sofina role is a big one and a different challenge which is what I now need in my career. I am and will always be grateful to have been part of Arla.”
Sofina Foods Europe has been described as one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of primary and further processed protein products for both retail and foodservice customers via its Karro, Young’s Seafood and Greenland Seafood subsidiaries and has operations across the UK, Ireland, France and Germany. Amirahmadi is hoped to lead the business as it develops ‘a more sustainable and resilient supply chain’. “Sofina Foods has a track record of working in partnership with its customers and suppliers, developing sustainable and resilient supply chains, investing in its people, adding value to categories, and long-term commitment to social responsibility across multiple stakeholders,” he reflected. “My experience in the UK grocery sector mirrors these values and therefore I am honoured to lead Sofina Foods Europe on the journey ahead.”
Amirahmadi’s successor will be Bas Padberg, who currently serves as vice-president of Southeast Asia, Arla reported. Padberg joined Arla in 2014 from Royal Friesland Campina to become managing director of Arla's business in the Netherlands, Belgium and France, which he turned into the fastest growing branded market in Arla Europe. He will take up the role of Arla Foods UK MD on January 1, 2024, with EVP of Europe Peter Giørtz-Carlsen set to steer the UK business in the interim.