Comber farm family at the forefront of original foods for export markets

Curry chips recently joined the successful and award-winning new foods such as beer battered chips, beer battered, chilli bakes and a range of veggie bites developed by Mash Direct, the leading Northern Ireland ‘field to fork’ producer and exporter of plant-based and gluten-free products.

Monday, 5th April 2021, 1:00 pm
Martin, Tracey, Jack and Lance Hamilton of Mash Direct Novel” Mash Direct’s award-winning beer battered chips

Curry chips recently joined the successful and award-winning new foods such as beer battered chips, beer battered, chilli bakes and a range of veggie bites developed by Mash Direct, the leading Northern Ireland ‘field to fork’ producer and exporter of plant-based and gluten-free products.

These and other shopper focused foods earned the family business - deeply rooted on a sprawling farm at Comber, Co Down - recognition from the Department of the Economy as a ‘Silver Level’ Innovator.

It’s recognition that showcases the company, which employs around 200 people, as a leader in the creation of original foods for shoppers here, in Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland, other parts of Europe, the United Arab Emirates and the US. It’s now one of the most inspirational success stories in local food exporting.

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An amazing statistic is that every two seconds a shopper in global markets buys a product from the Northern Ireland company. In addition, Mash Direct exports around 60% of its output, making it one of our most successful food enterprises. Accolades for the company on its outstanding performance have included Company of the Year at the Food Manufacture Excellence Award, the UK’s most prestigious in food manufacturing competition, and the Gold Award for Innovation from SIAL Middle East in Abu Dhabi, a first-time win for a Northern Ireland company.

Mash Direct has also won a series of awards including 23 Great Taste Awards, Quality Food Awards, Grocer New Product Awards, Free From and Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards over the past decade.

Jack Hamilton, Mash Direct’s chief operating officer, justifiably thrilled by the official endorsement for its range of farm-fresh foods, says: “We are very excited and proud that we have been recognised for our commitment to innovation for consumers in ourmarkets. It’s what drives our business.

“The recognition, of course, is a credit to the staff here at Mash Direct who are constantly striving to develop our ever-growing portfolio of fresh, healthy and convenient vegetable side dishes.

“Innovation for customers in all markets is in the DNA of our business. We’ve always been conscious of customers and retailers constantly seeking new tastes especially in terms of convenience meals, a key growth area during the pandemic as more people are now cooking at home and seeking healthy foods. To be successful in such a fast moving environment a company has to keep abreast of market trends and be flexible enough to respond quickly. We are a very nimble operation.”

This is how Mash Direct strives to set itself apart, especially from bigger businesses, in fiercely competitive global markets.

The company’s outstanding success in creating new tastes for consumers is also reflected in its overall performance as a business, driving sales grow by 20% in 2019 and profits up by 8.5% on turnover to £22 million. The focus on original foods is also seen on the company’s annual commitment of at least £1 million in new product to keep it ahead of competitors in all its markets. This commitment also contributed to the company’s most recent success in winning business for eight different foods from Marks & Spencer’s 18 stores on the island of Ireland. 

Jack and brother Lance, the commercial director, are the sixth generation of the Hamilton family on the farm and running the business.

Mash Direct was created by parents Martin, a vastly experienced farmer, and marketing expert Tracey in 2004 to help sustain the family farm. Their first products included champ which was initially trialled successfully among friends and then at the iconic St George’s Market in Belfast.

Jack continues: “Encouraging feedback then led the construction of a small factory on the farm. The aim was to capture a traditional cooking style, specially designing and building a number of pieces of equipment including a unique masher and steam cooker. This bespoke equipment ensures that the vegetables can be steamed gently to retain optimum nutrients and capture the fresh harvested flavour and texture.”

The Hamilton’s began farming the fields around Strangford Lough in the 1800s and the land has been passed down through six generations, bringing with it a wealth of understanding and knowledge of the area and growing conditions. The ambitious and progressive business now produces over 50 products which are 100%, gluten-free and free from artificial colourings and flavourings. All products have very low food miles and are easily traceable from ‘field to fork’ while also produced in recyclable packaging, contributing to a low carbon footprint for the company.

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