Potatoes, milk and success, AgriLand talks to Tracy Hamilton of Mash Direct on its diversification into the pre-prepared food market.
In 2004 Martin and Tracy Hamilton founded Mash Direct, a family-owned farming and food production enterprise located outside Comber, close to the shores of Strangford Lough. In 2004 the Hamilton’s were farming 230 acres employing eight people. They now farm 1,200 acres and employ 105.
“Mash Direct was founded after careful analysis of contemporary eating habits and the catalyst of a glass of whiskey with close friend [and now Mash direct] Tony Reid,” Tracy Hamilton explained.
The Mash Direct range is perfect for time-strapped families who want convenient high-quality healthy dishes. With 32 products ranging from straightforward everyday favourites to the perfect BBQ accompaniment, Mash Direct offer the delicious taste and texture of home-made food with no artificial additives, preservatives and colourings. The products can be found in more than 17 supermarkets and convenience stores, across the UK and Ireland as well as further afield in new markets such as Dubai.
The Mash Direct operation involves real-team effort and at its core is the Hamilton family, who as individuals are a force to be reckoned with and have the awards and nominations to prove it.
Martin, fifth generation farmer is the managing director of Mash Direct and MH Farms and was a finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2013.
Tracy is the first woman to be elected to the Board of Northern Ireland Food and Drink and the Board of Food NI. If that wasn’t enough she has just won the FBD Women and Agriculture Award 2013 for Agribusiness and Innovation, and she will now represent Ireland competing for the EU Innovation prize.
Lance and Jack their two sons also play key roles in the success of Mash Direct. Jack, based in London, recently joined Mash Direct as sales and digital marketing manager and manages the Dubai business and future exports. Lance joined Mash Direct in 2008 and manages the sales and marketing of the company.
Tony Reid, its director is a friend and neighbour. He is the engineering brain who designed and manufactured many pieces of specific equipment for the cooking and mashing processes for Mash Direct’s Industrial Kitchen.
Asked how Mash Direct came to the decision to move into the pre-prepared food market Tracy is straightforward in her response.
“There was no profit margin left in farming so we looked to add value to our farm produce. We started testing the market for our products by taking a stand at St Georges Market We then established our own van sales distributing to Independent stores followed closely by selling to the symbol groups. This was soon followed by distribution to the Multiple Retailers. We are now the brand leaders throughout Ireland and the UK and have recently established a Mash Direct van distributing in London.”
When we think of Recession we automatically imagine emigration, however Tracy points out how this has opened up new markets for the company.
“We do export to Dubai and are delighted with this market. Mash Direct offer a quality product in to a developing category in the Middle East – quality and convenience. There are also many ex-pats out there who are delighted to see ‘food from home’ on the shelves”.
Despite the notable success of Mash Direct, Tracy still feels there is room for further government support.
“There is always a requirement for more marketing support. Ireland is a major producer of good quality food and we cannot publicise this message enough”.
Agricultural Shows and foodie events such as Taste of Dublin play a pivotal role in Mash Direct’s marketing strategy.
“There is no doubt that these events boost brand awareness. There should be more of them held during the year throughout Ireland. They are our best form of marketing as people get to taste our products, meet the people behind the brand and hear where they can purchase the product.”
Displaying the acumen and drive to keep up its success Mash Direct is not resting on its laurels with Tracy highlighting new developments. “We have just launched our new croquette range of four gluten free croquettes that has been extremely well received. We are striving to be a totally gluten free company.” As if that was not enough the company have just commenced building work for a major industrial kitchen extension.
Tracy feels a good attitude is key to success in all lines of business: “As Martin always says get out and go after it, it rarely comes looking for you.”
Pictured Tracy Hamilton of Mash Direct/ image www.mashdirect.com
By Kathleen Rowley