International Trade

Thought mashed potatoes would be popular in Middle East? Meet the firm carving a niche in the market

6 min read

31 March 2016

Deputy Editor, Real Business

Real Business caught up with Mash Direct founder Martin Hamilton to find out how he intends to ensure business success and how the unsuspecting Middle East became a popular client.

Name: Martin Hamilton

Role and company: Founder and director of Mash Direct

Company turnover: £15m

Employee numbers: 180

Please give a brief overview of the brand: Mash Direct is an award-winning vegetable accompaniments brand selling more than 40 different products across the UK and Ireland, as well as exporting overseas. Based in County Down, Northern Ireland our family business produces accompaniments from mashed potato to cauliflower cheese gratin using heritage varieties of vegetables. With six generations of farming knowledge and expertise we’re committed to achieving that “homemade taste”.

What’s the big vision for your business? Having been successfully growing and selling vegetables for more than 25 years, in 2004 my wife and I decided to take the farm to the next level by making our vegetables convenient to prepare. Since then we’ve seen year-on-year sales growth of at least 12 per cent and are now exporting our mashed potatoes to UAE and Bahrain. The business has gone from strength-to-strength and this year, award success and retail wins have boosted sales by 34.2 per cent. Looking ahead, we want to move more strategically into the US export market, looking particularly at Chicago and Maine, which have similar food retail landscapes to the UK.

Did you ever expect Mash Direct to be popular in the Middle East? No, it came as a complete surprise but when it comes to exporting products overseas there is a wide range of opportunities out there. The international side of the business currently accounts for 16 per cent of our total sales and while we’re looking to increase our presence overseas, our domestic focus will firmly remain on creating and manufacturing quality products.

Read articles written by Martin Hamilton:

How do you intend to ensure the business continues to thrive? Continued investment in the company and constant innovation is our business priority. Innovation has been at the heart of the business since we launched Mash Direct. One of the first things we designed was a bespoke vegetable steamer and masher to ensure our vegetables retained their nutrients and taste. Innovation plays a large role in our new product development too, our Chilli Baby Bakes – baby potatoes coated in a fiery chilli marinade – have grown increasingly popular with Dubai locals due to their spicy coating and we’ll continue to develop our products with our customers in mind. 

The food and drink market is continuing to expand, how do you ensure Mash Direct holds its strong market position? This year we’ve benefitted from a raft of new retail wins with Tesco, Nisa, Waitrose Scotland and the Co-operative – securing agreements currently valued at approximately £1.6m. Consumers are increasingly taking more care when it comes to eating healthily and so the quality and provenance of our products are key selling points. 

In 2015, Mash Direct won a total of 17 new industry awards including a Great Taste Award for our Carrot and Parsnip Mash – the only one in the UK, it’s things like this that will continue to ensure our brand is front of mind. This year is Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, it’s a great initiative that we’re delighted to be a part of and we’ll be using the increased awareness to further develop the reputation of Northern Irish produce overseas.

What are your priorities as a business leader? The business landscape is constantly evolving and as an entrepreneur and business leader it’s important to be part of the driving force in your sector. Something I feel very passionately about is inspiring the next generation with entrepreneurial spirit. In contrast to previous generations, today’s millennials have more choice when it comes to starting a career. Entrepreneurialism in particular is becoming an increasingly attractive option for young people looking to make their mark on the world and it’s crucial that businesses impart guidance, share ideas and offer support to young people. 

With Mash Direct, the idea to transform my sixth generation farm into a viable business came later on in my life and career. But the success it has brought and the opportunities it has opened up for my sons and the future of the business has made me determined to ensure the knowledge I have acquired is shared – be that through my own work with local schools and enterprise programmes or by offering training courses across various departments in the company.