The epitome of a successful farm diversification is Mash Direct, a business run by the Hamilton family in Northern Ireland

This highly successful processed vegetable company recently announced plans to increase production capacity to meet growing demand for its products, following a £10m funding package from HSBC UK.

An independent company, it was started by Martin and Tracy Hamilton at their family-run farm in Comber, in 2004, but traces its roots back farming the fields around Strangford Lough back to the 1800s, passing down through six generations.

The idea came together when, due to the declining vegetable market in the UK, mixed with poor prices for crops, Mash Direct was born out of necessity as a way to keep the family farm afloat.

Since then, the business has continued to boom year-on-year and the farm really is a family affair with Martin and Tracy, joined by both of their sons, Lance and Jack, helping Mash Direct on its journey to become a national, household name.

Since this diversification was started, it has gone from growing 70 to 1400 acres of fields that are tailored to growing traditional, heritage vegetables. These are then cooked using specially designed steam cookers and the end results are suitable for microwave or oven heating.

It grows and produces approximately 40 processed vegetable and potato dishes, and currently supplies major supermarket chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Waitrose, Co-op, Aldi, Lidl, and Dunnes.

The business is to use HSBC UK’s support to make its custom-built, on-farm production facility in Co Down more environmentally friendly. New solar and wind energy machinery will be installed, along with a new wastewater treatment facility, helping to future-proof the business and making the overall plant more sustainable.

It will also increase its capacity by adding new production lines to its industrial kitchen to produce new dishes and is also investing in robotics and enterprise management software.

During 2020 Mash Direct will hire 12 new staff and invest in a robust training programme to up-skill its existing team.

Jack Hamilton, of Mash Direct, said: “With growing demand for our range of products at home and abroad, it was essential that we invested in new, environmentally friendly machinery and in the talented, skilled staff we currently have.

“Improving our carbon footprint is very important to the business and great strides will be made to do this with our investment in new technology. HSBC UK shares our vision for growth and understands our immediate needs as a rapidly scaling SME in the agrifoods sector.”

* The finance was allocated from HSBC UK’s national SME Fund, which aims to actively support UK businesses realise their ambitions for growth and navigate Brexit. The new £14bn SME Fund has recently been announced by HSBC UK, with £150m committed to Northern Ireland. The fund also includes an ring-fenced pot for the agriculture sector, with the pot rising to £1bn from £300m last year.