The management team at Mash Direct has indicated that the real value of inflation within the food sector is well above that reflected in current government figures.

Jack Hamilton, the CEO of the Co. Down-based vegetable processing business, confirmed that rising energy costs is a particular challenge for the company at the present time.

“And we are not alone in this regard,” he explained. “Government must act to support the agri-food sector.

“And the closer to the primary producer that an aid package can be given, the greater the impact it will have. Only in this way can government hope to reduce the inflationary pressures that are so evident at the present time.”

Food resistant to inflation

Despite this, Hamilton believes that potato producers can look forward to a very sustainable future.

“This is because of the significant food miles associated with the likes of pasta and rice,” he commented.

“Potatoes are locally grown. They can also be produced at prices that can be accurately factored into peoples’ budgets in a very consistent manner. As a consequence, they are pretty much inflation-proof.”

Mash Direct has 53 farmer-suppliers. According to group chairman Martin Hamilton, the operation’s business model ensures very low levels of waste are created within the system.

“We will accept the cast bulk of the potatoes and other vegetables produced by our suppliers. Prior to the establishment of Mash Direct, we produced potatoes for the retail packing trade,” he outlined.

“Back then, I was very frustrated with the number of potatoes that had to go for stock feed because they did not meet the packing criteria. And I know that all farmers feel the same way, where this matter is concerned. Thankfully, this is not an issue, in the case of the Mash Direct operation.”

Labour challenge

But one challenge that does continually confront the business is that of labour availability.

“This is why we have sought to increase the degree of automation within the business on a continuing basis,” he explained.

“We are extremely proud of the Mash Direct brand and all that it stands for. We have been asked by supermarkets in the past to consider an own-label supply option.

“However, we have always resisted these suggestions. And, thankfully, it’s a decision that has always worked for the benefit of the business.”