Mash Direct, the farming and food production company, have entered 2020 off the back of a pretty successful year.
The brand’s UK retail sales in 2019 were up 10.3% year-on-year, reportedly the highest growth in the category, with total turnover for the company last year standing at 6.2%.
“Our growth has been driven by a combination of the brand in retail and our continued growth in foodservice with the restaurant industry,” the company’s chief operating officer, Jack Hamilton, tells Food Spark.
“And a big part of that is import substitution as people look towards British produce and away from European produce.”
Another big plus for Mash Direct last year was their successful phasing out of black plastic in their packaging, with the company’s carbon footprint also benefitting from cutting out packaging middlemen.
Farm to shelf
“We have a big advantage when approaching the issue of packaging because we’re both a farm and a manufacturer,” explains Hamilton.
“Other farms are taking their produce – lifting it, harvesting it and putting it in packaging – and then delivering it to a food manufacturer. They then take that packaging away to process it, repackage it and then send to a supermarket to go out on the shelf.
“With our model, being the farm ourselves, as soon as we harvest we steam cook here, which removes the need for all the farm packaging to the manufacturer. This way, we significantly reduce our carbon footprint and, being a local British farm, the food miles are minimal.”
Hamilton says that Mash Direct are the first in their category to manage the complete removal of black packaging. The move had big cost implications, which they decided to internalise, with most big manufacturers not able to make such wholesale changes at speed.
“As a slightly smaller manufacturer [compared to the larger multinationals] we’re a little bit more agile in terms of strategy, and with no complicated shareholder model we were able to quickly adopt green, recycling-detectible trays to reduce our footprint.”
Mash Direct have a weekly manager meeting to discuss, among other things, potential packaging improvements and trends, with their field sales teams across the country able to be the eyes and ears for the company, regularly reporting back with the latest in packaging innovation.
Interesting and actionable points can, says Hamilton, be reacted to quickly at their Country Down home base.
Farewell fake farms
Hamilton believes that, with sustainability and ethical focus both key buzzwords in the industry, consumer focus on packaging and plastic from an environmental perspective will expand to other parts of the food chain in 2020.
“The big winners from that expansion will be companies with easy ingredients decks with non-complicated ingredients and short supply chains as they can react best.
“For huge manufacturers with complicated ingredient decks and massively long supply chains, it will be painful. They will find that they can’t be forthright about their provenance or exactly where their ingredients come from.”
Provenance, says Hamilton, will continue to be important as we move into the new decade, especially among younger consumers, who will want to see exact food miles and the carbon footprint of the vegetables they’re eating, with the calling out of “fake farms” and trying to hide produce origin from countries in Europe.
“Consumers want to have conversations with the producers these days and be connected with the farmers,” he says.
“Facebook and Instagram are the biggest social drivers for us. Our consumers want to see the farm on a day-to-day basis.”