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Mash Direct considers new EU export base after Brexit

By Chris McCullough

A Northern Ireland vegetable farm and processor has said it may have to look at opening a new base within the EU once all the Brexit details have been fine tuned.

Mash Direct has been trading from its Comber base since 2004 and is run by Martin Hamilton with wife Tracy and sons Lance and Jack.

Producing more than 40 cooked vegetable products, the company exports around 15% of its turnover to the Republic of Ireland, and is clearly concerned about the implications Brexit will have on their business.

Although the company already exports to lucrative markets such as Dubai and Spain, where consumers favour their mashed potatoes, there is also products being shipped into new markets in the US. And talks are ongoing to open up new destinations in Asia and other areas.

However, with no government in place in Northern Ireland and much uncertainty arising from Brexit negotiations, Martin Hamilton says he may have to open a base in the EU in the future to keep the company's export goals on track.

The company grows 3,000 acres of vegetables and cereal each year, 1,500 acres owned and a further 1,500 rented.

"I truly believe the politicians have as much idea about Brexit as we do," Mr Hamilton said.

"It is a shame we do not have a functioning government currently working in Northern Ireland to keep us abreast of what is happening in the Brexit talks.

"With this in mind, I think each and every business needs to take action to safeguard themselves from any problems arising from Brexit.

"We export over 15% of our products to the Republic of Ireland, which is our biggest export market. Our exports need to be safeguarded and it's up to us to do that as our government is not in place.

"We employ over 200 people here, some of whom are from Lithuania and have been with us for over 13 years, and that dedicated workforce has to be protected as well.

"I will of course continue to operate from our farm in Comber which is now in the hands of the sixth generation of our family.

"However, I cannot rule out the possibility of opening up a base within the European Union once all the details about Brexit are hammered out.

"We are still investing heavily in our processing departments at Mash Direct and are currently planning a new high humidity carrot store with a 600 tonnes capacity, representing an investment of over £250,000.

"I voted to stay in the European Union and it's the uncertainty that is the biggest current challenge."

Earlier this year, Jack Hamilton was named Young Businessperson of the Year, sponsored by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, at this year's Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with Ulster Bank.

He's now in charge of all the Mash Direct marketing and works alongside mum Tracy, dad Martin and brother Lance at their Co Down farm and facility.

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