Glens of Antrim potato firm ploughs £1.25m into new machinery
Glens of Antrim Potatoes has invested £1.25m in new machinery as it aims to keep its produce top of shopping lists.
The Cushendall-based company, which supplies supermarkets across Great Britain and Ireland, is putting the cash into new packaging machinery. It will also create up to five new jobs.
Part of the investment was funded by Danske Bank and a grant from Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The revamp will provide customers with more information about how to cook different types of spuds, and which variety best suits their needs.
Director Michael McKillop said the company was keeping its product relevant.
"The new quad pack launches in the autumn, and it sits upright on the supermarket shelf, so it's easier to read and less likely to fall over," he added.
"We are looking at developing different types of packaging and varieties to target different markets, as well as producing microwavable products."
In a world where low-carb diets are promoted and young people are increasingly favouring rice or pasta, potato companies are battling to prove their produce is healthy and worth putting on the plate.
Mr McKillop said: "People still need to eat potatoes, but we have to adapt to get them to buy them, and we need to give consumers information. Some of our potatoes are great for soups and stews, while other varieties are perfect for chips or wedges.
"We tell consumers on the packaging that 52 weeks of the year, this potato will give you a tasty wedge."
Glens of Antrim was established in 1972 by the McKillop family, and with a staff of more than 60, it has become the largest employer in the Glens area.
Mr McKillop said: "I think part of the appeal is that we are family-run, and we take pride in our business.
"It's not like a commercial company that just packs potatoes and ships them off in the hope the consumer eats them. We spend time looking at the different varieties that we use, and we think about what the consumer will want because we are also consumers ourselves."
On top of the new machinery, the company will use its existing farmers to grow different types of potatoes. "The knock-on effect means our grower base will be expanding," said Mr McKillop.
"We have up to 20 growers year round, from Derry to Co Down, so this investment is securing their long-term future as well.
"We look after our suppliers because they're important factors within our business."
There are long-terms plans to further expand Glens of Antrim Potatoes and hopes of breaking into the European market. And closer to home, the company says that its homegrown credentials are helping them to trump the competition.
Mr McKillop said: "We are looking at trying to counteract imports coming in because as we expand further into Great Britain, GB companies are also trying to come into our market.
"Thankfully, the supermarkets that we deal with want more local produce.
"The consumer also wants something that's locally grown, but it has to be at the right price, it's got to be competitive and be on our doorstep. The industry here can't price itself out of the market."
Danske Bank business manager Roger Hamilton added: "The agri-food sector plays a significant role in the Northern Ireland economy, contributing £1bn a year. Local companies have a strong track record of export, with 70% of all sales coming from outside Northern Ireland.
"Glens of Antrim Potatoes is a great example of a family-run business which has had tremendous success locally and across Great Britain and Ireland.
"They are continually investing in research and development and bringing new products to market."