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Mash Direct ready for Brexit as 5.7% surge in sales helps firm grow its profits fivefold

By Margaret Canning

Co Down food manufacturer Mash Direct said it aimed to be "as well-positioned for Brexit as possible" as pre-tax profits grew more than fivefold to £1.1m.

The family-run firm, which makes vegetable and potato side dishes from its premises in Comber, also reported a 5.7% increase in sales from £14.2m to £14.96m.

A spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph the business would soon add Morrisons to the list of grocery multiples it supplies around the UK.

Employee numbers grew from 152 to 163, while pre-tax profits jumped from £207,415 to £1.1m.

In its results for the year to February 29 2016, the firm explained that the growth in sales was partly down to increased awareness of its products.

"The sustained investment in the market of the company's brand has raised awareness of the company's product portfolio away from its home market of Northern Ireland even further," a strategic report said.

"(Now) 53.8% of the company's sales are generated on the UK mainland."

But Mash Direct added that it expected the landscape in which it operates to shift as a result of the EU referendum.

In the run-up to the historic vote, managing director and founder Martin Hamilton said he feared the impact of a Brexit on cross-border trade and on staffing levels in the food industry, which relies heavily on employing EU nationals.

"The extent of the impact of Brexit on the company is not clear at present," a directors' report said.

"However, strategies to successfully prepare for and adapt to the various scenarios which the board of directors can possibly foresee are discussed at each monthly meeting.

"As a result, the company aims to be as well-positioned to cope with the implications of Brexit as possible."

The spokeswoman for the company added: "The secret to our success is getting people to try our products first.

"In the last year we have handed out over 110,000 free samples across the world and this has contributed to a 38.1% increase in exports, year-on-year.

"Our constant reinvestment in innovation has also led to a range of high-profile awards in the last year, including being named overall company of the year at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards (ahead of Coca-Cola and Weetabix) and company of the year in the chilled and fresh produce category.

"We also won a major award in Abu Dhabi for innovation for our crispy vegetable bakes, and the Quality Food Award in London for our chilli baby (potato) bakes.

"We are committed to the long-term success of the company and are looking forward to an even better 2017.

"We have also reinvested in product development and training and we have some very exciting new products coming out shortly, as well as a new national listing with Morrisons about to start."

Mash Direct was founded by Martin and Tracy Hamilton in 2003, and is now run by the couple and their sons, Lance and Jack.

While Mr Hamilton warned about the possible risks of Brexit, Jack previously said that UK farmers stood to benefit if consumers turned to home-grown vegetables instead of imported varieties.

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