Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland food firms in deals worth £1m each with supermarkets

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland food will reach another 1,000 supermarkets in Great Britain as two firms announce mega-deals worth around £1m each for their gluten-free lines.

The contracts for Mash Direct in Comber and Scott's Bakery in Fivemiletown, which employ around 160 people each, are a demonstration of the continued prowess of the food industry in the province.

Vegetable giant Mash Direct and Scott's Bakery have announced deals worth £1m and £0.85m a year with 380 Morrisons and 600 Tesco stores respectively.

The deals come as Tourism NI continues to promote the legacy of the 2016 Year of Food and Drink. Mash Direct last month won the award for innovation in the Year of Food and Drink Awards in association with the Belfast Telegraph for its crispy vegetable bakes.

The company has received support of £37,000 from economic development agency Invest NI to market its gluten-free range of southern-fried potatoes, carrot and parsnip fries, potato rostis and vegetable burgers.

The entire range will now be on sale at 380 Morrisons supermarkets all over Great Britain - the first nationwide multiple deal for the Co Down family company. John Hood, Invest NI's director of food and drink, said: "Investment in innovation has enabled Mash Direct and Scott's Bakery to capitalise on the increasing market demand for 'free-from' products.

"These valuable contracts with UK multiples are significant wins for both food manufacturers."

Tesco, meanwhile, has sold Scott's Bakery's range since 1997 - but as part of the new deal, will almost double its business with the multiple. Andrew Little, product manager of Scott's Bakery, said: "We recently invested £1.5m in the business and hired 30 new staff to increase capacity for new customers.

"This allowed us to supply Tesco GB and bring our gluten-free cakes to a wider Great Britain-based audience."

Mash Direct was set up by Martin and Tracy Hamilton in 2004 at their farm in Comber, and is still run by the couple, along with their sons Lance and Jack.

The company recently said that the business "was as well-positioned for Brexit as possible" as pre-tax profits grew more than fivefold to £1.1m.

Martin Hamilton had spoken out against Brexit in advance of the vote.

The firm, which makes vegetable and potato side dishes, reported a 5.7% increase in sales from £14.2m to £14.96m. It employs 163 people.

The Scott family bakery started in the late 1960s and specialises in baking small cakes. Traditional fairy cakes were its original product, with muffins, mini muffins, butterfly cakes and cupcakes added to the product range as new product developments.

Its cakes are supplied to supermarkets all over the UK and Ireland but the latest deal is expected to double its sales.

In its accounts for the year ending March 31, 2016, the company announced turnover of £16.24m, up from £14.8m.

Pre-tax profits were up from £0.89m to £1.5m. Employee numbers had also expanded from 146 to 157, with the firm taking on another eight production staff, and three more administrative staff.

And the firm - which is run by brothers Robert and George Elliott, said maintaining and growing market share was one of the key challenges it faced.

Sandra Weir, buying manager for Tesco Northern Ireland, said: "Scott's Bakery is a well-loved, family-run Northern Irish company and its gluten-free range will capitalise on the increasing free-from trend, making this an exciting new listing for Tesco.

"This listing was progressed following a Great Britain buyer visit to the Tesco Taste Festival, which was supported by Invest NI, and we are confident that it will be a huge hit with consumers in GB.

"Tesco NI will be proud to see Scott's Bakery in the shopping baskets of GB shoppers this year and, in particular, the role Tesco NI played in this important new development for a much-loved family business."

The new products - gluten-free chocolate chip mini muffins, and assorted fairy cakes - have been made for Tesco.

A range of other Northern Ireland firms have also succeeded in meeting the growing market need for gluten-free bakery and food products, including the Co Antrim businesses Rule of Crumb and Moditions. Both firms have won supermarket deals in the UK and further afield.

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