Q&A with Tracy Hamilton: Helping boost strong food sector
Tracy Hamilton, director of prepared vegetable specialist Mash Direct, says Northern Ireland's success at a food competition shows a growing appetite for our products around the world
How did your career path take you to Mash Direct?
It's not exactly a career path. Having graduated with business studies from the University of Ulster I married my husband Martin in my final year, then started a farm shop on our farm.
Being a fifth generation farmer, Martin had been growing vegetables for the wholesale market but with increasingly poor return for our vegetables we had to think what we could do to add value to our raw materials. Mash Direct commenced in March 2004.
Do you have any regrets about anything you've done in business or your career in general?
To be honest I cannot think of any.
Name the three people to whom you owe your present success.
I really have four people I should mention. Martin my husband, for his entrepreneurship. Mash Direct was his vision.
Tony Reid, EDM Spanwall Carryduff for his engineering genius. Tony designed and made our first cookers and many other bespoke pieces of equipment for our industrial kitchen.
Lance and Jack Hamilton, our two sons, who have the business acumen, passion and hard work ethic.
Do you ever switch off from work – and if so, how?
When I get the opportunity. I have many other 'worlds' about which I am passionate. I am very interested in the outdoors in general and I manage our historic demesne, Ringdufferin, on the shores of Strangford Lough. I am very focused on the gardening world and am a member of the Irish Tree Society, Heritage Garden Committee and am an international dendrologist [an expert in trees and shrubs] as well as a keen beekeeper.
I have also been very involved in the special event fundraising for Mencap's Segal House for nearly 30 years.
Do you think the food sector has potential to grow even further in Northern Ireland?
Definitely. We at Mash Direct are delighted to be included in the winners list of the recent Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards.
The announcement that Northern Ireland has won more awards than any other region certainly shows the strength of the quality of our local produce.
With the marketing strength of Food NI and the strong association with the Tourist Board, Northern Irish food is becoming much more recognised. Northern Ireland is good at food.
Are there any new innovations being planned by Mash Direct – and do you have any hunch on what the next fashionable vegetable will be, following the success of kale?
We are constantly innovating and creating at Mash Direct so watch this space.
What do you think will be the best way for Mash Direct to fuel its success in the future? Is it through export or Great Britain sales, or home sales?
All three. We already supply Waitrose and Spinneys in Dubai and have just launched into three other supermarkets out there. We plan to further develop our United Arab Emirates (UAE) market.
In the Great Britain market we are delighted to be launching in over 350 Asda stores in England in September, in addition to selling extensively in Scotland. At home, sales continue to increase with our fleet of vans selling our extensive range, now totalling around 40 products.