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A growing demand sparks £3.7m move

A Comber farm has invested £3.7m in its facilities and taken on 15 new staff to meet growing demand from local buyers.

Sparky Pac, based at the foot of Scrabo hill, supplies fresh, pre-packed vegetables to grocery retailers in Northern Ireland including Tesco.

After becoming a limited company in 2008 it was awarded a European Processing and Marketing Grant, through the Department of Agriculture and Invest Northern Ireland. Around £1.5m of this is being invested in a new state-of-the-art wash plant to meet quality standards and increasing commercial demands for its vegetables - including carrots, parsnips and brassicas.

Mark McKee, co-director of Sparky Pac, said: "This couldn't have come at a better time, since there is an increasingly high demand for our produce from buyers like Tesco, who we have been supplying since they first came to Northern Ireland in 1997."

Tesco commercial manager Cliff Kells said: "This is good news not only for Sparky Pac, but also for our customers, who will benefit from traceable, high-quality fresh vegetables at value-for-money prices.

"As Tesco continues to grow in Northern Ireland, so too does the demand for local produce and so we spend more than £480m every year sourcing 1,500 lines from around 60 local suppliers like Sparky Pac in Northern Ireland."

The investment made by the farm company has also been used to enlist the services and expertise of agronomists Plantsystems.

"Plantsystems were able to advise us on how to develop our vegetable growing systems and improve efficiencies," said Mr McKee. "As a result, we have seen our product yields increase by up to 50%, meaning that we can offer our customers the highest quality vegetables at competitive prices.

"Our new wash plant will ensure that we have full traceability on our produce, since all our vegetables will be grown, washed, graded, polished, packaged and distributed by us. We have full control of the whole process from seed to supermarket."

The family owned business was first established in 1989.