Turn left at the green balloons…
Those were the directions given to the taxi driver. It was just as well he said – his sat nav wanted to send him elsewhere, but the balloons clearly marked the location in Comber, Co. Down, of Mash Direct, where, earlier this month, the great and the good of Comber, Belfast and beyond gathered to celebrate ten years of turning good potatoes into better business.
In a factory space converted for the day into an expansive dining area – and with a lunch that featured several of Mash Direct’s ever expanding range of mashed potato and vegetable dishes – founder Martin Hamilton talked about the origins and progression of the company, an enterprise in which the entire family – Martin, wife Tracy and sons Lance and Jack – is involved. Instead of selling potatoes in their unprocessed state – and for increasingly poor returns – ten years ago, the Hamiltons started to make champ, adding butter, scallions and value, and building a business which now employs 150+ people (and one which I had the opportunity to see – and sample – at close quarters last year).
Theirs is a business that survives and thrives in the ultra competitive world of ready prepared food products, an example of a simple idea, done well, and succeeds because of an ingredient not explicitly listed on their packaging, which is the Hamilton family themselves. Their steam-cooked, blast-chilled and no-added-preservative vegetables have simplicity and integrity, not to mention a 12-day shelf life which, as Martin Hamilton put it, “is a demon” – but one that hasn’t stopped them finding markets for their products in places as far away as New York and Dubai, as well as closer to home.
“So this is Mash Direct,” said the balloon-spotting taxi driver when he arrived. He may not have known where they were before that day (and might never have known without the green balloons), but he knew who they were and had certainly eaten their products. After ten years and a great deal of mash, a lot of people have.