One might wonder how a business could survive just supplying one vegetable to what is a large customer base, but when there are many different varieties of that vegetable and you have a hard working team that will provide the best quality produce possible, then you are on to a winner.
When Mark McCann of Morning Fresh Farm decided to focus solely on growing lettuce a few years back, there is sure to have been a few eyebrows raised in the industry, but given the experience the Dublin based grower has, then the decision was always going to work, wasn’t it?
The best man to answer that question is Mark who along with his son Alan ensure that their customers are kept satisfied in what is a tough industry to prosper.
A third generation farmer, the McCann family were renowned for growing tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and celery, but for the last six years, the focus has just been on lettuce.
“The main reason for putting all our efforts in growing lettuce was that we wanted to have a year-round business,” said Mark. “And we have that now, we are actually only closed just two days of the year, Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day.
With 25 acres of glass, this family run business has become the largest supplier of lettuce in Ireland supplying supermarkets like Tesco, ALDI, Dunnes Stores, SuperValu, Centra and Spar, while in the food service industry Total Produce, Dennigan’s and Nature’s Best are just some of the customer base.
The McCann’s have a long-standing relationship with Total Produce, whose nearest depot is just 20 minutes away. Total Produce is Europe’s leading fresh produce provider which has allowed Mark to focus on what he does best – growing lettuce – by looking after his distribution and sales needs.
With the benefit of a 900 square metre pack-house and refrigerated area, Morning Fresh Farm offers packing and labelling to any specification. The company also offers contract packing, labelling and despatch.
Morning Fresh Farm is now firmly established as the leading supplier of fresh Pak Choi, Little Gem, Cos and Butterhead lettuce to the Irish and international market.
One of the most popular varieties grown by Morning Fresh Farm is Pak Choi, which the Irish market has finally taken too.
“We would have a large customer base alright, many of who we would be supplying for generations now. We produce up to 15 different varieties, but the Pak Choi would be amongst the most popular. Irish people are a lot more aware of the food they are eating and salads are the choice of many. For a long time, Pak Choi wasn’t that popular, because people didn’t know how to use, but now they do, it has really taken off.”
Healthy living amongst us here in Ireland has certainly helped the Rush based farm expand according to Mark.
“Definitely the change in eating habits has helped us, there is no doubt about that. People are certainly more conscious of what they eat these days.”
Of course, like every other industry, there are issues to be dealt with on a regular basis and Mark’s main concern at the moment is the lack of labour available to them.
“There are a shortage of workers in the industry. We are actually being forced to scale back our production due to the lack of employees. We have 25-30 here at different times, but we could do with a lot more, but this is an issue that all growers are experiencing.”
Another issue that the team must tackle is the threat of disease amongst their crops which has hit them hard at different times.
“I think it is essential to learn from other countries and see their growing techniques,” added Alan who has just joined the business permanently after four years in college.
“Belgium and Holland are two of the leading countries in lettuce growing. Health and Safety is also key to help avoid disease spreading amongst the crop, but in fairness, we have some of the highest standards in Europe.
“The infrastructure has to be in place and to do that growers need to invest, which is easier said that done, but you have to adapt and we have realised that for a number of years now,” added Alan.
At present, Ireland is a bit behind the rest of Europe in regards to how the industry is ran, but the McCann’s know that they only way to catch up is to invest in both the business and the people involved, that is why Mark feels a college education is imperative for the future of the industry.
“I do feel strongly that in order to catch up with the rest of Europe, a college education is necessary to be able to drive the business forward and implement the latest technologies out there to enhance the day to day running of the business,” stressed Mark.
With the shortage of labour being an issue, Alan states that mechanisation is one way of alleviating that problem.
“There are machines out there that cut down on labour and they are being used in Europe, but once again, you are looking at investing heavily in equipment which realistically can only be done over time.”
Morning Fresh Farm Ltd
Telephone: +353 (0)1 8954401
Email: [email protected]
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 6, November 2019