Unwashed for an honest leaf

21 Apr , 2022  

The recently-rebranded McCormack Family Farms in Dunsany, Co. Meath is looking to the future with renewed optimism after bouncing back from the effects of Covid-19.

Having suffered a 40% loss in business in 2020 after restaurants were ordered to close due to the pandemic, Ireland’s largest commercial grower of baby leaf salads, microgreens and herbs came back stronger than ever this year thanks to a successful marketing campaign, favourable growing conditions and, of course, the reopening of the restaurant sector.

McCormack Family Farms has also given its brand, website and range of products a makeover. The old company slogan ‘Loose and Lively’ has been replaced by ‘McCormack Family Farms – Unwashed for an Honest Leaf’, while the new-look packaging features more sustainable materials. The punnets come from recycled plastic (RPET) which results in saving over 58,000 tonnes of CO2 each year compared with virgin plastic.

The amount of savings in CO2 emissions is equivalent to lighting a 13-watt bulb for 2,301 years and it saves over 2.6 million plastic bottles from ending up in landfill. It has also reduced the thickness of plastic film used in its packaging year-on-year, with a 20% reduction in 2020.  

The family-business supplies unwashed salad leaves which, they say, have a shorter route from farm to fork, meaning better flavour, quality and texture.

“2020 was a very difficult year,” managing director Stephen McCormack starts off by saying.

“We took a big hit when the restaurants, which account for 60% of our business, closed. This was offset a little bit by increased retail demand, but our overall business dropped by 40% overnight.

“With farming, every day is a challenge, but this was a challenge we never faced before. In many cases, crops which were specifically grown for the food service sector had to be ploughed back into the ground. We had imported products in our cold stores for the Christmas market which went to waste. Brexit was another setback, but we have since turned it to our advantage by growing 95% of our products, which has pumped up sales.”

Stephen continues: “In contrast, 2021 has been an exceptional year. In early 2021, we did promotions with retailers which proved to be very successful. We also had exceptional growing conditions and a great summer from a sales point of view. The lack of tourists from abroad was offset by staycations for us. While foodservice started to pick up this year and was particularly strong in popular staycation areas, the retail business kept outperforming pre-Covid levels’

“The only downside to 2021 was the shortage of staff. Our biggest problem at the moment is trying to get full-time staff back. It has caused the most stress. But the one great thing I would say about the Irish is that we always bounce back very quickly.”

From humble beginnings, McCormack Family Farms has become the leading supplier of fresh herbs, baby leaf products and microgreens to the Irish retail and food service sectors. The award-winning company was set up in 1984 by Stephen’s father, Eddie, who started out growing vegetables in a neighbour’s one-acre garden which were sold at Dublin Corporation Fruit & Vegetable Market in Dublin city centre.

By the time Stephen and his younger brothers Padraig (Sales and Procurement) and Edwin (Farm Manager) took over in 2000, they pivoted, ditching low-margin vegetables such as potatoes and carrots in favour of higher value herbs and salad leaves such as rocket and spinach. 

The farm has grown to span over 700 acres and employs over 100 staff. It includes packing and storage facilities as well as two acres of glass houses.

“We have 70 people working in the factory, 20 on the farm, 10 in the office and another eight lorry drivers. They’re all great at what they do. It’s a real team effort,” Stephen stresses.

The family business is practically self-sufficient in that it operates its own farm machinery and transport. McCormack Family Farms runs 12 Massey Ferguson tractors, ranging from 70hp to 250hp, along with an array of machinery, including Maschio rotavators and sowers, Amazon sprayers, Briggs irrigation systems and bed-forming equipment.

In addition, the company runs four articulated trucks and refrigerated units which deliver fresh produce all over the country nightly.

“Being in control of our transport is crucial. It has been a big game-changer for us since we decided to do our own deliveries two years ago. Our fleet of trucks supply 28 counties every night. We supply to all the main retailers and to 150 wholesalers, including Sysco, Kellings, Ready Chef, Cullen’s Fruit & Veg, Allfresh Wholesale, Curley’s, Northdown Foods to name but a few.”

The McCormack’s believe in keeping their leaves and herbs honest – honest to the goodness that nature provides. Which is why all their salad leaves and herbs are grown in natural soil and under natural light. They combine traditional farming methods with the latest AgriTech innovations to produce high-quality leaves consistently with minimal handling. They now grow over 40 varieties of baby salad leaves, herbs and microgreens for retail and food service customers.

Priding themselves on their ‘Honest Leaves’ ethos, the family grow a wide range of baby salad leaves which are all unwashed to stay naturally fresher for longer. Unwashed leaves mean less time from field to fork, free from Chlorine and less handling. They live and breathe farming and are passionate about producing quality salad leaves, herbs and edible flowers for their clients.

With almost 40 years’ experience working with the food service industry, they can provide a wide selection of produce to suit all your catering needs.

The increase in healthy eating and exercise since lockdown has been good for business, according to Stephen, who is hoping his children Charlie (16), Jake (15) and Abbie (11) will follow him into the business and become the next generation of McCormack leaf growers.

“The baby leaf and herb sectors were kicked off in this country by the Celtic Tiger and continue to go from strength to strength. Originally, baby leaf products were about adding colour, design and flavour to a meal, but now they are more associated with healthy eating, which has been one of the few good things to come out of the pandemic.”

To make the most of McCormack Family Farms’ leaves and herbs, make sure to visit their website or social media platforms.

McCormack Family Farms



Co. Meath,

C15 EY06.

Telephone: 046 9025695

Web: www.mccormackfarms.ie

Facebook: @mccormackfamilyfarms

Instagram: @mccormackfarms

First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 10 No 1, January/February 2022