Article appeared in issue 3, 2020

Green grower

Innovation needn't come at the cost of the environment, as demonstrated by Meade Potato Company

Meade Potato Company began as a small family farm in Lobinstown, Co. Meath and has grown to become one of Ireland’s leading growers, packers and distributors of potatoes, fruit, salads, organics and vegetables to the retail and wholesale markets nationwide. The company, which employs over 300 people, has a prepared foods division that specialises in premium, fresh-cut chips and peeled potatoes. Produce is sold through private label and its own brand is available in major retailers nationwide.

The company is committed to zero food waste and it recently launched a starch division with a food-grade starch extraction unit for the wholesale ingredients market. Business operations manager Eleanor Meade explains: “We can take surplus potatoes, wonky ones and potato by-products, and convert them into food-grade potato starch. It is the only starch being indigenously produced and available for sale to food manufacturers in Ireland and the UK. Starch performs an essential mechanism in food manufacturing as it binds and thickens ingredients; its technical properties are augmented by its health benefits. As a resistant starch, it acts like dietary fibre, is good for gut health and makes you feel fuller for longer. There is also evidence to suggest that it helps regulate blood sugars.”

The world starch market grew by 9% year-on-year for the last six years due to its increased use in sustainable packaging, meat-free and sugar-free foodstuffs. The potato starch market has grown by 11% since last year. As well as export opportunities, it is hoped that the plant will offer import substitution for some of the 4,000 tonnes of potato starch sourced from mainland Europe and North America for the Irish and UK starch markets. By year two, they hope to save up to 90 tonnes of carbon emissions per year through import substitution. The plant will initially be part-powered by a wind turbine, with 300kW of solar panels currently being installed to make it entirely carbon neutral.

Starch may become an ingredient in Meade Potato Company's own sustainable packaging. “Our strategy to reduce hard-to-recycle plastic started eight years ago, reducing microns in our plastic, and has continued to evolve with our innovative Meade 2kg White Potato bag. Partnering with a bio-plastics manufacturer, we have developed a bag which eliminates hard-to-recycle plastic from our pillow-pack bags. It is 100% compostable and is intended for disposal in your brown bin. It uses 34% less paper than traditional paper bagging machines and is more energy-efficient to pack than paper baggers for smaller volumes. It is made with all-natural materials – paper, water-based ink, bio-plastic coating and nettings – which means it will break down in an industrial composting environment.

“The beauty of this bag is that it slotted into our existing packing lines with only minimal equipment investment. Sustainability can be expensive to implement so it is about finding solutions that are environmentally-friendly, but also financially sustainable.”

Its green ambitions don't stop there, says Eleanor. “We have 11 official targets in our Origin Green plan, covering areas such as reducing crop inputs, promoting organic growing, preserving habitats, achieving zero food waste, decreasing plastic packaging, conserving energy and water, recycling packaging waste and supporting our employees and our community.

“Increasing the amount of organic produce grown within Ireland is one of the many initiatives on our list. We have increased our own organic acreage and we are hoping that other Irish growers will as well. The organic category is growing and as one of Ireland’s leading suppliers of organic produce to the retailers, we see the need to significantly increase organic land in this country.”

And the experts are taking note as the company is up for three awards at this year's Green Food and Beverage Awards: Horticultural Producer of the Year, Best Sustainable Packaging Strategy, and CSR Initiative of the Year for a gleaning initiative they have developed with food waste social enterprise, FoodCloud. “We are working with FoodCloud to try to prevent in-field crop loss, while giving corporate volunteers an opportunity to learn about the field to fork process and do some team bonding. It’s been hugely successful so far.”

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