Two farmers with a love for their home county and respect for the environment launch a crisp brand with a conscience. Emily Scaife reports.
Two Herefordshire farmers determined to put the county’s homegrown produce on the map have launched a range of crisps to showcase its distinct flavours.
Second generation farmer Mark Green had dreamt of turning his potatoes into crisps for many years, but it wasn’t until fellow farmer and potato merchant Sean Mason declared an interest in the project that a plan was really put into motion.
“We sat down over a pint of beer and a packet of crisps and that’s where it all started,” says Mark.
However, aware that the crisp market is difficult to break into, the pair knew they would need a point of difference.
“We looked at how crisps are packaged and if there might be a different way of doing things,” Mark reveals.
“We came across compostable packaging made from the wood fibres of the eucalyptus tree. It took three years from when we started looking at packaging to actually getting the first printed bag ready, but in that time people became much more interested in how their food is packaged.
“Timing is everything in life - when we originally had the idea we had no clue how things would turn out, but consumers are now much more interested on reducing plastic and considering how much packaging is used in their daily lives.”
Beating Walkers to the punch on their pledge to make all their packaging recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025, Two Farmers crisp packets will completely break down in a home com-posting environment in 26 weeks.
“The compostable packaging is not cheap and it may not be for everybody but for those who want to buy into it we’re making a crisp that we think is excellent quality and flavour and we are doing our little bit to help the world reduce its plastic use,” says Mark.
From that initial brainstorming session over a pint, it then took Sean and Mark three years to get to the point where they were ready to launch. Potato farmer Mark, whose farm already supplies many big crisp and chipping processors, knew which potatoes he wanted to use, but sourcing equipment and deciding on flavours was, according to him, a ‘whole new world’.
The farm grows potatoes across 304 hectares, harvesting from August to September and runs a renewable, chicken and arable enterprise alongside.
They also have the right conditions to gorw potatoes, boasting good soil which is light and loamy.
“We produce high end crisps, so quality is everything to us,” he explains. “Lady Rosetta is our early season potato, Taurus is for the mid-season and Lady Claire later on. They are difficult to grow, Lady Claire in particular, but they give you a wonderful crisp at the end.”
Finding the necessary equipment was tricky, with the pair searching for second-hand equipment across Europe, which they then had to assemble themselves.
However, sourcing the electricity to run the equipment was much easier, with Mark’s farm boasting its own anaerobic digestion (AD) plant, located just outside the crisp factory.
“In the next 12 months we hope to be able to use the gas we’re creating and to use 100 pr cent renewable energy for the frying and packing of crisps,” says Mark.
“Any waste generated by the crisp making process is put back into the AD plant, which then goes into the fertiliser used to grow the potatoes, creating a neatly cyclical process.
“In the future we’d love to invest in electric vans to dis-tribute the crisps too."
Mark and Sean were keen to promote Herefordshire ingredients in order to give the county’s pro-duce a boost.
“There have been a few setbacks in the area, from foot-and-mouth to BSE, and by the end of the 2000’s there wasn’t really anyone processing food in Herefordshire anymore,” Mark says.
“There were hardly any potato packers left, no sugar beet factories and we weren’t doing anything with what we were producing – just sending it miles and miles away to the other side of the country.
“That’s why I’m passionate about doing something in Herefordshire. It’s a farming county with fantastic soil – there is no crop you can’t grow and we grow more than any other county in the country. That’s something we should be proud of and promote.
“We were both brought up here, our families and our children are here and provenance was really important to us. As well as embracing renewable energy and using compostable packaging, we wanted our products to be about Herefordshire because they’re what we love and enjoy.”
Mark tries to use local companies in his farming business and was keen to extend this philosophy to the crisps enterprise.
“The first flavour we wanted to create was cheese and onion, so we approached Charles Martell who produces Herefordshire Hop Cheese and luckily he said we could use it,” says Mark.
“Herefordshire is also famous for cider, which we turned into a cider vinegar to give us a lovely sweet flavour for the salt and vinegar variety.
“And because of Herefordshire cattle we wanted to create a beef flavour. We decide to create bull-shot crisps - it’s a hot drink made from beef stock, chilli and vodka, which the pair of us had always drunk outside on cold days. We removed the vodka and created a lovely hot flavour from beef and chilli to produce a spicy crisp.”
The pair’s next biggest challenge was locating the right salt for their ready salted offering. They had re-signed themselves to needing to source this from the coast, until they were told about a new salt brand, situated just across the Herefordshire border.
“Someone happened to mention in conversation that there used to be a salt works in Droitwich,” says Mark.
“We made some enquiries and found that Churchfields Farm were starting to produce it again, so now we have a fantastic salt that we think is much purer and of much better quality than most of the sea salts on the market.”
Following the launch in September the pair are already looking to the future, with plans to increase the range of flavours and develop Two Farmers into an established brand.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve grown something, created a product from it and now you’re selling it direct to the customer,” says Mark.
“It’s very hard but you get much more appreciation for what you’re producing.
“There are more great things coming out of Herefordshire now which is fantastic because we aren’t close to any big towns or cities and we’re therefore a long way from our marketplace.
Hopefully we can all learn from one another and produce an array of exciting Herefordshire products.”