Northern Ireland’s leading potato packer is investing to grow in the Republic of Ireland's foodservice sector.

Wilson's Country, based at Craigavon in County Armagh, has installed state-of-the-art cooling technology at the heart of its production line.

The new cooling equipment, central to a £1.5 million investment, enhances the company’s overall production process for the catering sector throughout Ireland, now providing 40 per cent of its business. While Wilson’s continues to provide skin-on potatoes preferred by shoppers in Ireland, the investment enables it to expand production of peeled products required by chefs.

Lewis Cunningham, managing director of Wilson’s Country, said: “We have made this investment in cooling technology to give our customers in foodservice a peeled product with a good shelf-life that will cook very well.

'We’ve also automated our peeling process and camera sorting to increase efficiency and maintain downward pressure on costs. The investment is designed to increase our ability to compete for new business in foodservice in the Republic.”

The peeled potatoes are produced at a temperature lower than five degrees centigrade to ensure a product that stays fresher and whiter longer for chefs.

The new equipment has also doubled the company’s capacity and provided potatoes of a more consistent quality. A new washing system also contributes to a fresher product.

The company, which employs 85 people and has over 80 growers, is aiming to achieve faster growth in its existing business in the Republic of Ireland in particular. It already supplies hotels, restaurants and public sector clients in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick on a daily basis. Chefs there prefer the yellow flesh of Rooster potatoes.

“We see foodservice in the Republic as a market offering extensive new business opportunities for us,” Cunningham added.

“Chefs there are looking for robust potatoes that will stand up to manipulation in the kitchens and not discolour, slump or be gloopy, watery or waxy. Our investment in the latest production technology provides the type of consistently high quality potatoes they demand for their dishes.”

Wilson's Country posted a turnover of £14m for the year ending July 2014, down from £17.6m, and saw a pre-tax profit of £1m.