Tong Peal may now have a £10m a year turnover and export to more than 20 countries, but the business started on a rather more modest scale with an ironmonger’s shop in Spilsby, Lincolnshire.
During the 1930s the shop was run by Edmund Jackson Tong but his son Ken saw an opportunity to diversify into making simple equipment for local farmers.
He started his new business in a former candle-making factory in Spilsby with equipment such as sack barrows and pig pens.
The business flourished and became independent from the shop, which still trades as EJ Tong and Sons and is run by another branch of the family.
More expansion followed in the 1980s under the influence of Ken Tong’s son Charles, who still runs the company.
He realised that increased specialisation in potato production plus changes in the way the crop is marketed were creating a demand for more sophisticated machinery with a bigger capacity.
An early result of the policy change was the Caretaker grader, offering the extra throughput the packhouses required with gentle handling to meet the demands of supermarkets and processors for a higher specification with less damage. The Caretaker remains a big success for Tong Engineering, and it was joined by another success, the first of the Easy-Fill series of box filling and handling machines.
The Easy-Fill was another response to the changing needs of growers. The volume of potatoes stored in boxes was expanding rapidly, and the first of the new box handlers was built in 1997 featuring a two-way belt allowing one box to be filled while the full box on the other side of the machine is replaced by an empty one. The Easy-Fill production total is now well past the 500 mark and an improved version was introduced in 2007.
Further expansion came in 2004 with the takeover of another Lincolnshire company, Peal Engineering, bringing a change of name to Tong Peal. The acquisition broadened the product range by adding a successful range of washers and polishers for potatoes and other root crops plus additional vegetable machinery.
A further major development during the last two years has been a diversification into equipment for handling and composting organic material including waste from the food industry. This is proving to be a new growth area for Tong Peal, which has recently opened a second factory to cope with the increased production.