As part of this week’s Farmer Focus, That’s Farming speaks to Ann Marie Feighery, from Feighery’s Farm. She discusses seeing a gap in the market for an Irish beetroot juice, its health benefits and the challenges she faces.
Feighery’s Farm has been in operation since 1957 – selling vegetables to shops and farmers’ markets since the 1990s.
Three years ago, the latest product to come to the farm’s produce collection is a home-grown beetroot juice Ann Marie Feighery founded.
Her father, Billy, and her brothers, Alan, and William, help her in the business as they grow and harvest the crop for her.
The need for a beetroot juice in Ireland first came to light when her father tasked her with finding a beetroot juice to bring down his high blood pressure.
“When I went out to the shop to purchase it for him, it was obvious straight away no Irish producer was making it,” the UL environmental science graduate told That’s Farming.
“What was available to the customer was an imported version from predominately the UK, Germany, and Switzerland.”
“That led onto me asking the question was there a particular reason why it was not made in Ireland or had no one got in on the idea.”
This research brought Ann Marie to organising a meeting with the then Teagasc Moorepark, artisan food specialist, Eddie O’Neill.
“This led to me having a conversation with him and deciding I would do some product development in autumn 2018.”
She then received an Enterprise Ireland innovation voucher.
“While I never set out intentionally to be a food producer, it organically happened. I realised it was a huge passion I had in me for the whole food business.”
“Honestly, I have enjoyed every minute of my business journey to date. I actually went full-time as I was working on the beetroot juice alongside my previous job an advertising role until last summer.”
Ann Marie cut costs in the business using her family’s potato harvester. She did initially begin handpicking the beetroot.
She says other costs at the start of the project were self-funded and went towards graphic design, creating labels, research, and bottling.
“So, how do you make a juice pop on the shelf and not just fall away?”
“It is all about grabbing a busy consumer’s attention as they go about their shop. You need to stand out on the shelf.”
“So, I spent a good bit of time changing and coming up with ideas with my graphic designer and tweaking drafts.”
“I wanted to try to make it as visually attractive as possible in the hope I might get people’s attention, and they might pick the product up.”
She sells the product in 250ml and 500ml environmentally friendly glass bottles at a recommended retail price of €3.50 and €6.50.
“What drives up the price is 23% VAT on my juice which is quite frustrating.”
“The beetroot juice has the same VAT on a can of coke, and yet the beetroot juice is the healthy product.”
“If that was abolished, it would make the juice a lot more buyer-friendly with regards to the price point.”
Securing her product in shops and brand recognition
Ann Marie initially secured her product in six Supervalu stores as part of the Supervalu Food Academy.
This expanded to Avoca and Ardkeen Quality Food Stores and Nolans of Clontarf.
The product is now available nationwide in over 40 Supervalu stores and numerous butchers, vegetable shops and health food stores.
Ann Marie’s recognition early in marketing her product has meant she could add these accolades to her product design.
These achievements include a 2020 Great Taste award, a Blas na Eireann award, a McKenna Guide Award 2021, a Good Choice Product of the year, 2020 Women in Agriculture award, and an Irish Quality Food and Drink Award.
The 4-acre beetroot harvest runs from the end of July right through into the winter.
“If it was broccoli you were trying to produce, there is only a specific window, and if you do not harvest, it is going to go off.”
“Beetroot is very lucky the vegetable it is. You can leave it in the ground for a while, and it is not going to go off.”
“It is almost like you are storing it in the ground and keeping it nice, healthy and fresh.”
After harvesting, the beetroot goes through several stages, including picking, grading, washing, and prepping.
She sends the harvested beetroot to The Apple Farm in Tipperary for pressing and bottling, and they return it by couriers to the Offaly-based farm.
“I had to outsource another farm from the get-go. There is a lot of work involved in pressing and bottling.”
“We do not have the machines to hand. But, luckily, we were able to source a very good manufacturer, The Apple Farm in Tipperary.”
“They were in a position after a few initial trials and were confident to produce the product with their machine.”
According to Ann Marie, the product has a 12-month shelf life.
Athletes use Ann Marie’s pesticide-free product as a source of naturally occurring nitrates.
“The nitrates are converted to nitric oxide in the body. That basically opens your blood vessels and transports your blood around your body more efficiently.”
“Also, it is very good for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. It is a source of protein, potassium, folic acid and is rich in Vitamin C.
“Furthermore, it has loads of antioxidants and is an all-round energising superfood juice.”
“It is nothing like some people expect it to taste like. It is naturally sweet tasting. I add apple, so it reduces the complete earthy tasting flavour, and it gives it a tangy lift.”
Positives of the Covid-19 pandemic
Ann Marie that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, more people are looking at their diet more closely, where food is sourced, and some are trying to eat less processed food.
“While I think there is a lot of work to be done, maybe there is a curve whereby it is starting to change, and people are becoming more health-conscious.”
“Maybe, the younger generation coming along is a generation with a better understanding or want to know more about food.”
The Offaly native feels schools should educate children about food from a young age to form good habits.
The businesswoman faces the challenges of juggling tasks, dealing with a 23% VAT rate on her product as highlighted above and longer lag times ordering packaging pre-Covid-19 and pre-Brexit.
“You are going to come up against challenges and hurdles every day. It is about trying the best solution and moving on.”
“No matter how well you try and work your day, your business and do it to the best you can, it is guaranteed you are going to run into a new challenge that you had not foreseen.”
The Feighery family set up three different farmers’ markets in Ireland.
The idea transpired when they had produce ready to be harvested, and one of the shops they supplied to, closed.
“My family ended up setting up a farmers’ markets off the back of that in Kilcormac every Saturday, another one in Kilbeggan and a third one eight years ago in Portumna.”
Women in agriculture
Ann Marie has not encountered any problems as a woman in agriculture and feels women are becoming more involved in the field.
She believes there is “every bit” of an opportunity for women, and they are “bursting” with energy and ideas.
“Maybe, the idea of a nine to five office-based job is not the be-all and end-all and not as appealing as it once was.”
“The flexibility of working for yourself is fantastic. Running your business is very exciting, as is making decisions around that, bringing you back to the land and going back to nature.”
“There is a community of women in farming doing great things.”
“Even in the artisan food world where they are making their own cheeses like Teresa in Kylemore Farmhouse Cheese and lots of other businesses like her. So, there is as much an opportunity in this industry for women.”
Ann Marie plans to grow her brand name, increase stock density, educate people on her product and develop a sister product.
Her goal is for the Irish consumer to discover her juice in the hope that it would take the imported version’s place.
“I will concentrate on Ireland first. When I am confident enough where that is where I need to be, I would consider exporting.”
“But, I think in the interim, I am not going to jump years ahead of myself.”
“I am going to focus on the now and the next couple of years and give that my time and energy and have Ireland well-stocked with our juice,” she concluded.
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