People often talk about there being a gap in the market for a product but the more difficult question is if there’s a market in that gap. Back in 2012 this was the challenge faced by Marita Collier who farms the sandy soil of Drummond near Baltray, Co Louth.

Marita’s background is in sales and marketing and rather than run with a hunch, she put serious effort into researching demand in the Irish market for a premium home grown vegetable. A vegetable that she could grow, market and sell and make into a viable business for the family farm.

It wasn’t all plain sailing as Marita explains. “When we inherited the farm in 2008 I looked at various on-farm enterprises but they were all fiercely competitive. I made a conscious decision that my new business would not compete or harm existing farmers or growers on the Irish market.”

Marita Collier of Drummond House Garlic photographed with some of her produce at the family farm in Baltray, County Louth. Photo:Barry Cronin/ 087-9598549 - Wilkinstown, Navan, County Meath, Ireland.

Starting from scratch

Following her detailed research she discovered there was no commercial producer growing premium Irish asparagus or garlic for the retail or food service market. Marita grasped the opportunity and in 2013 she planted an acre of top garlic varieties including ‘Elephant’ and ‘Heritage’ by hand. However, this huge effort was not without its challenges.

“I knew nothing about growing garlic. I had to start from scratch with no machinery, infrastructure, knowledge or expertise. And I had to create a market for my garlic which is seven times more expensive than its Chinese rival.” A tall order by any standards.

Marita was to lose much of her first planting when it didn’t survive a drought in 2014. But she was undeterred. She and her husband put serious thought into adapting and creating machinery for planting and weeding garlic – a real boost to efficiency.

Marita uses her own home grown seed and the garlic is planted in September. It loves frost and begins to peep out in January The long stalks known as ‘scapes’ can be used just like garlic. It can take some garlic up to three years to fully mature from seed.

Import substitute

Marita now plants five and a half acres of garlic and two acres of asparagus. Her unique selling point is that she created the first ever ‘garlic category’ on the Irish market. With the Drummond House brand she offers a fresh, home grown alternative to the retail and food service market which has traditionally always been a 100% imported crop.

Using her background in marketing Marita extended the brand by creating the ‘loose garlic clove bag’ concept and this led to the ‘Drummond House Garlic Collection’ which has been a sellout. In 2017 she was listed in 100 Dunne’s Stores and is now working with major food distributers.

She is an astute user of social media and is grateful to LEO, Bord Bia, Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture for their support. She now employs three people who like her were ‘stay at home mums’ and she operates family friendly working hours.

Marita is proud of her produce and says, ‘there is no substitute for the taste you will experience from our fresh farm produce.’ Having roasted and enjoyed lots of her garlic I can certainly vouch or that.

Marita’s advice to food entrepreneurs is to “be the best you can be, keep things tight and be the expert in your field.” CL | 087-688 2202