It was a chance remark by her father back in June 2018 that set science graduate Anne Marie Feighery on the road to establishing her own award-winning business. And in the two years since then, Anne Marie can hardly credit how fast and far she has progressed.
“Dad had been reading about the health benefits of beetroot juice, especially when it comes to reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. I was dispatched to buy some from the local health food store, but I could find no Irish beetroot juice, everything on the shelves was imported from the UK or Germany. That got me thinking, why not grow beetroot and press the juice in this country.”
In the best of hands
And so, Anne Marie’s journey to establishing her own business began.
Armed with the idea from her father and having done research on the health attributes of beetroot juice, she drove forward setting up her company eight months later in March 2019.
She had one big advantage - both her father and two brothers are in the vegetable business. The home farm in Kilcormac, Co Offaly, has been producing vegetables since 1987 and back as far as 1957 it was a tillage farm.
“We sell vegetables and fruit directly to shops and markets and at our own farmer’s markets stalls and I love the face to face interaction with people. I’ve spent 10 years selling at the weekends at Kilbeggan market and I’ve always been looking out for the right food idea to make my own business out of it,” says Anne Marie, who works in the equine sector and lives in Fethard.
“I’m mindful about what I eat and fairly health conscious and I take part in triathlons. So I understand the sports recovery and health benefits of beetroot juice, and with my dad and brothers growing the beetroot for my juice, I know the cultivation of it is in the best of hands.’
Anne Marie saw the opportunity to add value to a product that grows well in Irish conditions, is pesticide free and hand-picked, and from it produce a natural beetroot juice.
The beetroot is planted in April and has a long picking season up to December.
After a meeting at the Teagasc Moorepark research centre, things moved fast. She received €5,000 worth of Innovation Vouchers from the Local Enterprise Office for research and development. She was successful in getting a place on the ACORNS programme, which helps mentor women with start-up businesses in rural areas. Three acres of beetroot were planted and the first pressing and bottling of juice took place early in 2019.
Anne Marie successfully linked up with Con Trass of the Apple Farm, near Cahir, to press her beetroot juice. It is at his fruit processing facility that Anne Marie presses, blends and bottles her juice. The bottling allows for a 12-month shelf life.
They also worked together to come up with the right blend of apple juice to add to the beetroot to produce a delicious drink. It turned out to be 30% homegrown apple juice to 70% beetroot juice. The beetroot is frozen prior to pressing, as this makes the pressing much easier.
“We pressed enough for 6,000 bottles and I was really scared that I wouldn’t sell it. But I need not have worried, as we ended up doing a further press and selling 10,000 bottles.”
Within three months, Feighery’s Farm beetroot juice was on the shelves of Avoca, The Happy Pear, McCambridges, Galway and Ardkeen Quality Food stores. She was also accepted on to the SuperValu Food Academy and is now stocked in 16 of its stores, as well as over 100 independent stockists countrywide.
“I did a lot of cold calling and I reckon 95% of my calls turned into business.”
As for COVID-19, so far she believes it has not been a hindrance, with consumers buying more locally produced foods. She remains on target to sell 30,000 bottles of Feighery’s Farm Beetroot Juice this year.
“My mother has a passion for sales and she had taken to local delivery duty with gusto, but sadly COVID-19 has restricted what she can do, which is a pity.”
Looking to the future, Anne Marie wants to develop further ties with independent distributors to get her beetroot juice into as many shops as possible.
Her beetroot juice has attracted interest from Irish media nationally and inadvertently this has helped increase sales of other vegetables grown by the family. Her business has generated tremendous community support and her family are full-square behind her.
Anne Marie has a great belief in her product and where it comes from. Everything about her product is Irish, from its origin in Offaly to the pressing in Tipperary. It is also an import substitute, which is always good news.