Her family diversified into farmers’ markets in the 1980s and Anne Marie Feighery has built on that success by launching a 100pc Irish produced beetroot juice product
The Feighery family have a track record in taking an alternative approach to the business of farming.
They went down the farmers’ market route in the 1980s when Billy Feighery and his sons Alan and William and daughter Anne Marie started selling vegetables direct to the customer.
And Anne Marie has now taken that enterprising approach a step further by launching her own beetroot juice product — which is shaping up to be another success story for the Feigherys who farm in Kilcormac, Co Offaly.
“My dad started tillage farming in 1957 and then in 1987 my two brothers joined the enterprise and began growing vegetables for retail. I have always helped on the farm and had a deep passion for food production,” says Anne Marie.
After studying science in University College Dublin and the University of Limerick, Anne Marie took a full-time job in the bloodstock industry in Tipperary, but travels home every weekend to work on one of the family’s three farmers’ markets.
Working at the markets gave her an awareness of the interest people have in where their food comes from, but she says it was really her father who inspired her to diversify part of the farm.
“Dad has always been interested in the health benefits of foods and he grows a lot of his produce based on this.
“He had mentioned a few times what an important role beetroot juice could play in the diet as he had been researching it, so I decided to look for some,” says Anne Marie.
After looking in several supermarkets and health food shops, she realised that there was no Irish beetroot juice on the market.
“I did some research and realised there was indeed a gap in the market for such a product. Any imported beetroot juice that I could find didn’t actually have a high percentage of beetroot, it was quite diluted,” she says.
In summer 2018, Anne Marie contacted Teagasc artisan food specialist Eddie O’Neill, and “it all grew from there, Eddie was a great help”.
She applied to the Local Enterprise Office for Innovation Voucher financial assistance to carry out research in to product development.
“I put these vouchers towards aiding the research I had been doing with Teagasc,” says Anne Marie.
She then had to decide how her juice would be pressed as buying specialist equipment would be too expensive early on in the venture.
“I got in touch with Con Traas from The Apple Farm in Tipperary as I knew he had plenty of experience in pressing juice. He was a fantastic help and after doing some trials, we arranged that Con would press the juice for me at his business,” says Anne Marie.
Not wanting to dilute her juice but keen to make it more palatable, Anne Marie decided that the ingredients would consist of 70pc beetroot from her home farm and 30pc apple juice from Con’s farm. And with the basic plan in place, she started growing beetroot.
It was a quick turnaround, with just six months from concept to harvesting and retail.
“It was hard work, but my family made it possible,” she says.
Shortly after the first harvest, Anne Marie took part in the SuperValu Food Academy.
She now stocks her products in eight SuperValu stores across the midlands. Her beetroot juice is also sold in selected Avoca shops, Ardkeen Food Store and in one of the Happy Pear stores.
She credits much of the success of her new business to family support.
“I never have to worry about how the beetroot is doing on the farm as my dad and brothers are experts at growing and my mum is always on hand to take care of local deliveries,” she says.
They grew 2 acres of beetroot last year and ittakes around 2.5 beets to fill each 250ml bottle and Anne Marie has plans to scale up this year and grow more beetroot on the farm.
Anne Marie says there are numerous health benefits associated with drinking the purple juice.
“It’s a natural, Irish superfood. It’s loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C, iron, potassium, and it’s effective in boosting energy, reducing fatigue and helping to lower blood pressure,” she says.
The food experts appear to agree with her. Her beetroot juice won a silver in the Blas na hEireann awards.
Farm diversification: Anne Marie Feighery
What level of start-up costs did you incur in setting up the business?
I actually don’t have an exact figure. I was lucky in that I had no machinery or manufacturing costs, but I did have lots of miscellaneous costs like bottling, labelling, nutritional analysis and marketing material.
Was financing readily available from the banks for this type of business?
I used personal savings to finance the business, so I didn’t apply to the bank.
However I know that there are various options available for those who want to start their own farm-based business.
The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are a great source of information in this regard.
Was planning permission required and if so, was it difficult to get?
No planning was required.
Did you need a licence or permission from any other government body?
I had to register with the Health Service Executive (HSE) as a food producer and they have all sorts of guidelines that you have adhere to, even in relation to the wording that goes on your label.
Are you required to pay rates or any other charges?
My product is subject to 23pc vat, which I fail to see the sense in.
That’s the same vat applicable to a soft drink like Coke, even though my juice is a superfood.
“It increases the price of the produce for retailers and I just don’t see why it applies to something that is classified as a health food product.
What grant aid or other assistance was available?
I got most of the assistance from the LEO.
I got their Innovation Vouchers for assisting in product development and I’ve applied for their Business Continuity Voucher and their Trading Online Voucher which will help me in developing my website.
I’m in the middle of creating my website and when it is finished, I will be able to retail anywhere in Ireland as I have got new distributors on board too.
What supports bodies/agencies were available to help?
Teagasc was a great help to me, particularly Eddie O’Neill. The SuperValu Food Academy was brilliant too — it’s a great support to have in starting up or expanding.
I also used ACORN to help in developing my ideas. ACORN was established by Paula Fitzsimons and assists female entrepreneurs in setting up their own business enterprises.
Other food producers like Con Traas were immensely helpful. They have a wealth of knowledge.
Was insurance required?
I have product and public liability insurance with IOMST Insurance.
How did the business affect your tax dealings?
I have an accounts package where I keep track of all sales.
IFAC Accountants deal with everything else for me. They file my returns at the end of every year.
How much time was needed to get your crop and product off the ground?
It took just six months from concept to retail. It had to be fast as we were coming to the end of the growing year when I made the decision to start the business and the beetroot had to be ready for the following harvest.
Did you encounter any unexpected pitfalls or challenges?
The biggest challenge was the distribution aspect. I had to figure out how to grow my product nationally, and I’m still learning every day.
I now have two new distributors on board, Independent Irish Foods and Taste the View. I also have Sean Hussey, a fellow vegetable grower, on board so I’m gradually getting there but it has been a challenge.
Covid-19 has been an unexpected challenge, as it has for everyone. A lot of my retailers have been closed but with this came new opportunity. It gave me the chance to approach new retailers and I have gotten a great response.