Sunday 17 November 2019

Local Heroes: Mumpreneur out to bottle Wexford summers for her natural fruit cordial

Clodagh Davis is selling tens of thousands of units of her locally produced drinks every year, writes Louise McBride

Clodagh Davis is hoping to grow her export sales after the success of her Naturally Cordial brand in Ireland. Photo: Joe Keogh
Clodagh Davis is hoping to grow her export sales after the success of her Naturally Cordial brand in Ireland. Photo: Joe Keogh
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

When Clodagh Davis started making cordials for her six-year-old son to sell from his lemonade stall at the bottom of their driveway, little did she know that this little stall would eventually lead to her own business.

When Alex went to secondary school, Davis started running a cordial stall at the school's country market. It was here that Davis began to think that there might be a potential business in her cordials.

So when she was made redundant from her job in executive recruitment in May 2013, she decided there was no better time to turn her hobby into a business and with that, she up her own company - Naturally Cordial.

Davis has clearly tapped into a gap in the market with her cordials - which are made from whole fruit using a traditional recipe. Last year, she sold 36,000 bottles, having sold 2,000 in her first eight months in business.

Her cordials - which are typically priced at around €6 for a 500ml bottle - are sold in more than 120 stores around the country, including many SuperValu stores along the east coast and quality food stores, such as Avoca and Donnybrook Fair.

She also recently teamed up with Dunnes Stores to produce cordial flavours for the supermarket's Simply Better range.

"There aren't that many natural cordials in Ireland - though there are a lot of British cordials on the supermarket shelves here," says Davis. "People are becoming very aware of cordials and they are becoming more fashionable."

One of the appeals of Davis's cordials is that they are free of artificial sweeteners. There is sugar in her cordials - but only natural sugars from the fruit she uses to make the cordials.

"There's been so much talk about sugar - and more and more products are going the artificial sweetener way," says Davis.

"However, there are a lot of people who don't want an artificial sweetener in their drinks - and who are happy to have sugar instead. Some people are more comfortable with sugar - sugar is something they find in their kitchen cupboard and they know what sugar does.

"For a lot of people, there are still some unanswered questions about artificial sweeteners."

Davis was also keen to use organic citrus fruits when making her cordials.

"When I first started making cordials, I was conscious that when zesting fruit such as waxed lemons, the wax could go into the cordial," says Davis. "That's why I use organic citrus fruit."

Her cordials, which are pasteurised, have a shelf-life of 14 months, she says.

They come in a variety of flavours including pink grapefruit; strawberry, cucumber and lime; orange and cranberry; Wexford blackcurrant; pink strawberry and raspberry; and lemon and raspberry.

Strawberry and raspberry is one of the more popular flavours - as is the strawberry, cucumber and lime; lemon and lime; and Wexford blackcurrant, according to Davis. "I love the orange and cranberry cordial in the winter as I drink it hot," says Davis. "I drink the lemon and lime cordial hot and with cloves when I have a cold or sore throat. "When I'm at an occasion, the strawberry, cucumber and lime is my favourite cordial - with sparkling or still water. Pink grapefruit is the best during the summer when I have been working in the garden and just need a really good thirst quencher."

Davis's children are teenagers now - Alex is 18 and daughter, Isobel is 16. They both still drink her cordials though - as do her parents and her Welsh husband, Simon.

Amongst those buying her cordials are parents who purchase it for their children, grandparents buying it for their grandchildren, and those in the 25 to 35-year-old age group who use the cordial when making cocktails.

"A lot of the older generation buy the cordial because they want something in their cupboard to give to a visitor who isn't drinking alcohol - such as the designated driver," says Davis.

Her cordials can also be used when cooking meals. "We use the cordials quite a bit when cooking," says Davis.

"We use the lemon and lime cordial if marinating fish. The cordial can go into vinaigrettes - or be used to make a sorbet."

Davis's father is originally from Enniscorthy in Co Wexford and her mother is Scottish. Her parents emigrated in the 1960s and so she herself was born in the city of Ballarat - near Melbourne in Australia. Her family moved to Kenya in South Africa when she was 11 months and she spent much of her childhood in Kenya - until they moved back to Enniscorthy when she was 11.

"When in Kenya, we first lived in Nakuru and then in a suburb of Nairobi,"says Davis.

"What I most loved about Kenya was the colour of its fruit, birds, flowers, and clothes - and the reliability of sunshine. We lived there not long after independence and there was a freshness and optimism in the country."

Davis's upbringing has certainly influenced her choice of career. He father, who was a flour miller, had a food manufacturing background. "We grew a lot of our own food," says Davis. "We very rarely used processed food. When living in the country, there wasn't a lot of processed food - and certainly not in Kenya."

Davis grew up beside a flour mill in Enniscorthy. "When we moved to Ireland, we lived right beside the mill in Enniscorthy and there was a constant, but not unpleasant, humming sound from the machinery," says Davis.

"If the humming sound changed, my father could tell what piece of machinery was not working properly and it was not uncommon for him to wake in the early hours of the morning and go down to the mill to check something simply because the sound had changed. So finding a production process that works efficiently is something I look to achieve in Naturally Cordial.

"My father always said that being able to achieve consistency of product is the most important thing - and this is something that I strive towards. We produce cordial throughout the year, so sometimes the product varies a little depending on what variety of fruit we have available to use at that time."

In her day-to-day life with her own family, Davis eats as naturally as she can - though she adapts a practical approach. "Where I can and where it makes sense, we use natural foods," says Davis. "We also avoid using pesticides in our garden."

Although Davis says that each year of running her business brings its own new challenge, she feels that one of the biggest difficulties is balancing a home-based business with family life.

All the same, she is determined to plough ahead - she is hoping to launch some new products over the next year and to sell more of her cordials abroad.

"This year, I'm hoping to make more inroads into the export market," says Davis. "We'll upscale our production facilities with a view to supplying the export market. I've had quite a few requests from abroad. We have already sold some of our cordials to people in Britain and Germany."

Naturally Cordial is based in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. So it's no surprise that most of the fruit which Davis uses for her cordials is grown in Wexford - including the county's strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, apples and rhubarb.

"My neighbour is a fruit farmer and I buy raspberries and strawberries from them," says Davis. "I buy blackcurrants from two farms in Wexford. I get apples from Ballycross Apple Farm. I buy rhubarb through Wexford Home Preserves - but it comes from a local supplier as well. All my citrus fruit comes through an organic supplier based in Waterford. The citrus fruit is normally European fruit - except for the limes. Towards the end of the European season, I use South African fruit.

"Before this year, I was able to use Irish cranberries grown on a farm in Offaly. However, this year, the cranberries were not available and so I used Polish ones."

Davis made a conscious decision to source most of her business's fruit from Wexford.

"Like most people of my age, I spent my summers picking strawberries and loved it," says Davis.

"I grew up knowing the importance of the soft fruit harvest to Enniscorthy. Wexford has one of the worst unemployment rates in the country and we need to make the most of our own resources - so it makes sense to make cordials out of what we grow really well.

"As I live in Wexford, I wanted to do something that was local - and I wanted my recipes to reflect Wexford.

"Good quality fruit depends on getting lots of sunshine to make sure it is sweet so I like to think of my cordials as the equivalent of a Wexford summer bottled!"

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