Co. Offaly native Anne Marie Feighery has, literally, gone back to her roots on the family farm just outside Kilcormac, producing beetroot juice.
Now based in Co. Tipperary, she is adding value to the beetroot grown on the home farm.
“My dad Billy started farming in 1957 and now he runs the farm alongside my brothers Alan and William. Dad started out with tillage and focused on vegetables from the late 80s. I grew up helping out on the farm,” said Anne Marie.
“There are three farmers’ markets we have gone to every Saturday over the years – Kilcormac, Kilbeggan and Portumna – selling a wide variety of vegetables such as potatoes; carrots; broccoli; turnips; lettuce; and onions.”
The Feigherys continue to be busy at a time when many other vegetable growers are experiencing difficulties.
“We have been lucky in that we have always sold directly to consumers. However, customer expectations when they see vegetables sold for very little in supermarkets puts pressure on growers,” said Anne Marie.
“We have built up a loyal customer base – we have been lucky in that respect but I can see how other growers have been pushed out of the market.”
Her love of horses brought her into the bloodstock industry after studying science. A foray into the shops to buy beetroot juice for her father however, resulted in her taking a whole new path.
“He had read an article about the health benefits of beetroot juice and its role in reducing blood pressure. I couldn’t see any Irish-made beetroot juice in the shops, only English and German juice,” said Anne Marie.
“This led me to investigate why this was the case. My father and brothers had been growing a very small amount of the crop at home. As a result, I had a conversation with Eddie O’Neill who was the artisan food specialist at Teagasc, Cork, at the time.”
Anne Marie decided she would produce her own beetroot juice and applied for an innovation voucher from Enterprise Ireland which allowed her to carry out product development work.
After nine months she had her product ready for retail.
“I blended 70% pesticide-free beetroot, grown on the family farm, with apples from Con Traas in Tipperary who also bottled the juice. My aim was to provide a very natural, clean product,” she said.
Having been advised by her local enterprise office to contact the Food Academy at Supervalu, she duly made it aware of her Irish beetroot juice.
“That was a great learning process and got me into six or seven Supervalu stores. After this number grew, it led me to other outlets such as Avoca, quality artisan stores and butchers,” said Anne Marie.
The response was highly encouraging.
“The juice won numerous awards such as Great Taste and Blas na hEireann and it was also mentioned in John and Sally McKenna’s good food guide. All that really helped to showcase the product and brought it into more shops. It is now in 50 Supervalu stores around the country as well as a range of independent stores.
“People have become more familiar with the benefits of drinking beetroot juice which range from boosting energy to being a good source of potassium and folic acid. It’s a superfood in a bottle.
“Winning awards and attending shows such as Bloom really helps showcase the product to new audiences,” said Anne Marie.
Working in conjunction with the family farm where 5ac of beetroot is grown, is great, she said.
“I hope year-on-year to grow our customer base. I’m adding value to what was a small crop. I’ve generated new business from the land, having been off the farm,” said Anne Marie.
“My dad and brothers are very encouraging and it’s great to diversify with a humble vegetable without air miles or carbon footprint.
“People want to know where their food has come from and Covid-19 shone a light on that,” said Anne Marie.
She doesn’t have immediate plans to export her juice, adding: “There are so many opportunities to avail of still in Ireland so I will be continuing to concentrate on all the gaps there. There is a lot more ground to cover before I consider exporting.”