Cork women giving us some food for thought

From herbal teas to healthy fruit snacks, fermented foods and award-winning beverages, Cork women are blazing a trail in food and drink production. EMMA CONNOLLY catches up with some of the business women ahead of the Cork and Kerry Food Market
Cork women giving us some food for thought
Lisa Harrison, Remedy Roots Tea.

THE 10th Annual Cork and Kerry Food Market will take place this weekend, Saturday, November 3, in Cork City Hall. The event, which is a calendar highlight for foodies, is Munster’s largest indoor food market and will see more than 70 food and drinks producers exhibit their artisan produce from 10am to 6pm.

The unique market experience is free and will also feature cookery demonstrations from Kevin Dundon and The Happy Pear brothers as well as children’s entertainment, making it a great family day out.

The 10th anniversary event will also see the addition of a Friday evening event which will focus on the region’s craft drinks industry with visitors learning how to pair local produce with craft beers and spirits. This event takes place from 5pm to 9pm with live music and tastings for over 18s.

Here, some local exhibitors share their journey from setting up to showcasing their food at the event:

Hayley Milthorpe, The Cultured Food Company, Skibbereen
Hayley Milthorpe, The Cultured Food Company, Skibbereen

Hayley Milthorpe, The Cultured Food Company,

Skibbereen

Originally from West Yorkshire in the UK, I moved to West Cork as a child and have spent most of my life here so far.

Growing up in West Cork and being surrounded by so many top quality artisan food producers has been a huge inspiration to me on my journey setting up my own food business.

Following qualifying as a nutritionial therapist in 2013, I left college with a passion for using food as a medicine. I wanted to understand how our ancestors stayed healthy generation after generation and so I moved towards promoting a traditional diet.

It was whilst reading about ancient diets that I discovered fermented foods.

Fermentation is an ancient method of food preservation, it’s how we used to preserve our vegetables through the winter. Fermented foods are naturally rich in beneficial bacteria - also called probiotics.

As a nutritionist I knew the importance of supporting one’s colony of gut bacteria and the role they played in digestion and the immune system and so my love affair with fermented foods began.

Being a stay at home mother to four young children I spent many hours in my kitchen and loved to create foods which nourished my growing family to keep them strong and healthy. I started dabbling with many forms of fermented food, yoghurt, crème fraiche, kefir, kombucha, sour pickles and of course sauerkraut and kimchi.

In 2014 after realising there was a gap in the market here in Ireland for live fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, foods which support and enhance digestion I decided to launch my range of raw unpasteurised sauerkrauts.

Starting on the local farmers market in Skibbereen my sauerkrauts were soon available in a number of local shops. It wasn’t long before my products were being distributed nationally throughout Ireland to health food stores and by the end of 2014 we were exporting to the UK.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of choosing the right foods and the ill effects that the wrong foods have on your health.

Our sauerkrauts can easily be incorporated into the diet as a source of healthy gut bacteria.

We are currently stocked in many health stores throughout Ireland, food delicatassens and SuperValu’s and have had fantastic support all along from the LEO.

Looking back over the four years I see the determination and strength I had to start my company and to drive it along to where it is now. It’s been a fantastic learning experience, with many ups and downs but I’ve loved every minute of it — it’s truly been one of the best life experiences.

To start from nothing, with no previous experience, and to teach myself how to run a successful business — it’s a great achievement and it just goes to show it is possible, you don’t need to have been to business school and hopefully I can inspire other woman to do the same!

Working for myself allows me the flexibility as a single mother to be around for my children as and when they need me. It has also taught me a lot of self discipline.

For anyone thinking about starting up a food business I would suggest starting by selling your product at a local farmers market and getting some unbiased consumer feedback. I would also recommend starting on a small scale, and slowly building your business up so as to hopefully avoid making any horrible mistakes.

Develop your business at a rate with which you are comfortable with, always remember you should be able to enjoy what you are doing — I do!

Clotilde Fitzgibbon, Clotilde’s Fruit Compote, Glanworth
Clotilde Fitzgibbon, Clotilde’s Fruit Compote, Glanworth

Clotilde Fitzgibbon, Clotilde’s Fruit Compote, Glanworth

I was reared on a tillage and pig farm in Northern France

I now live on a tillage farm in Glanworth with my husband and three children aged from 24 down to 16.

I taught French in primary schools from 1995 to 2012 before starting the business with the help of my husband. I’m the sole employee. My husband does the accounts.

Clotilde’s Fruit Compote Ltd was established in 2011. Compotes seemed to be the perfect products to introduce to the Irish consumers as they are a tasty and healthy fruit snack or dessert.

The compotes that I make are a blend of apples and another fruit, such as strawberries, raspberries, pears, blackberries, lemon, orange, pineapple, mango and blackcurrant. They are hand made with 100% fruit as there is no added sugar, no additives or preservatives.

I started selling to farmers’ markets and then to a few local SuperValu stores such as Fermoy, Mitchelstown and Midleton.

In 2014 the company took part in the Food Academy programme with SuperValu which allowed us increase the number of SuperValu’s we we could supply. Then, in 2016, we invested into a container that we turned into a fully functional, purpose built kitchen to meet that demand.

Today we supply over 60 stores around Munster and Dublin, essentially SuperValu stores and have also been part of the Lidl Kick start programme to supply all the Lidl stores around the country.

Regarding the highs and lows on the journey to date, I feel it is very important to surround ourselves with people who have contacts with retailers, and distributors as you could have the perfect product but without a place to sell your product or a person to distribute to these stores you will not succeed.

Cash flow and funding are also issues when trying to scale up production. I never thought of quitting — longer than few minutes! I believe in the product too much.

My advice to anyone starting out is not to invest too much before you are assured of the viability of your idea and to start small, in a few good stores and farmers market. Do a lot of in store promotion and listen to the feedback.

Maud Black, Blacks Brewery and Distillery Kinsale
Maud Black, Blacks Brewery and Distillery Kinsale

Maud Black, Blacks Brewery and

Distillery Kinsale

Our business started in May 2013 and originally began with a home brewing kit I gave my husband Sam, the other half of the business, a few years previously.

Sam loved it; he really enjoyed the process and the challenge of making great beers. He did a brewing course and from then a decision was made to open here in our home town of Kinsale.

I’m originally from Ahiohill a small village which lies between Clonakilty and Bandon, but have called Kinsale home since 2003 and we’re parents to two boys aged eight and six.

Before we started the business, I was a nurse and worked predominantly in Orthopaedic theatre in CUH and the SIVUH and Sam was an engineer. It was a difficult decision to quit nursing, it had been good to me as a career and I made some great friends along the way, but it’s a decision I don’t regret.

We have a core range of seven bottle products, but we are predominantly known for our KPA (Kinsale Pale Ale 5%) and we brew seasonal and specials beers throughout the year for pubs.

In 2015 we added a distillery to the premises here in Kinsale and we began making Blacks Gin and Ireland’s first Black’s Irish Rum, which we ferment, distill, and barrel age here onsite in Kinsale. We also have a 12 year old Irish whiskey.

We currently employ six people and our products are stocked in independent off licences around the country and in the likes of SuperValu, Dunnes Stores and Tescos.

I have had a lot of support from the Local Enterprise Board in Clonakilty. It was quite daunting changing career, the LEO board provided me with mentoring opportunities in Business development, Accounts and PR. This has been an invaluable tool for me as it has helped grow my confidence and understanding and enabled me to take on these roles with in the business.

A high point is to see your products on shop shelf and in pubs around the world. A low point would be frustration over limited time and resources, there are so many opportunities and new products we would love to develop but with a small team its difficult.

My top tip to anyone starting out with a food related business idea is to get people’s opinion; make sure your product is a viable business option and prepared for hard work, it never ends. We have a few exciting projects in the pipe line but are keeping them under wraps for now!

 Lisa Harrison, of Remedy Roots Tea, Cork City, which she started with cousin Stuart.
 Lisa Harrison, of Remedy Roots Tea, Cork City, which she started with cousin Stuart.

Lisa Harrison, Remedy Roots Tea,

Cork City

I started making some herbal teas as Christmas presents for family and friends and from that I thought it would be easy to create a small herbal tea business.

I asked my cousin Stuart to create a marketing plan for me. He loved the idea and the type of company I wanted to create and asked if he could be my business partner. I thought why not and since then the ideas and the vision have grown bigger.

We’re two cousins setting out to spread excitement about herbal wellness.

All of our teas are loose leaf, because we want people to reconnect with the wonderful properties of herbs by seeing, smelling and tasting them. We believe you can’t do that when they’re chopped up into a tea bag.

We launched last year with our own range of loose leaf herbal wellness teas and spiced latte blends. We make all the teas in my house in Cork city. The recipes are all our own, we buy the ingredients separately and blend them together, then pack them up.

We’re now stocked in local health food shops and cafes around Cork, we’ve just won a Great Taste award for our Stress Relief tea, we’ll be stocking local SuperValu stores on the Food Academy programme and we’ve just secured a place on the Atlantic Food Export Programme, run by the Local Enterprise Office, to take our herbal wellness teas into Europe.

We have had great support from the local enterprise by doing the Food Academy, getting a priming grant and being a part of the Atlantic food export program. The contacts we have created through these programs have be so beneficial to how we run the business.

There have been lots of highs and lows on route but the hardest one was starting on such a low budget but it was also the most beneficial. Over the past two months though we are finally seeing the hard work come together and get great feedback.

My top tip to anyone starting out is to keep it simple. It’s so easy to get carried away with ideas, it’s part of being a creative person but if you can do a few products well and build a business and a brand around it then it’s easier once your established to create new products.

It also means you have some type of a following and people know and trust your brand which means those products will be more successful than trying to do them all at once.

More in this section

Sponsored Content