Farm Week 2 June 2016

Sam Butler talked to Fiona Lydon of Seriously Juicy Detox Juices in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh, a recently established small business producing raw vegetable and fruit blended juices.

Fiona Lydon found starting a small business helped her to overcome postnatal depression following the birth of her second child. It led the Fermanagh woman to turn an interest in healthy fruit and vegetable juices into Seriously Juicy, a start up business. “I desperately needed something to focus on,” she says. “I know starting a business is not for every woman facing the condition but it worked for me. It gave me something to concentrate on as well as looking after the baby.”

Fiona Lydon
Fiona Lydon

Before her two young children were born, Fiona had seen the growth in fruit and veggie-blends of so called detox juices while working as a nanny in Boston. She was in the US with husband Colm, a construction contractor. The couple spent around a decade in Boston, where Fiona shopped regularly at health stores including the iconic Whole Foods Market. “I saw the developing trend there towards detox juices that were marketed as being healthy because of the blend of veggies such as kale, celery, spinach with fruits including apple and lemon,” she adds. Starting a business developing such products wasn’t on her agenda back then. ”

 

I never thought I’d be able to start and run a business in those days. I didn’t have the experience or, above all, the cash to get it going.” The couple then moved to Britain and settled in Reading for eight years. Colm continued to work in construction, an industry that recovered fast there after the recession. Fiona signed up for a course in law at Reading University and then sought to gain experience as a solicitor.

“I decided to study law to expand my qualifications and develop a career,” she explains. “While it was great experience, I continued to be interested in juices and saw the market trend towards healthy drinks also developing in Britain, especially in the London area.” What brought the couple back to Fermanagh was a decision to start a family.

“Fermanagh offered an extended family network. And so we decided to set up near Newtownbutler,” Fiona says. Colm has continued to commute to London to develop his career in the construction industry. “It made sense for Colm to continue in London because this is where the work is. There aren’t many jobs here because construction has been going through such a difficult patch.” The couple now have two young children, a boy (4) and a girl (3).

“Coming home was the right decision because family and friends have been very supportive especially when I suffered from post natal depression. I was able to fall back on their support and they encouraged me when I started talking about the juice business. It was the break I needed.” And it’s been a successful venture. Fiona started making juices at home for family to sample.

“I worked really hard to develop my own version of the blends I’d seen in Boston and London but I wasn’t sure about starting a business because I had no real experience. I turned to Invest NI in Omagh for advice. They were very supportive and introduced me to the innovation voucher scheme that offers £4,000 to explore a product with a local college or university. I had a number of juices in mind and had produced samples but needed help with shelf life and nutritional information for the labels,” Fiona continues.

The voucher enabled Fiona to link up with experts at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in Belfast. AFBI introduced her to high pressure processing (HPP) which increases shelf life without affecting the juice. “The innovation voucher was tremendous. I couldn’t have managed without it because the HPP technology gave me a product that I could sell because it offered retailers shelf life of around 30 days. AFBI was superb and extremely supportive.”

She’s currently working with AFBI to double shelf life. Fiona set up the business late last year in a small unit near her home that’s been approved by the relevant authorities as suitable for food production. Four blends of juice were launched at the start of this year. They are ‘Mean Green’, apple, cucumber, celery, kale, spinach, parsley, ginger and lemon; ‘Ginger Zinger’ with apple, carrot, lemon and ginger; ‘Sweet Beet’ comprising beetroot, apple, carrot, spinach and lime; and ‘Mango Tango’ with mango, carrots, pineapple, yellow bell peppers, cucumber and lime. The juices are packed with vitamins including A, B.C, E, K and minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and zinc. T

hey are said to provide a boost to the immune and digestive systems, clear out free radicals, purify the blood and liver and rehydrate the body. The recipes are all her own and made from 100 per cent raw vegetables and fruits with no added water or preservatives. They are all gluten free and suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Local chefs Noel McMeel, Neven Maguire and Paula Mcintyre have been supportive. The challenge now facing the enterprising Fiona is developing sales to generate a worthwhile return.

And she’s doing extremely well. The juices are selling well in Northern Ireland – she’s recently won prestigious outlets in Belfast – and also in the Republic of Ireland. Stores in Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan and Sligo are already selling her products. Monaghan GAA team has also signed up for the Mean Green juice. The future looks bright for the enterprising Fiona.