This year Focus Friday is teaming up with the SuperValu Food Academy to bring you the best new Irish food producers, and tell you all about their products. Today we chat to Fiona Falconer of the award-winning Wild About range of preserves and syrups. A few years ago, Fiona and her husband Malcolm decided to sell their London home and set up a small holding in Co Wexford, and have created an Irish brand specialising in seasonal produce grown to the highest standard.
Can you tell us a bit about Wild About?
Wild About is an innovative Irish company making hand crafted Artisan foods from native, seasonal and wild ingredients. We grow produce on our permaculture farm here in Co. Wexford. We don’t use any chemicals on our land and in our kitchen, we just use sugar and vinegar as our preservatives. We work seasonally, we only use Irish stock, so our range changes with the Irish seasonal harvests and we specialize in native wild ingredients. We are Good Food Ireland Producer of the Year and the All Ireland Farmers’ Market Champions.
Wild About is all about bringing the native wild ingredients to the forefront in their most delicious and beneficial format. Our nettle products are bestsellers. Nettles are one of Ireland’s greatest underutilised superfoods. Medicinally potent, nettles have been proven beneficial in the treatment of hypertension, high cholesterol, gout, arthritis, asthma, psoriasis and other skin conditions. Packed with vitamin A, B1, B2, the mental agility vitamins, essential minerals, iron and proteins, nettles grow in every hedge in the country and they’re free– it’s simply crazy don’t we eat them.
Wild About has brought two nettle products to the market, Nettle Pesto and Nettle Syrup. These are unique in the market and have been incredibly well received. Nettle Pesto is amazing, it’s a raw product so you getting the full benefit of the uncooked nettle.
Nettle Syrup is a more commercial product. It makes the most refreshing drink diluted with sparkling water and ice, or add a squeeze of lime and a shot of Bacardi and you’ve got yourself a nettle mojito. It also makes the best margarita I’ve ever had. What’s really great is if you’re having a dinner party or BBQ, you can make cocktails for the guests but also have something a bit different available for the non-drinker, the pregnant woman, the driver etc. We do a whole range of syrups during the summer, all of which can be used in the fashion.
What inspired you to create the range?
Our story is a funny one. I’m a documentary producer by trade and Malc is a product design engineer. We had a lovely house in London, three small kids and good salaries, but we weren’t living at all. Gone at 7am back after 9pm, we had two nannies raising the kids– we were on treadmills running ever faster. We sat down one day at had a look at our lives and thought, “D’ya know what, we’ll die and we don’t have done anything for ourselves.” So we literally sat down, took out a map of Ireland and stuck a pin in it. It landed on Gorey, Co. Wexford so we piled the kids in the car, jumped on a ferry, took a 30 mile radius and aimed for the biggest amount of land for the least amount of money. On the last day we found a 5 acre field near the sea and the deal was done.
We moved across, built a passive house and set aside half an acre for the kids as a ‘forage forest’. We planted native fruit hedging and a lot of heritage seeds. We foraged from the local area and it was a beautiful space where the kids could eat everything and nothing was of danger. Four years in, we got the mother of all harvests: pears, cherries, plums, raspberries, gooseberries, currants and herbs. Everything came in and we suddenly thought, “What are we going to do with all this stuff?” Malc started to make chutneys and preserves and anyone who passed the door got a brace full, but what actually happened was they kept coming back for more. So we took a year, did a lot of local farmers markets and agricultural shows, neither of us had any experience in the food industry. We wanted to work out what we were about. Turns out we were ‘Wild About’! We had a tremendous response, not only to our products but to our ethos: local, seasonal & wild. People get seasonality, they want to source locally, the want quality and sometimes they are looking for something a bit different.
How has your product evolved since it has launched?
Nettle products on paper are a hard sell. Though nettles are very much a heritage food here in Ireland, they haven’t the best image. Nettle products are also a new food in the marketplace. There was nothing for it but to get out there and get people to taste the nettle. We did, they did and they loved it! We have been simply blown away by the consumer response.
Since we launched our nettle products in 2012, we have refined our production process to provide a raw pesto which is just banging! SuperValu’s Food Academy has helped us greatly in terms of finding the right business and production models. We developed an innovative production method to make the pesto without blanching the nettle, as applying heat damages some of the enzymes in the plant. You really are getting the full whack of the nettle and it’s awesomely delicious. We also make a cheese-free version, as Malc (my husband and chef) is dairy intolerant, or as I like to call him ‘intolerant’!
We have also upscaled from a horticultural perspective to provide for demand. We still grow in our gardens and we grow from seed in our commercial polytunnels, but Malc is a born researcher and is always reviewing and developing new products– if only we could make something from grass. Watch this space!
Who is your customer?
Our customer is interested in food, ingredients, origin and flavor; Our customer believes in a healthy lifestyle, in the benefits of food and the happiness of sharing food with family and friends; Our customer is interested in ecology, sustainability, they want to know how the produce was sourced and how their food was made; Our customer is looking for something different to try, new flavour combinations and new ideas; Our customer is looking for an ethos that resonates, a choice in their sourcing their food; Our customer believes in Irish, supports local business, believes in economy on a local, regional and national scale. Supervalu’s Food Academy shares this ethos for local produce and local economy.
We trade regularly at farmers’ markets, food festivals, national events like Bloom and the Craft Fair and we also retail into artisan stockists such as Avoca, the English Market, Westport House, Mt. Juliette and little farm shops/outlets around the country. We are part of the Supervalu Food Academy which is a really strong initiative to bring small artisan producers like ourselves into the mainstream. We’re not a mass production operation and seasonality is core to who we are. Food Academy has really taken a chance on us, giving us a platform to introduce our wild foods to the wider market in a seasonally changing range. There is great synergy there, we both have very similar ideologies.
What tips would you give to someone who is starting out and wants to launch
a food-related product/business?
Be clear on who you are and what you do– a clear identity and criteria also makes decision making much easier all the way down the line.
Ask the questions. If you don’t know the game, ask how to play it.
There really is nothing like getting one-to-one with customers. Farmers’ markets are the best learning experience on the planet, they’re inexpensive, accessible and you get to present the full package to potential customers.
Evaluate critism rationally.
Know you costs, production capacity and scalability.
Ask yourself, “Is it a hobby or is it a business?”
Where can you buy Wild About and how much will it cost?
Our products can be found in SuperValu stores around Wexford. We also trade regularly at farmers’ markets, food fesitvals, national events like Bloom and the Craft Fair. Our webshop for next day delivery and a full list of markets and our stockists is on our website www.wildabout.ie Our products retail at €4.50 – €4.95, some retailers have higher overheads and may be a little more expensive.
What does the future hold for your business?
Ireland has the purest most fertile ground source on the planet. We are 64% agricultural land mass. The agri-food sector currently contributes €24 billion to the Irish economy, 7% of GDP, accounts for almost 10% of Exports and creates almost 10% of all employment. This is a growing sector. We can’t compete with the mass producers so why try. We excel in producing high end, quality, sustainable produce to feed the demand in the global market. Irish food is coming home and Wild About is right here.