The new smoothie?
January 16, 2013
When Clotilde Fitzgibbon arrived in Ireland over 20 years ago – swapping a tillage farm in northern France for one in north Cork – one thing struck her about the supermarket shelves. “There was Sno yoghurt and Yoplait, but that was it,” she recalls. She knew there was potential for a new yoghurt-type product and so launched Clotilde’s Compôte – apple based fruit blends in handy 130g pots – which she believes could be the “new” smoothie. While a new concept in Ireland, compôtes are popular snacks in France.
Clotilde studied international trade before coming to Ireland to work in Agri Meats, now Kepak, in Cork. After meeting her husband, Paddy, she settled on a tillage farm near Glanworth, teaching French in local primary schools while raising their children Celine, Jerome and Laetitia. A keen foodie, she also baked and made preserves for her local farmers’ market. But her hobby became a business in 2011 after she was approached by family friend, Pat Landers. A former dairy farmer, Pat had worked as an auctioneer in Mitchelstown, but, with the downturn, he decided to do a food business course with Bullseye Marketing. While he had sales experience, he needed a partner with a flair for food. Clotilde, with her compôtes, was his first choice. With the help of Teagasc in Moorepark, the pair spent almost two months perfecting the fruit blends – such as apple and strawberry – in Clotilde’s kitchen. However, despite a minimal start-up investment (Pat estimates €2,000), there were teething problems. For example, while they started with locally-grown apples, they couldn’t get a year-round supply, so they had to switch to frozen fruit, imported by Sunnyside Fruit in Rathcormac. They also had to educate customers about the compôte concept.
“What do you do with it?” was one of the most common queries, recalls Clotilde. “It’s a simple, healthy product and you don’t want to complicate it. Just use it as a snack; the same as you eat a yoghurt.” Their explanations – and hard work – paid off when they received the top award at the Mitchelstown Food Festival in August 2011, winning a place on SuperValu’s supplier development programme. They were also selected as one of seven food producers for A Taste of Ballyhoura Country – a pilot branding and trading initiative spearheaded by Ballyhoura Development Ltd, with projects including a free recipe book.
Clotilde’s Compôte is now stocked in 25 outlets – including 15 SuperValus in Cork, Limerick and Clare – as well as Douglas farmers’ market every second Saturday, with blends including apple with strawberry, blackberry, pear, raspberry, lemon and orange rind. But there are still challenges – while they sell an average of 400 pots a week, they’ve a target of 1,000 to be considered for a supermarket listing and the current RRP of €1.99 is a hard sell in the climate. However, they will soon launch new branding with nutritional information (ascertained with the help of UCC through Enterprise Ireland) that will allow them to sell two pots per pack for a lower price. They are also targeting new stockists in Waterford and Dublin.
For the May bank holiday Monday, Clotilde’s Compôte will feature in the Taste of Ballyhoura food festival in Kilmallock. Could Clotilde and Pat have the “new” smoothie on their hands? There’s just one way to find out. “Eat it,” smiles Clotilde.