We’re all aware of the saying that ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ but for Joanne Buck, it’s little grapes which are leading to big business.
Joanne, from Buncrana, is the owner of ‘Fraizens,’ - packaged frozen grapes - which have popped up in freezers across Inishowen, Derry and the rest of the country in recent months.
The idea of selling the product in this convenient way is one which has been with Joanne for a number of years.
“I’ve always been really health conscious,” she tells the Journal.
“I’ve enjoyed healthy eating and sport all my life. I’ve been known to go to the cinema with a punnet of grapes with me, as there was no healthy option.
“I can’t remember where I first saw frozen grapes - I think a lady at work brought them in. But, it had always been in my head as a good idea and I sat on it for about five or so years.”
Joanne then began to undertake research, marketing and a business plan with the help of Inishowen Development Partnership and the Donegal Enterprise Office.
She found that many people were aware of frozen grapes and “loved them,” but this had not been explored or marketed in Ireland.
Joanne later attended a conference with the chairperson of Sony Entertainment in America, who said that two out of three cinemas would stock a healthy alternative if this was provided.
Her research also found that people with health issues such as diabetes wanted a healthy, nutritious option to purchase in a shop or cinema and this just wasn’t there for them.
Joanne is originally from Manchester and worked as a PA and office manager for eight years before coming to Ireland. Before that, she worked in her local cinema and a couple of years after having her son, Oisin, studied a HND in Sport and Leisure Management. While undertaking this, she also did lots of voluntary work with Buncrana GAA which led her to play with them.
So, when she wanted to test out Fraizens - so named due to the fact that raisins are dried grapes - she turned to her team mates.
“I knew they’d be honest,” she said.
“If they didn’t think they were going to work they’d tell me. But, they loved them and were really helpful. We found that children loved them too and think they’re sweets!”
The grapes are supplied by Foyle Fruit and the “amazing” packaging was undertaken by Urban 3D in Derry. Fraizens are available in a snack pack, which adds up to one of your five a day and a larger pack, which is two of your five a day.
Joanne prepares and packages the product herself at the moment - nothing is added or taken away, ensuring optimum nutritional benefit. The composition remains the same after freezing, which adds extra water.
When Joanne had undertaken her research and marketing, she then pitched the idea to the Simpson family at Brunswick Moviebowl in Derry. They were delighted to take it on board, offering a healthy alternative to their customers, and became the first stockists.
Since then, the product has been stocked in Century Cinemas, Letterkenny and Dundrum Cinema in Dublin. They are also on sale in a number of shops across Inishowen and recently, Joanne hit the jackpot. She has just won a contract with Independent Irish Health Foods to distribute Fraizens to their 300-350 health food stores right across the country.
She admits herself how she “can’t quite believe” how the company has taken off so fast and credits her “fantastic family and friends” for all their help in seeing it come to fruition.
Joanne said she would like to also distribute the product in hospitals and other areas where healthy eating is key.
She hopes that with expansion, she will also be able to create more employment in Inishowen and be a “socially-conscious” business.
“I can’t believe how well it has been going,” she says.
“I’m excited about the future.”