Inside Track: Mark Sexton, Froberry Yogurt
Customers warm to ‘guilt-free’ frozen yogurt
Mark Sexton of Froberry Yogurt
What sets your business apart?
The frozen dessert business is hugely competitive in Ireland. It’s a fool’s game to try to compete on price with multinationals, so instead we focus on Froberry’s unique selling points. Our frozen yogurt has typically 75 per cent less fat than the dominant ice-cream brands and around one-third of the calories. It is gluten free and sugar free.
What was the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
“Understand your customer, and don’t try to be all things to all men.” Food trends change, consumer sentiment changes.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? I spent too long trying to crack into “major accounts” and attempting to persuade some of Ireland’s largest visitor attraction sites to stock Froberry. Historic agreements exist and barriers to entry for newcomers are firmly in place in these tourist spots. Ireland’s top three paid visitor attractions receive more than three million visitors annually, yet it’s still impossible to buy an ice cream or frozen yogurt that’s produced in Ireland at these locations. It is a mad situation considering the quality of Irish dairy products that are available.
And your major success to date?
Froberry won International Great Taste Awards in 2011 and 2012. We are the only producer of frozen yogurt in Ireland to carry these awards. Awards are a great door-opener, however there is a hell of a lot more to be done to secure contracts that work for both parties. Our national listing with Superquinn is also, for us, a testament to the demand that exists for our “guilt free” deserts.
Recently we opened the first Froberry Cafe at the Blackrock Shopping Centre in Co Dublin. It’s a great place to get feedback on what customers want. I’m also encouraged by a few franchise queries I’ve received
I’m in Dubai next week meeting with buyers. I’ll be presenting a Froberry flavour selection specially created for a Gulf customer base. Sunshine drives frozen yogurt sales and I believe that my product is bang on trend. I’m confident that the foundation is in place to expand overseas.
Who do you admire in business?
I work with a number of small producers who produce amazing ingredients and products. I admire all of these people and the customers who buy their products. Ireland is a tough place to do business now – the level of financial support is minimal but at least there is a lot of goodwill towards buying Irish.
Based on your experience in the downturn are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
Banks may be open for business but they are very slow to court it. Bureaucracy and paperwork are the main tools banks are using to deflect dealing with SMEs.
What piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?
Stop paying lip service and deal with social welfare fraud. Too much money is being wasted when the same funds could be better used to invest in indigenous business with real growth potential. I’d also assert that more joined-up action is needed between Government-funded business development support agencies – there’s a huge amount of crossover.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face?
Doing everything! I am involved in every aspect of the business – recipe formulation, yogurt production, sales, marketing, distribution, accounts, credit control, launching the Froberry Cafe, developing profitable business and growing overseas. It’s tough, but the lessons learned are invaluable.
How do you see the short- term future for your business?
I need to manage my existing customer base, continually focus on operational efficiencies and fund the cost of driving new business overseas. Fuel and ingredient costs have risen every year that I’ve been in business and so far I’ve avoided passing these costs on. I’m seeing huge interest in the gluten-free differentiator that Froberry offers and hope to capitalise on this.
How much is the business worth and would you sell?
I’ve developed this business from scratch and surrounded myself with a few key advisors. For sure I have an exit plan but presently I am central to Froberry and making things happen. Right now I’m building additional value into the company and developing the brand. It’s too early to sell, but I’d expect to take in additional investment to capitalise on the Froberry opportunity in 2013.
In conversation with Ruth O’Connor