Taking great pride in being Australian-owned, manufacturer Emma & Tom’s was founded in 2004 by childhood friends Emma Welsh and Tom Griffith. The company’s brand philosophy is ‘Look After Yourself’, an ethos that permeates the entire business, helping Emma & Tom’s to stay committed to keeping Australians in shape by providing nutritious, healthy whole fruit products with minimal processing.
“It’s like a marriage basically,” explains co-founder Tom Griffith, discussing the logistics of running Emma & Tom’s with childhood friend Emma Welsh. “It needs to be on that level of openness and honesty.”
The co-founders had known each other for many years by the time they started the business, having met at a swimming lesson in their home town of Melbourne at age twelve. Ms Welsh had gone to school with Mr Griffith’s sister, and the two soon became friends.
“We sort of lived parallel lives, she was at Melbourne University and [then] I was at Melbourne University; she was in France and she would come skiing with us occasionally. We were both in London as part of our friendship group.”
The origins of Emma & Tom’s go back to the beginning of the century, when its founders were plying their trades in very different industries. “I had been hired to a start-up in the UK, but our backer had lost £1.5 billion of his own wealth,” Mr Griffith says.
Before the doomed start-up, Mr Griffith had been an advisor to drinks conglomerate Pernod Ricard in the UK. Previously, he had worked both in France and Australia for several years, ending up in the investment bank company, Merrill Lynch.
“Emma had a more suitable background,” Mr Griffith says. “She had done a Bachelor of Agricultural Science, she was then a grain trader at Cargill, and then worked in commercial at Uncle Ben’s, so that’s very similar to what she’s doing now.”
Ms Welsh then travelled to France to complete an MBA, before moving on to London to work for a year at LEK Consulting, before returning to Australia to land the job as head of consumer marketing for NAB (National Australia Bank).
Soon after, the well-travelled duo began working on Emma & Tom’s, the fundamental idea for which was conceived by Mr Griffith whilst skiing, taking advantage of the unique challenges faced on the slopes.
“After this job fell over and our backer lost his funding, I went and had a season in North America. When you ski, you’re obviously at altitude, and it’s also super cold, and you’re also exercising, so there’s three different causes of energy burn.”
Mr Griffith noticed a gap in the Australian market for a beverage that would help replace this energy and approached Ms Welsh about starting the company. “[Emma] rang back about a week later and said yeah, let’s do it.”
Starting from Scratch
Emma & Tom’s began by manufacturing and selling bottled fruit juices, but has since expanded to offer a range of healthy beverages and snacks to the Australian public. But the process of starting up was not as straightforward as it might seem to be from the outside.
“We started from scratch,” Mr Griffith says, “which in hindsight was kind of naïve. We had to get a bottle madewho makes bottles? We had no idea. We wanted a square bottle, because this was going to be suited for premium fridges.”
The original idea was to create a product made from whole fruits, with no additives, no preservatives and no sugar. With such a specific product idea, creating the right packaging was an important part of getting the brand off the ground.
“So we went and found a bottle manufacturer who backed us. We showed them the spreadsheet, and they backed us. They didn’t ask for money, and designed a bottle for us, showed us the mould and the models and everything else and drew it up.”
The same good fortune was on the company’s side when dealing with distribution, which was provided by a friend’s relative, as well the original design being undertaken by James Sadgrove, a designer recommended by one of Mr Griffith’s skiing friends.
“James had done a couple of seasons at Whistler, unbeknownst to me, when I was there, and his father is Brian Sadgrove, a famous Australian design icon, who did all these famous brands, and James is his father’s son. We’ve worked with James ever since.”
With each new contact that was made, the founders of Emma & Tom’s learned a little more about the business, developing the relationships that have helped it grow into the well-respected Australian-owned brand it is today.
The next step was getting the drinks into the shops, a task achieved by drawing up a list of potential customers in the Sydney and Melbourne areas, ranked by location, suitability and potential volume.
“Basically, once we had product,” Mr Griffith says, “we went around and tried to sell it. We gave people some free stuff and hopefully it sells, and if it sells then they order more. It was as simple as that.”
Mr Griffith admits there is no secret formula to follow in order to get the product to customers, just a lot of hard work getting out and meeting with vendors, a process he says the company still engages in to this day.
The company began by selling just four flavours, which were bottled in runs of a thousand litres at a time, filling about a pallet’s worth of product. The first production saw Emma & Tom’s with four pallets of drinks and no customers. Today the company offers 40 products.
“Emma and I started working together in 2003,” Mr Griffith explains, “and we launched the first sale in 2004, so it took them a year to get it together. It scaled quite fast, so we went first from handing out excess juice for free to quite quickly increasing our volume.”
After launching in September, the company discovered by the time Christmas came about that their customer base was up and running. This saw Emma & Tom’s begin to grow on two fronts, expanding the company vision and increasing the range.
“[We were] trying to get more customers, because in those days we didn’t have that many, and then we started to think, well we’ve got these customers, let’s sell more to them. So we increased our juice range, with another couple of blends and a couple of straight juices.”
In those early months, the company’s distribution was handled exclusively by a third party, which Mr Griffith admits worked well for the first two or three years, but soon began to create significant problems for the business.
“We found that we had flat-lining sales,” Mr Griffith says, “and we found that really dealing with that distributor wholly and solely wasn’t going to be good enough for us, because they had a phone book of suppliers.”
The original arrangement saw the company losing customers due to the inadequate distribution service being offered, despite a general regard for the product. This prompted Emma & Tom’s to change tacks and start selling out of a van, door-to-door.
“So we took distribution into our own hands, and we’ve now got 40 vans today. What was good about it is, you’re seeing new customers and you’re selling them juice and while the handbrake’s on, let’s sell them other things.”
After about a year of handling its own distribution, recognising how fast the customer base was growing, and seeing increased opportunities for bigger individual transactions, the company began to branch out to a whole new range of product.
“You’ve got people wanting to look for healthy options, and whilst we all like a cookie – they’re made from butter and sugar and flour – a bar made from dried fruit and walnuts would be a healthy alternative, which it has proved to be.”
This realisation led to the company developing a range of dried fruit and nut bars, which now represents the biggest selling category in the health food section, as well as ranges of brewed iced tea, quenchers and a range of sparkling fruit juices.
Getting the Word Out
As with all start-up companies, Emma & Tom’s experienced a few teething problems when taking that long journey from its beginnings to becoming a reputable, successful supplier of healthy drinks and snacks.
A month before the launch of the first bottling run, the company was contacted by the bottlers and told it wouldn’t be able to do the work because of the difficulty in labelling the square bottle that Mr Griffith had been so keen on.
“So we found a contract labeller in Melbourne, for the knock down price of seven cents a bottle, which is really expensive. And whilst doing that, you’re shipping bottles from the bottling plant to the contract labeller, and it cost us $100,000.”
Eventually, an agreement was reached whereby the labelling was provided and the bottling manufacturer agreed to the terms, 18 months after the company was launched.
Although the company was approached by supermarkets about taking the product, Emma & Tom’s recognised a more prosperous market in local delicatessens and cafes, offering greater potential for premium products which can be hard to make stand out in the shops.
“If you go into your favourite café or deli for lunch and are recommended a super premium Emma & Tom’s,” Mr Griffith explains, “you don’t feel you’re being advertised at, you feel you’ve discovered it yourself and you go and tell your friends. It’s a great place to grow the brand.”
Another success story has been the level of interest the company has gained on such a modest marketing strategy, a strategy that consists of vans driving around Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth delivering and promoting the product.
“Think of a van as having the value of a bus-stop billboard, that’s one way to value it. The other way is to think of the populations of those cities and suburban areas, and we probably get about two and a half million views per week just off the vans, so that’s been good.”
This strategy is aligned with the point-of-sale itself, which has visibility in around 3,000 quality, high-end independent cafes and delis across Australia, and in the major grocery chains, creating a fantastic brand association for the company.
“We’ve done some PR obviously,” Mr Griffith adds. “We do some public speaking, which we do primarily to have conversations with the Australian consumer and [to increase] brand recognition.”
In order to undertake these speaking engagements, Emma & Tom’s has teamed up with Saxton, Australia’s leading speakers bureau, to get the word outan association which the company enjoys enormously.
“Saxton is a wonderful business, they’re incredibly professional. It’s owned by a couple, Nanette Moulton and Winston Broadbent, and they’ve backed us as well, and they’ve given us time to develop our presentation.”
This relationship has led to many business opportunities for the company, as both co-founders have been invited to speak at industry events that have helped them develop direct contacts with like-minded business people.
“Whether it leads to an increase in general sales, I don’t know,” Mr Griffith says. “It obviously improves the brand awareness. You always get numerous communications after doing one of those talks, people want to see you about their products or they have an idea.”
“One of our brand attributes is that we’re real. That’s one of the main words people refer to us as being, and we are. Emma’s real and I’m real, we both work in the business, we’re very engaged in the business. It’s our full time job.”
Emma & Tom’s employs ‘real’, friendly staff, represented by the van drivers who are out and about day-in and day-out greeting and serving the public. On top of that, the ingredients and the products are real, meaning people are particularly keen to hear the company’s story.
Going It Alone
In light of the company’s success, Mr Griffith admits that starting a business can be a very taxing experience. “You’ve got to obviously love it,” he explains, “because it’s not like a job, you can’t just detach from it one day and have a change.”
“I think having cash is important. A lot of people start these things underfunded, and they haven’t got the cash to see it through, and so they lose their initial investment when it was going to take actually more to see their concept come to fruition.”
As part of the business, Emma & Tom’s has developed a close relationship with National Australia Bank, keeping the bank up to speed on company finances and as a result received support from NAB.
“When we first launched, we’d come from big corporate backgrounds, which can probably be a disadvantage as well. The minute the phone rang, we thought ‘what is it this time?’ You’ve just got to knuckle in and solve your problems, and defend your turf.”
For Emma & Tom’s, the journey has only just begun, with Mr Griffith admitting there is still some way to go before the company achieves its goals, that it is currently just “ten years down a thirty-year journey.”
“[The business wasn’t built] to flip, there was never any consideration of that. We want to build a big, sustainable business. We can just nurture a solid, sustainable, good margin business, and bring our team on with us.”
With the company growing at 30% year-on-year, a growth level Mr Griffith believes is good, but could be higher, Emma & Tom’s will aim to do more work within the Australian grocery market going forward to help increase profits.
In addition to the company’s future plans, a recent partnership with the Cotton On Foundation has seen it help with raising money to alleviate the significant problem of youth homelessness in Australia.
“It’s been going for a year now. We sell bottled water, which we sell out of our 40 vans, and just pass on the full margin, less production costs, but not any of our costs, to the charity. We can use our infrastructure for free, but we get the chance to work with a cause.”
The project is called the Unite Project, and has already proven to be incredibly popular with the team and the customers, raising awareness and providing funds for an extremely worthwhile cause.
“All those proceeds go to a charity called Ladder, and Ladder is a charity that fights youth homelessness. So we’re doing that, which we’re enjoying being involved in, and now that the business has a bit of a platform, we can do it.”
In addition, the company is already underway in its quest for international expansion, having recently established a supplier in Jordan, which will be the cornerstone of the company’s Middle Eastern business.
“And we export our first containers to Malaysia this week,” Mr Griffith adds. “We’ve had quite a lot of interest in China, but as you can imagine, it’s about picking the best person or people to go with.”
At the moment, the company will be exporting to its foreign markets, but Mr Griffith recognises that once a market reaches a certain volume, it will make more sense to move manufacturing operations over there.
“We’re about to start exporting bars to the UK,” Mr Griffith goes on to explain, “quite soon, and once the first few containers go, we’ll fly across and find manufacturing facilities in the UK.”
One of the main benefits of the business for Emma & Tom’s is its wide customer base. In a world where people are thinking more about staying healthy, there are no restrictions to the consumers the company can reach.
“Our consumers range from 2-year-olds to 85-year-olds. However, the majority are females [from ages] 20-35, because traditionally girls eat better than boys. But, similarly, my father is 85 and takes the bars round in his golf bag, so everyone likes to eat well.”
The company has therefore always taken the view that people are happier when they are healthier, meaning if people eat well, they stay well. Mr Griffith admits this is the main reason Emma & Tom’s staff goes to work, to keep the people of Australia healthy and happy.
To read and download the full profile click on the cover image below. To view this editorial as it appeared originally in The Australian Business Executive magazine, click here.
By Nicholas Paul Griffin