Childhood friends Tom Griffith and Emma Walsh turned a passion for healthy living into an Aussie empire.
A shared love for health and wellbeing has proved integral to the success of local healthy drink and snack food producer Emma & Tom’s. The childhood friends whose business is their namesake first embarked on a partnership together in 2004. As Australians’ passion for a healthy lifestyle has increased, so too has their business, growing from a simple juice offering to embrace all manner of healthy food and drink options. Today Emma & Tom’s is almost synonymous with healthy living. And to hear Tom tell it, that’s just the way they like it.
“There seem to be a lot of ways to die, but eating well and controlling your weight appears to knock out most of them. People also know that they are happier when they are healthier,” Tom tells Kochie’s Business Builders.
It seems a fair enough premise on which to start a business. Tom says the idea for Emma and Tom’s came about after several shared conversations about putting healthier options on the table.
“Both Emma and I, independently, wanted to do our own thing, to build something. We saw super premium juices being sold in North America and the UK and loved the idea, so decided to have a crack ourselves. We didn’t think then that we would be running a much broader healthy drinks and snacks business in the future.”
Emma and Tom take their responsibility as one of the nation’s leading healthy beverage and snack producers very seriously. Tom tells KBB everything they do is motivated by their credo “look after yourself” which they hope inspires other Aussies to embrace a journey of health and wellbeing. An active and healthy lifestyle was always part of Tom’s agenda.
“My family were and still are very active and we always ate very natural healthy food,” Tom explains. “I loved my sport, which started with surfing and skiing as a boy, I rowed at school and university to a reasonable level, did triathlons, ran the London Marathon, climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and have completed my ski instructors qualification, in another life.
“I still look to doing something physical every day. Now I’m a father of two young girls, I’m very focused on feeding them delicious healthy meals.”
But it’s not just his kids that Tom wants to benefit from a healthier lifestyle. He thinks all Australians deserve to live their fullest healthiest happiest life.
“I truly believe that if you eat well, sleep well and exercise you perform a lot better. I like being healthy, fit and strong, it allows me to do more and to enjoy it.”
It’s also another reason the business operates under the credo ‘look after yourself’.
“’Look after yourself ‘came out of an early meeting, before we launched back in 2004. It’s perfect, as at Emma & Tom’s, we help people look after themselves, it’s what we are about,” he says.
Indeed the brand doesn’t just talk the talk – they walk it too. Recently Emma & Tom’s was given B Corp status. (B Corps redefine success in business by competing not to be the best in the world, but to be the best for the world).
“Emma and I have always believed that there is more to it than the bottom line. We believe that to be good corporate citizens a business needs to support social and environmental impacts as well as financial,” he explains.
This ethos translates across all their business decisions. The brand was one of the first to adopt the use of recycled PET bottles and several years ago launched a foundation with the Cotton On Group called The Unite Project, which has so far raised circa $300K to fight youth homelessness. It’s just one of the many ways Emma & Tom’s gives back to the community.
Since launching in 2004 with just a few fresh fruit juice lines, Emma & Tom’s has grown exponentially and like any business, they’ve had their teething issues. Tom says keeping the focus on the customer and on solving problems rather than being overwhelmed by them has helped them maintain an even keel.
“We have had bottling plants close down on us, key customers not be able to pay us, fermented juice in bottles… We feel that our biggest challenge is just our ability to get on with it, innovate great products that people love and getting them into consumers’ hands. When you run your own business, it’s always up to you.”
Many small businesses can get into trouble with managing cash flow – Tom says they have been able to avoid most of these growing pains by ensuring good business practices, cloud-based accounting solutions and managing exports sales to free up cash flow whilst negotiating good terms. Tom stresses the importance of making sure your accounts are in order.
“Clearly managing inventory, debtors and creditors effectively can provide huge leverage to our balance sheet and cash position,” he says “A large proportion of our direct sales to customers are made in cash, so this helps. Our increasing export sales to China, Jordan, etc. are paid either Ex Works or FOB, so export provides great cash flow. For the rest, it’s just based on our ability to negotiate terms with customers and suppliers.
Managing inventory and keeping up with customer demands is also especially important for a business like Emma & Tom’s.
“Inventory is the biggest number on our balance sheet, so yes, managing it is crucially important. We had to upgrade our accounting software to achieve this and have now employed a Production Planning and Procurement Manager, who manages all purchasing and production. We manage our customers’ inventory by visiting our proprietary customer base on a weekly basis, so we have a very intimate relationship with them. The major grocery chains have replenishment quotas that trigger their ordering,” Tom explains.
The pair also keeps a keen eye on trends in the marketplace and recently launched their own range of dairy products. In a saturated market, new products have to work doubly hard to be noticed, but Tom insists Emma & Tom’s products stand out.
“We spend a lot of time sourcing the best raw ingredients, then a lot more time perfecting the blend/mix. Running alongside this is the label, wrapper design, nutrition and planning marketing for the launch. With the No Added Sugar Milk range, like all of them, we run focus groups who provide feedback doing blind tastings and reviewing product concepts.”
These focus groups are integral to the success of a new product helping to define key messages, ideal packaging and sample size.
Tom proudly adds, “All products are made from REAL ingredients. There is no added sugar in our products. They’re made in Australia, using predominately Australian ingredients and Australian owned.”