First Thyme lucky for Jo’s tasty herbal drinks

Jo Segrave-Daly with her children Bride, Niamh, Arann and Orla. Photo: Bill Smith Jo Segrave-Daly with her children Bride, Niamh, Arann and Orla. Photo: Bill Smith

Tara Greaves
Friday, August 22, 2014
2:52 PM

With four children, ranging in age from six months to almost 18 years, it might seem like Jo Segrave-Daly already has her hands full.

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When her third child, Arann, was about a year old however her husband suggested she share her passion for herbal drinks, which she had always made for the family, with the wider world.

Now, as she returns to work following the birth of her fourth baby, Orla, First Thyme, which she started in the family kitchen, has its biggest contract to date – supplying its expanding range of drinks to the online supermarket Ocado.

“When I fell pregnant with Orla we had just done a pitch to Ocado,” said Jo, who explained the event had been set up by the Soil Association, which has certified her range of organic infusions for children.

“We went and did our Dragons’ Den style pitch and we heard a few weeks later that we had been successful. They wanted First Thyme to help refresh their baby product range.”

There was more good news to come as bosses at Ocado, which delivers an average of 18,000 orders a day, were willing to wait for Jo, 42, to be ready to return to work for the contract to begin.

“I started First Thyme in my kitchen and then had to hire a kitchen but now, to be able to meet the Ocado order I’m having to speak to contract bottlers,” said Jo, who is married to Justin, who works as an environmental consultant.

Before she had to wind down the business while on maternity leave, Jo’s gentle drinks were available in East of England Co-Operative stores as well as in several local farm shops and delicatessens.

And while the Ocado contract takes things to the next level, starting First Thyme was always about more than just income.

“It was wonderful to see it in shops, there was a real sense of achievement - and not just in an ‘I’ve had an idea and there it is’ way. My ultimate motivation was to get children enjoying naturally flavoursome drinks with virtue.”

The ready to serve drinks, which are made with water from a Norfolk spring, come under the headings of soothing, calming and protective.

“I believe that it’s not just about having a natural drink, because we all want to give our children something which is not full of sugar and aspartame, but also the virtue of the herb,” added Jo, who is a former teacher.

“By that I mean herbs have different properties, for example lemon balm might help cool you down or rosehip is naturally fortifying and high in vitamin C and nettles are good for iron, things like that.”

The company officially launched in 2012 but Jo and Justin had spent many months making sure everything was in place and getting certifications in place took time.

“I had started making the teas again for Arann and Justin said, ‘why don’t you turn this into a business?’ You think it sounds the most simple of things to do - I want to make herbal teas and pass the word on - but of course when you start making a product for someone else rather than just your own children there is quite a lot more involved,” said Jo, who lives in Reepham.

She was also clear that she wanted it to be an organic product and also suitable for vegans, as they had dabbled with the diet, and so sought advice from the University of East Anglia and a nutritionist.

“We officially launched in February 2012 at the King of Hearts in Norwich and invited managers of local supermarkets, other retailers and mummy bloggers along,” she said.

Herbalism has always been a big part of both Jo and Justin’s Irish family history – her mother is from County Offaly and Justin’s family are from Kilkenny.

“The tradition side of it is very important. All the children’s names are from Irish fairytales we have been brought up with,” said Jo.

Her interest in herbs was sparked as a teenager and when Bride came along in 1997, followed by Niamh in 1998 it seemed natural to give them the herbal teas she herself enjoyed (to drink or in their bath water).

“They have medicinal properties but also, if you believe in it, things for the spirit and wellbeing,” said Jo, who has been mentored by Roger Munby of Saxlingham Associates who is former chairman of Norwich City Football Club. While Orla and Arann, who is now four, take their naps and sleep, Jo has not only been working on new products to add to the range but also keeping in touch with her customers.

“I had to wind things down for six months because although First Thyme was popular it couldn’t be sustained without me,” said Jo.

“Sometimes you have to accept you can’t do it all but if you use your time wisely you can make the best of things.

“Social media is great and blogging is a way of keeping in touch with other mums which has helped tremendously. It has kept me very much in the thick of it, I don’t feel removed from it at all.”

The aim is to be up and running again by autumn and Jo is hopeful that she can pick up where she left off, with support from her family, but selling a baby product is not the easiest of things.

“You not only have to earn a mother’s trust but you also have to compete with the things they usually buy. It is a longer journey when you don’t have that brand name or a huge marketing budget but it’s worth persevering.”

One of the important ways Jo gets the First Thyme name out there is by attending events such as country fairs where she does tastings.

“The art of it is catching children when they are young and tailor and train their taste buds,” she said.

Jo also describes her business as “Earth kind” and supports the principle of giving time and money to a cause close to her heart – in this case, the Fairyland Trust, which helps children discover the magic of nature and receives a percentage of each bottle sold.

She added: “First Thyme is a family effort, we brought it to market together, and I am enormously grateful to Justin for his unending support and belief in me and to Bride and Niamh for sharing their experiences with mums at fairs. And to Arann and Orla who continue to inspire me and nap to allow mummy to work.”

To buy First Thyme online visit www.first-thymes.co.uk or call 07789 724748.

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