Perhaps unsurprisingly, one particular diversification trend farmers and landowners have become particularly passionate about is alcohol production. The craft beer, English wine and artisan gin markets are flourishing and more businesses are setting up on-site distilleries and putting their tastebuds to good use. It’s not only the alcohol business that’s flourishing – innovative teetotal options with traceability are also experiencing a surge in popularity. Knight Frank have caught up with two producers who have set up flourishing businesses – here’s what they had to say.
“It’s possible to drink our tea all the way from Cornwall to Amsterdam,” Jonathon Jones said, as he outlined the remarkable story of Europe’s first tea plantation, Cornwall’s historic Tregothnan Estate.
Tregothnan tea is now served on the GWR trains linking Penzance to London and to Eurostar’s first-class passengers, as well as being exported all the way to China says Mr Jones, who looks after the estate’s unique 100-acre garden and its varied trading activities.
Although the mere thought of producing tea in England was ridiculed by many when he first proposed the idea of creating ‘the most British of teas’ almost 20 years ago, Mr Jones stuck to his guns. He was convinced Tregothnan’s unique microclimate, not dissimilar to Darjeeling in India where the ‘champagne of teas’ is produced, meant he could be onto a winner.
The estate was already home to over 2,000 varieties of ornamental camellia and other plants native to areas where tea is traditionally grown – collected by members of the Boscawen family who have lived there since 1334 – so why not Camellia sinensis, the tea bush?
But success did not come by chance; Mr Jones made sure he did his homework before embarking on the new venture – a valuable lesson for anybody thinking of setting up a new business.
“I applied for a Nuffield Scholarship and travelled to tea-producing regions all over the world to learn how it was produced,” he said.
One thing he quickly realised was that marketing would be the key to success. “You have to approach diversifications like this as a brand manager, not just a producer,” he explained. “Being a price taker is hopeless. Most tea is basically sold as
a cheap commodity so we needed to have the confidence that we could redefine the market and create a brand that would be perceived as affordable luxury. People said we were crazy.”
But his doubters have been proven spectacularly wrong – the operation is now a multi-million pound international business based around a 100-acre tea garden, and Mr Jones has showed that people will pay for good tea; just 200g of the estate’s finest will set you back £150 in Fortnum & Mason.
However, success is not taken for granted. “The need for innovation is constant,” he said. The estate now produces a wide range of traditional and herbal teas, more correctly known as tisanes, and Mr Jones is constantly on the lookout for new opportunities.
In March he was in Florida at the launch of a new tea brand – Sunset Polo – that Tregothnan has created for the eight-goal US polo player Nic Roldan. He is also working on a Manuka honey smoked Earl Grey tea with chef Raymond Blanc.
By 2020, Mr Jones expects the estate to be growing 150 acres of tea bushes, but he is also looking at other areas where Tregothnan could excel, using the brand presence created by its tea as a spearhead. “We could grow many more cut flowers; it’s a market that’s worth over £1bn in the UK,” he said.
The estate also sells tea bushes to other estates around the country, although none as yet has rivalled the success of Tregothnan. “There are lots of opportunities on all farms and estates, but the answer will be unique to each,” advised Mr Jones. “You just need to be innovative and remember that nobody owes you a living.”
When Tom Warner decided the family beef farm needed to diversify, little did he realise that he would end up as one of the leading lights of the burgeoning British gin industry.
But gin wasn’t even near the top of the list of the 30 or 40 potential ideas he discussed with his family in 2009 over the kitchen table of Falls Farm, nestled in a picturesque corner of Northamptonshire.
“We were actually thinking about the distillation of floral oils, but gin sounded more exciting,” said Tom who runs the distillery, located in a converted 200-year-old barn, alongside his wife Tina.
Much of the farm’s land is classified as a scheduled ancient monument because it sits on the remains of medieval monastic fishponds. That makes it impossible to do anything bar grazing livestock, but the springs that fed the ponds now provide the water for the gin distillation process. “The terroir of the land is going into every bottle,” said Tom
A botanical garden is the source of inspiration when developing new recipes – Warner Edwards now boasts five gins, all of them award winners – while elderflowers picked on the farm are the crucial ingredient for one of the business’s fastest growing flavours. Rhubarb, originally grown for Queen Victoria on a Crown Estate farm, and used in another of their best sellers, is also pressed on the farm.
Authenticity is crucial when you’re trying to establish a brand, says Tom “It’s something that big companies cry out for and spend huge amounts of money trying to fabricate, but if there’s one thing that small farm businesses like us can really bring to the market it’s authenticity. There has never been a better time to start a business.”
But that doesn’t mean creating a brand is easy, quick or cheap, even when you have the right credentials, he points out. “You still have to invest a lot of time and money; the amount we have spent on branding and our website is scary. There is a big difference between a brand and a business that has a name. You can’t cut corners with a premium product – people see straight through it.”
Social media has also played a vital role in promoting the business. Although a lot of content is created in-house, Tom uses a specialist agency for strategic advice. “What we’ve discovered is that Facebook is now used by an older demographic,” he said. “Most of our followers are 30 to 40-year-old women, but the real growth in gin consumption is among 20 to 30-year olds. We’ve had to raise our game on sites such as Instagram and Snapchat.”
However, it’s not just about technology, he stresses. Engaging with potential customers in the real world by attending specialist gin festivals, trade shows and consumer events like the BBC Good Food Show is also crucial. “You have to be everywhere, because you never know who will be in the room – you make your own luck,” he added.
All the passion and investment that Tom and his team have put into the business is really starting to pay off. Annual production is forecast to triple this year to almost 400,000 bottles and Warner Edwards’ gin is now stocked in both Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.
“Our rhubarb gin is the fifth best-selling gin for M&S and it’s still only being stocked in a third of their stores,”
said Tom. Exports are also growing with strong demand from Germany and Denmark, and potential interest from China
The forecasts for the growth in gin consumption are very positive, but with over 200 new distilleries opening since Warner Edwards first launched four years ago, staying ahead of the competition is vital. For instance, a new top-secret gin developed using ingredients from the botanical garden is due to be launched this summer.
Tom is a man on a mission. “I want to save the world from mediocre gin.”