When Sarah Cowan bought into her parents’ business, The Herb Farm in 2006, she had a fresh business degree and a vision – to take the brand global.
Fourteen years down the track, The Herb Farm is one of New Zealand’s top health and beauty brands with their handcrafted, 100% natural skincare and health products sold in 150 outlets across the country. Consumers also enjoy The Herb Farm’s products in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Tahiti.
Cowan’s mother Lynn Kirkland founded The Herb Farm as both a brand and a visitor destination in 1993. A trained herbalist, Kirkland had experienced amazing results from her homemade remedies, which she initially sold out of her hallway cupboard. Wanting to share her knowledge and products more widely, she established The Herb Farm. On the family’s property in rural Manawatū they built a shop and café set amongst the herb gardens.
Cowan credits her mother with being “a pioneer in the natural industry” and says her passion has always been gardening and formulating the products, rather than running the business. Kirkland was “quite happy to hand over the reins” allowing Cowan to step up as Company Director.
Having grown up in the business, Cowan brought insider knowledge to the role, however running a business continues to be “a massive learning experience”. Tapping into external resources and expertise has been key to their success.
The Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA) has provided ongoing support and she recommends other businesses take advantage of their services.
“You can go to them and say, ‘this is the problem I’m having’ and they can point you in the right direction if they can’t help you themselves,” says Cowan.
“They’re really good champions of businesses in the region.”
CEDA provided support and guidance through its team of Business Growth Advisors including opportunities to upskill management in areas such as strategic planning and export markets. They also actively promote The Herb Farm and its onsite store, café and gardens as a visitor destination, providing opportunities to get the brand in front of both domestic and international tourists. They recently did a photoshoot to help showcase the business on their website.
In 2019 CEDA supported The Herb Farm’s application to central government’s Provincial Growth Fund. They were successful in securing a loan, enabling them to construct a new manufacturing facility onsite. This will ensure they have the capacity to supply new export markets in the future.
Cowan says values can be challenged as businesses grow, but that The Herb Farm will not compromise its authenticity. The brand has always held tight to its core values and is committed to handcrafting 100% natural products, onsite, in the most sustainable way possible.
In a market where greenwashing – deceptively marketing a brand or product as environmentally friendly – is common, consumers are getting more savvy.
“They’re reading ingredients labels. They’re wanting to know that brands have been socially responsible, especially the new generation that’s coming up,” says Cowan.
Having a visitor destination where people can see the entire business in action maintains the brand’s authenticity and is a point of difference in an increasingly crowded market.
As a Company Director and mother of two, Cowan understands the constantly changing demands women face around juggling work, running a household and raising children.
“Some weeks work is a high priority… and then the next week your children and your family are.” And over the years, she’s learnt to be okay with that.
She’s excited to see more women stepping up into leadership roles and encourages women to be supportive of each other’s choices.
Cowan would also like to see more businesses using storytelling to market themselves.
“A lot of New Zealand businesses are doing some amazing things but sometimes they’re a bit quiet about it.”
The Herb Farm will continue innovating and evolving, keeping the brand relevant for their customers while expanding into new markets. Export agreements with Europe, Australia and China are currently in the pipeline.
“Now it’s time for The Herb Farm and its products to really spread its wings and push into some of these bigger export markets,” says Cowan.
From cottage industry to international exporter – with Cowan at the helm, it’s clear the future looks bright for The Herb Farm.
Sarah Cowan and Lynn Kirkland, The Herb Farm
If you’re looking to grow your business, CEDA can help
CEDA has an expert team of Business Growth Advisors who work across the Manawatū-Whanganui region, helping businesses of all sizes and in different sectors to grow.