An aromatic Norfolk farm is investing almost £250,000 to double the capacity of its essential oils business – a valuable diversification which helped it “weather the storm” while traditional crops struggled.
Ken Goodger and his family grow 100 acres of herbs including chamomile, clary sage, hemp, hyssop, yarrow, peppermint, angelica and lovage which are distilled into essential oils for perfumes, aromatherapy and body products and sold to customers around the world.
While more conventional arable enterprises are coping with the financial impacts of a poor harvest and Brexit uncertainties, Norfolk Essential Oils, based at Welney near Wisbech, is gearing up for an ambitious expansion to increase the company’s £700,000 turnover by another £450,000 per year.
The Goodger family have secured a £97,000 grant from the Rural Development Programme for England to pay for 40pc of a project to upgrade their purpose-built steam distillation plant with two new vats, a clean room for storing oils, and a conditioning floor to improved the quality and minimise deterioration of their finished product.
Mr Goodger said the ability to add value to high-quality end products has been an important factor in safeguarding the income of the wider farm – which also grows potatoes, sugar beet, wheat, barley and spring beans across its 750 acres.
“We have spread the risk,” he said. “The essential oils are the only products we grow that we can set the price for. For everything else, we are told by the buyer what they are going to pay us, and if you don’t take it, you don’t sell it.
“We are not growing just one crop and we are not selling just one product. We are just about to launch a body lotion and a cleanser, so we want to have our own cosmetic range with our own product in it.
“The advantage we have with the products we produce in the distillery, over the products we produce for people to eat, is that the products we produce in the distillery can be stored in a can for 10 years if we had to, without degrading.
“You can’t store a crop if potatoes for 10 years. So we can manage the risk. We can ride out any troughs there are and we can afford not to sell it at a loss.”
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Norfolk Essential Oils started in 1996 as part of an initiative to find new revenue streams for Norfolk County Farms tenants, making them less reliant on volatile commodity prices and subsidies.
From an initial trial plot of five acres, Mr Goodger said the company has “grown faster than I possibly could have expected”, and now sells to wholesalers and end users in New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Taiwan, China, the Americas and throughout Europe.
He said revenue was damaged by the coronavirus pandemic, as perfume sales were hit by lockdown high street closures and the loss of duty-free sales at airports – although online aromatherapy orders grew while people stayed at home.
“At the same time in March/April we had 50 acres’ worth of chamomile plants ready to plant,” he added. “Covid started and, of course, you cannot put people side by side on the planting machine so we were told: it is not food, you cannot plant it, you are going to have to dump it.
“We were lucky, we negotiated with the nursery and they took the plants back and we split the cost. We are talking about £15,000 of plants. It just goes to show that every business was affected in some shape or form.”
Mr Goodger, who runs the business with his wife Debra, son Sean and daughter Kim, said trade had returned in the last couple of months as consumer buying habits had evolved. “In fact, we have never been so busy, the phones have been ringing off the hook,” he said.
The grant application was handled by Katie Hilton, associate at property agency Cheffins, who said: “The Goodgers are the most diverse provider of essential oils in the UK and this has allowed them to weather the storm of decreased yields across traditional crops this harvest.
“Before embarking on expansion following being awarded the grant, the Norfolk Essential Oils business was struggling to keep up with demand, particularly as the some of their largest wholesale customers looked to scale up their requirements. Ken and his family are now able to supply some of the biggest wholesalers of these products to the cosmetic, food, flavour and fragrance and health and wellness industries.
“Whilst a combination of a poor harvest, Covid and lengthy Brexit negotiations have all hit farmers hard over the past year, Norfolk Essential Oils has bucked the trend with sales remaining firm.”
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