A new player is set to shake up the personal care market in Australia, if its success in the UK is anything to go by. Childs Farm is the UK’s largest baby and child toiletries brand after Johnson’s Baby with 20 per cent market share, and recently launched into the Australian market securing retail partnerships with BIG W, Amazon and Healthy Life.
The multi-award winning brand, designed specifically for sensitive skin, has seen triple digit growth every year for the last seven years in the UK, and is hoping to have similar success in Australia.
Inside FMCG sat down with Childs Farm founder Joanna Jensen on her recent trip to Sydney to discuss her journey with the business and its expansion to Australia.
The entrepreneur and mum-of-two began formulating the range back in 2011 to cater for her “littlest one” Bella who had extremely sensitive and allergic skin.
“It literally was boiling up things on the kitchen stove to see what I could create,” Joanna told Inside FMCG.
“I had a fairly good idea about natural medicine… We’ve always bred horses so we cooked up our own concoctions anyhow. I knew what I didn’t want to use which I think is fundamentally the most important thing. So I fiddled around myself with all the ingredients at home.”
It was sometime later when Joanna was introduced to a manufacturer in the UK and they began creating the first six formulations.
A money game
While the business has been a roaring success in the UK, Joanna admits that the first few years were particularly difficult.
“Ultimately any small business lives and dies by the amount of cash that they’ve got. The first three to four years were pretty tough, if I’m being brutally honest, and we’ve had three rounds of fundraising. But I’ve got extremely understanding shareholders and in the last round of fundraising two years ago, each and every one of them bought back into the business, which was amazing. They could see the traction that we have, they could see the energy that we were still managing to sustain. And they backed us and thank goodness they did.”
Joanna describes FMCG as “a money game” and says to be successful you have to truly believe in what you’re doing, and other people will too.
“Somebody once said to me that the worst thing about a small business is excessive growth. And I would describe that as a quality problem. We’ve had triple digit growth since we started. And with that comes obviously huge amounts of excitement. But you know you do tend to make mistakes, but you can’t sit there and just live by your mistakes, you’ve got to celebrate your success.”
While the backing of shareholders helped get the business off the ground, Joanna also says that timing was a huge factor.
“I think our timing was pretty immaculate on a number of fronts. One there has been a bit of a global backlash against global pharmaceutical companies, it’s happened in food as well. Everybody wants to know where things come from, and they’re very keen to support artisan brands. There was a complete shift from parents wanting to go to more natural and organic ingredients in children’s skincare products.”
Joanna also credits the rise of social media which has helped the business flourish and played a part in the decision to expand to Australia. When the brand began to gather momentum on social media, people from around the world took note, with Australian consumers particularly interested in the benefits for eczema-prone skin.
“Our principle claims and our principle USP on the whole of the range is that it is suitable for sensitive and also safe for people whose skin may be prone to eczema. The propensity for eczema in Australia is very high – Three in 10 under-10s have Atopic eczema, therefore it was a natural progression for us and obviously the added bonus is that it’s English speaking.”
The Childs Farm products have all been through clinical safety tests with people who have medically diagnosed eczema but participants in these trials must be over 18, which presented a problem as the products are for babies and children.
“I felt really strongly we had to do something that engendered trust for our parents, so we undertake independent user trials on newborn babies age 0-3 month and children with medically diagnosed eczema age 0 to 18 months and it’s their feedback that gave us the faith and the strength to say, ‘yep, this is great for parents’.”
The brand also did some trials with Australian parents when it first launched, and 97 per cent of the 372 participants said they would recommend the range to other parents.
“We’ve been quite overwhelmed actually by the response since we launched in December 2018 in Big W. The testimonials from people who’ve tried the brand and the success that they’ve experienced has been phenomenal and it has replicated exactly what happened in the UK. We’ve seen ePos levels in our retail partners go through the roof.”
Joanna describes the expansion to Australia as like working with her “Aussie cousins” and in fact one of the children on the bottles is her Australian cousin’s son!
“Both my girls are on the artwork, Oscar my Aussie cousin’s son, but also all the animals that are on the artwork are or were our animals; so the ponies, the pig, the tractor, we’ve still got at home. Everyone who’s on there actually has a story.”
“The kids are brilliant. They take it all in their stride. No one, touch wood, has yet turned round to say ‘mum who dare you’, they actually squabble over who’s being used on the most bottles and they come up with brilliant ideas.”
Where’s the apostrophe?
Similarly, the name Childs Farm stemmed from the family’s own farm yard.
“One day in the middle of my turmoil of trying to decide what call it, the light is streaming in through this window [in the farm] and really for the first time I notice this graffiti on the glass, the name Richard Childs and the date 1745, and I thought gosh that’s quite an unusual name. The next day we went into church and I was sitting next to a stained glass window, and I realized it was dedicated to the Childs family.”
Joanna went to visit a historian and discovered that the Childs family were the people that built her house, hence the name Childs Farm.
“I get a lot of people who write to us about where our apostrophe is… well we don’t have one, but I can honestly say the reason is because it was a surname. The apostrophe obviously should be after the ‘s’ but we took the view that it would make life a little bit complicated for retailers if we put an apostrophe there.”
With authenticity becoming more and more important to consumers, the connection to the family story has helped the brand to grow. For that reason, Childs Farm has created two new characters for the Aussie market: Jenny and Jojo, a kangaroo and a joey named after Joanna and her mother. The brand has also adopted a new label which includes surfing kangaroos.
“We’ve got to embrace everything that we’re doing in Australia. We already use Australian tea tree oil in a number of our products… we’re actually going to go and see the plantation where that’s made so we can share that with our consumers but we’re also looking at other Australian indigenous plants that we can use to create new products.”
The Childs Farm range includes moisturisers, bubble baths and shampoos, and at one point, a bottle of the brand’s hero product, the baby moisturiser, was sold every 14 seconds in the UK.
“Everything that we’ve produced is either because I’ve wanted it or because we’ve been badgered by our consumers to create it. When I say we are absolutely consumer driven we are totally. We wouldn’t be where we are now without our consumers and if we don’t deliver what they want, there’s not really much point.”
And there’s plenty more in the pipeline as far as products are concerned. At Joanna’s last count in January her product list was at 54.
“I get quite excited about innovation, it’s what I enjoy the most. We’re always looking at new ingredients out there, looking at things that happen in mainstream beauty… This year we’ve actually launched a slightly older looking fragrance because my eldest is now 13.”
With her children acting as inspiration for the business and providing the perfect subjects for the playful packaging, Joanna is confident that the brand is safe in their hands.
“As a working single mum I think I’ve ticked my box about telling my children how important it is to do a job and do it well. The little one, who’s 10, wants to take over from me! She keeps on asking me when I’m going to stop. So I’ve already got a succession plan!”