Traditional Indonesian remedies called jamu inspired Sophie Todd to make her own. Kim Berry finds out how a kitchen experiment turned into Mrs Toddy’s Tonics, now available nationwide.
When Sophie Todd and her family took a year off, leaving Sydney’s Northern Beaches for Bali, developing a new business was not on the radar.
“We were burnt out. I had some health issues, but all of us were going through a pretty tough time. We needed a clean break and some space to recover,” Todd says.
While there, it became a dailyritual for Todd and her daughter to visit a local plant medicine man for his versions ofthe traditional remedies called jamu.
“It is a secret mix of herbs and botanicals, developed 2000 years ago in Java and used by the Balinese to treat a whole range of health problems. We used to go together and drink these tonics because we noticed how much better we felt afterwards,” she recounts.
When they returned to Australia, Todd could not find anything like jamu in stores, so started experimenting in her kitchen, trying to replicate the flavours of the jamu that had helped her in Bali.
“I was using fresh ginger and turmeric, so you can imagine how messy it was. My kitchen was splattered with fresh turmeric juice! I would mix a range of herbs and spices that had properties to restore, refresh or invigorate the mind, body and soul,” she says.
Today, Mrs Toddy’s range contains ingredients such as turmeric, cloves, ginger, lemongrass, chamomile, juniper berry, hibiscus, vegan collagen, and lipowheat.
As she made the tonics, Todd would share them with friends and then word of mouth spread news of their existence.
“I started thinking, well, if I make one litre I might as well make ten, and that became twenty. We got some space nearby and built a 180 litre pot, and then a second one. I was selling them at local markets and it was just taking off.
“We were using the markets as our training ground and R&D platform, taking feedback from our customers, and tweaking the recipes,” she says.
The original product portfolio includes Recovery, an anti-inflammatory; Immunity, a flu-fighting favourite; Glow, to soothe and restore the stomach and skin; and Chill Out, to help reduce anxiety and increase relaxation.
Todd returns regularly to Bali and visits the medicinal plant farm and jamu maker who taught her how to blend ingredients, as well as local plant scientists. Her formulations are then verified to ensure each ingredient provides the level of potency needed for her tonics to have a therapeutic affect.
“As we scale we are working with CSIRO, Austrade, and AusIndustry on how we can achieve further verification for our products,” she says.
And scaling is what MrsToddy’s Tonics is doing, with news coming through the day we met that the brand had secured national ranging with Woolworths from July. While exciting and the ultimate goal for Todd, scaling a product like her tonics is very difficult.
“It has taken four years to get to this point. When I was finessing the formulations, we were trying to find a contract manufacturer to work with. The challenge was finding a manufacturer that was interested in hot fill. I think I rang every single one in the state,” Todd recalls.
That process was made even harder due to Covid. Todd explains there are a lot more bottlers in Victoria but because of border closures heading south was off the table.
The tonics presented a whole new avenue for innovation as the beverage category simply didn’t exist in the market.
Initially, Todd was working out how to get shelf life naturally but as the business grew the process had to be increasingly robust.
“To make the tonics we have to activate the ingredients. Once that is achieved then it is bottled while hot. That means it can then be stored at an ambient temperature without killing the activated contents. The science of it is immense,” she says.
The products are shelf tested, and as the manufacturing process has been fine-tuned, the range’s shelf life has extended from six to 12 months.
The tonics contain no sugar or preservatives with 100 per cent natural ingredients that are vegan friendly.
“Consumers are clearly looking for products that offer something unique, appealing, fresh and healthy.
“Our tonics are completely different to juices and other drinks on the market and represent a niche in the fast-growing, better-for-you beverage category.
“As we transition from Covid lockdowns around the country, everyone is looking for ways to focus on their physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.
“Mrs Toddy’s is the perfect antidote to the stresses and pressures of day-to-day living. Its natural ingredients can help treat chronic pain, inflammation, and anxiety while promoting good health and relaxation,” Todd says.
Around 90 per cent of the ingredients are Australian, with transparency on where the remaining ingredients are sourced. The manufacturing process is carbon neutral and the tonics bottled in glass.
“We looked at using a plastic bottle, but having lived in Bali and seen the plastic waste there, we didn’t want to contribute to that problem,” Todd explains.
She is also in the process of R&D on the food waste from the tonics, including the possibility of developing a body scrub.
“Our ultimate goal is to be a zero waste brand,” she says.
As Mrs Toddy’s Tonics take off nationally, and with export conversations beckoning, Todd can take stock of what began at her kitchen table now providing comfort to people everywhere.
This article first appeared in the May 2022 edition of Food & Drink Business.