Drink business’s Christmas ‘spirits are lifted’ thanks to University’s support.

Posted on 21st December 2017

A Cheshire based drinks company is finding support from the University of Chester to be just the tonic for its growing business.

Maureen Robinson from Jeffrey’s Tonic
Maureen Robinson from Jeffrey’s Tonic

Jeffrey’s Tonic is a new company, which has a base at the University’s NoWFOOD Centre.  As the name suggests, Jeffrey’s specialises in tonics and founder Mike Robinson is toasting his partnership with NoWFOOD, which he says he has found to be the perfect blend.

Through NoWFOOD, the company has been able to access support from the Cheshire and Warrington Business Growth Programme. The University of Chester is a delivery partner of the project. With a £2.7m investment of European Regional Development Funding (ERDF), this innovative programme is bringing together key business support providers across Cheshire and Warrington to offer businesses access to growth support services.

Perfect for those considering a dry January, Jeffrey’s Tonic produces non-alcoholic tonic syrups, which are made from natural herbs and spices, with no artificial colours or flavours. As well as being tasty adult non-alcoholic drinks, they can also be used as mixers with spirits, and blended with cocktails. The range currently comprises: ‘Lime, Galangal and Orange’, ‘Yarrow, Rosehip and Elderflower’, ‘Not So Plain tonic’ and the ‘Original Recipe’, with seasonal flavours of cassia, nutmeg and allspice.

Despite Jeffrey’s still being less than a year old, it’s already being stocked in Chester’s Majestic Wine, The Cheese Shop and Chester Beer & Wine, while you can also buy it at Storyhouse, The Yard and others. Joseph Benjamin were the first to stock the product and have been serving Jeffrey’s from the start, marketed as very adult premium soft drinks.

Explaining how the business came about, Mike Robinson, joint owner of Jeffrey’s, says he had a lightbulb moment early one February morning:

“Last Christmas I was given a book on gins, tonic waters and syrups – with recipes for home-made tonics. I got the herbs and spices together and started giving them a go, and friends and relatives seemed to like the results. At the beginning of February, at 5am one morning, I woke up with the thought that this could actually be a great business idea. By the time my wife woke up at 8am, I’d put some costings together and suggested to her that we should go into business!”

Mike has a background in the food and drinks industry and is a Chemical Engineer, who worked at Heinz for many years. Food is very much a family business. One son, Will, who is the Brand Manager for Doritos, came up with the ‘Lift Your Spirits!’ tagline; another son, Ben, is an analyst; nephew, John, produced the company website; and his wife, Maureen (Mo), is a Home Economics teacher. Mike and Mo spent 12 years out in the Far East, which he says has provided the inspiration for the flavourings in the tonics.

Early recipe development in the home kitchen produced three of the tonic recipes, and they quickly realised they would need more professional support. Just one month after his original idea, a local Environmental Health Officer advised Mike to contact the NoWFOOD Centre, and he wasted no time getting in touch with the team, which is based on the University of Chester’s Parkgate Road Campus.

Mike explains: “A significant part of this operation has been the support I have received from NoWFOOD. I realised that I needed the equipment and resources to help take the business from a kitchen scale to the next level and the Centre Manager, Jeff George, and the team have been great. With its production kitchens, NoWFOOD has helped me refine the food production process, as well as managing the flow of the product during its production. It’s not always been an easy process, and the journey has been trickier than I had expected, so to have that support has been extremely helpful.”

In just 10 months, Jeffrey’s Tonic is already being supplied in a number of well known and popular outlets, but to take his product to the next level (ie. into supermarkets), they needed to put in place the recognised accreditation. They needed to establish quality systems which would satisfy requirements for traceability and manufacturing standards. Louise Palmer, who had been the global scientific services manager at Heinz, was recruited to establish the quality system framework and, given the manufacturing location, the NoWFOOD elements were clearly going to be key.

SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval) is recognised as a leading food safety certification scheme suited to small food and drink producers and entrepreneurs. This scheme provides a gateway for smaller companies to the national retailers. The team at NoWFOOD was instrumental in helping Jeffrey’s undertake and pass first time, with no corrective actions, achieving SALSA accreditation.

Jeff George, NoWFOOD Centre Manager at the University of Chester, said: “NoWFOOD has developed a Quality Management System containing all the operating policies and procedures required in a first class, food production facility. The quality management system has been designed so that it complements and underpins the client’s own business operating procedures. Mike Robinson of Jeffrey’s Tonic is the first of NoWFOOD’s clients to achieve the SALSA Certificate and we hope that this gives other businesses the confidence to know that they too can attain the SALSA Food Safety accreditation while working at NoWFOOD, supported by a dedicated team of industry professionals.”

The programme utilises the specialist expertise and facilities available from the delivery partners, which includes Higher and Further Education institutions, Local Authority Growth Teams and several science and business parks within the sub-region.

Heather Thompson, Head of Business Development at the University of Chester, said: “Mike Robinson and Jeffrey’s Tonic have achieved so much already in such a short space of time, and we at the University of Chester are delighted that we have played a significant part in his success to date. Not only are we proud of his individual achievement, but we also believe that by supporting Mike and his ongoing success (and other similarly ambitious local small businesses), this represents a longer term benefit to both the University and to the region.”

To find out more about the NoWFOOD Centre, please visit: https://www1.chester.ac.uk/business-growth/locations/nowfood-centre

More information about Jeffrey’s Tonic can be found on the company’s website: https://www.jeffreystonic.com/

Details about the Cheshire and Warrington Business Growth Programme can be found on the website: https://www1.chester.ac.uk/business-growth/projects/cheshire-and-warrington-business-growth-programme