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Lynn Kirkland’s personal mission to help her family became a thriving business that now sees her chemical-free herbal products exported to Australia, Japan and China. The business that began with a half-acre of land, a spade and a giant leap into the unknown, has won ethical and sustainable business awards and seen daughter Sarah Cowan step in to help drive expansion.

EXP: Where did your passion for herbs come from and what are some of the most remarkable things you’ve discovered about them?
Lynn: I have always had a passion for plants and gardening. Studying for my herbal diploma was a time of discovery of how effective herbs are for our health needs and because the results of the products I made during this study was so amazing it ignited a lifelong passion and belief in the power of herbs. One of the most remarkable things I have discovered is to never underestimate the efficacy of pure botanical treatments using nature’s gifts; our healing herbs. Some of the simplest treatments are the most effective.

EXP: How do you think people’s overall perception of herbs as medicinal products has evolved over time?
Lynn: Thirty years ago, herbs were regarded as very alternative. Slowly there has been a change in thinking about herbal medicine, with more people choosing it as their first approach to wellbeing rather than a last resort if conventional medicine has failed to give desired results.

EXP: People say The Herb Farm has always been ahead of its time. Is this true and how does the reality of the business today match up with your original expectations?
Lynn: Yes, I think perhaps The Herb Farm was ahead of its time in some ways. To develop a business based solely on herbs was future thinking but when you passionately believe that herbs are safe, amazing and effective, you want the world to know. I always saw The Herb Farm expanding into a centre for people to visit and be inspired.
Twenty one years ago I didn’t plan to get into exporting and it has been the visionary planned expansion by my daughter, Sarah Cowan who is driving this side of the business.

EXP: How did you first get involved in exporting and what have been some of the milestones?
Lynn: We have been receiving export enquiries steadily over the years but until recently haven’t felt the time was right. We made the strategic decision to explore export markets last year and have a planned approach to this. Our first milestone was the first export order going to Australia last year. We have identified Hong Kong as the next market to enter and are working with NZTE to put together a plan for this market.

EXP: How does your herb production and processing stack up against overseas producers and what do overseas customers like about your product?
Lynn: We are still a boutique company compared with some of our overseas competitors and the volume of herbs we harvest and use from the farm are comparatively small. Overseas customers like the fact that our product is from New Zealand (pure, green, clean), 100 percent natural, made on-site by a family owned company and are based purely on herbs. We have customers frequently comment on the values and ethics of the business.

EXP: What is the potential for export sales do you think? And what will drive the demand?
Lynn: I think the potential for export sales is huge. The natural skincare industry is growing and we have points of difference which customers are looking for. The key to success in export markets will be finding the right distribution partners.

EXP: How are your products marketed and distributed in your main export markets?
Lynn: Australia is our first export market and our products are being marketed and distributed by a new company. It is a small company and growth in this market will be strategic and steady over the next two to three years.
We are currently looking for the right distribution partner to cover the Hong Kong market.

EXP: What lessons can you share about exporting?
Lynn: It is still a new area for us but to date the key lessons have been to find the right partners, get all the expectations and contracts very clear from the start and ensure you have the capacity to cater for the production growth required.

EXP: What really gets on your wick about today’s herbal remedy marketplace?
Lynn: Greenwashing really gets me fired up – companies that emphasise that there are herbs in their products but also have ingredients detrimental to our health in the formulas makes me cross.

EXP: Describe your most satisfying moments with the business.
Lynn: My most satisfying days are when I see the herb farm buzzing with happy customers. Enjoying healthy herb flavoured food in the cafe which has beautiful indoor/outdoor dining so you can sit among the herbs and watch the bees and butterflies and hear the birds. And seeing families exploring our 14 themed gardens being inspired to grow herbs at home.
Hearing customers in the shop saying how amazing a product has worked for them. Seeing the products being made with care and given a positive intention for their specific use; then the courier van arriving to pick up our parcels to deliver them to retailers and customers around New Zealand and out in the world. Knowing that these products are world class and will be loved by those who use them.

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