Emma & Tom’s: from home office to juice and snack empire

There are plenty of reasons to start a small business. You might have a skill to share or a product to sell. Or you could simply be looking for a challenge, as was the case for childhood friends Emma Welsh and Tom Griffith – co-founders of Melbourne-based juice and snack business, Emma & Tom’s. “Emma and I had been friends for a long time and we both wanted to do our own thing,” Griffith says. “We liked the idea of a challenge.”

He says it was a trip to North America more than a decade ago that sparked their business idea. During his travels, he noticed cafes selling natural, whole fruit smoothies. “We saw this type of product and loved it, and realised there was nothing like it in Australia,” Griffith says. “That was our inspiration.”

In 2004, Welsh and Griffith pooled their savings and left their corporate jobs to take on the juice industry. With no industry experience, they spent a year learning the ropes: finding a bottle manufacturer, fruit suppliers and distributors, and working with a designer to create their brand. “We started from absolute scratch,” Griffith explains. “We were working from home; there was no point blowing money on an office for just the two of us.”

The duo launched their business with four whole fruit juice flavours. Today, they sell 45 different products in over 5,000 Australian outlets and export to several Asian and Middle Eastern countries. They have workspaces in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth; 50 full-time team members; and 44 vans on the road. “The business is bigger today than we ever thought it would be, or first aimed it to be,” Griffith says.

Co-founders of Emma & Tom's juice and snacks, Tom Griffith and Emma Welsh


The importance of being 'real'

As they sold more and more products and developed a following, Welsh and Griffith added to their product range, partnered with major supermarkets and put together a team. “We’ve always been of the ‘up or out’ mentality,” Griffith says of the decision to expand. Although the business has grown organically over time, expansion has been on the cards since the very beginning. "We regard working in a business that's stalling as being pretty boring," he explains.

Growth, he says, has been due in large part to the close and honest relationship between the brand and its customers. Emma & Tom’s Instagram feed shows people using their products: coconut water on a yoga mat, or a juice next to a nutritious lunch. “It shows that Emma & Tom’s is part of their life,” Griffith Says. “I think the word that sums up what we are – and what brands are looking for now – is ‘real’. It makes sense: the content of our products are real. Emma and I are real. All of our team and vans are real. We have a presence.”

Griffith says creating authenticity is essential when you want people to purchase – or, in his case, consume – your products. “Millenials in particular are very interested in what a brand stands for. They ask themselves, ‘Why should I buy this?’ It’s a fair enough question. You need to build trust by being clear about what you stand for.”

Embracing innovation

A willingness to innovate has also helped the business grow. “As Emma & Tom’s has evolved, we’ve added other healthy drinks and snacks to the brand,” Griffith says. These include brewed iced teas, quenchers, Kombucha, sparkling juices, and a range of snack bars made from dried fruit, raw nuts and seeds. “The bars have really shown we've got some brand stretch,” Griffith says. “We’re not just a super premium juice company. We’re a healthy drinks and snacks brand now.”

The business is currently preparing for another growth spurt, having just launched a range of no-added sugar flavoured milks. “That’s a real game changer,” Griffith says. “No one’s done that before.”

Noticing that flavoured milk hadn’t changed since the 1970s, the team decided to put its own nutritious spin on the product. “Milk, for us, ushers in an exciting era,” Griffith says. “It doesn't leave behind juice and our other products at all, but it shows we have a healthy alternative for everything.

“It’s all about innovation,” he adds. “It's important to always be looking at what you can do next.”

Emma and Tom's range of healthy and delicious juices

Learning by connecting

While growth has been essential to the success of Emma & Tom’s, Griffith says it has also been one of their greatest challenges. It has meant finding new technology to help them work smarter and faster, recruiting (and communicating with) a team, and always looking for the ‘next big thing’.

His strong partnership with Welsh has been key to overcoming such obstacles. “Emma and I work closely together and we always try to do what’s in the best interests of our consumers, rather than ourselves,” he says. “That tends to guide us well. We also believe there’s a solution to every problem.”

Taking advice from other business owners has also proved beneficial. “In the early years, we didn’t," Griffith explains. "It wasn't through any sense of not needing to, we just didn't think about it.”

No one will give you the answer to every question, but Griffith believes you can learn a lot from people in your own industry, as well as parallel businesses. “It's incredibly helpful and it's free,” he says, adding that these meetings are also an opportunity to make new connections. “If we have a meeting with someone we’ve been introduced to, we try to get another introduction from them,” Griffith says. “One meeting begets another. You don't learn much sitting at your desk, tapping away at emails.”

Investing yourself in the business

One lesson Griffith and Welsh have learnt is that it’s best to do as much as you can yourself. “Emma and I came from big corporate backgrounds, so we were used to outsourcing things,” Griffith says. “But we quickly realised that you do a better job when you do it yourself.” For this reason, they now oversee everything – from stock distribution right down to the Christmas party.

It might seem overwhelming, but Griffith says small business owners can get through their workload by managing their priorities. “Ask yourself: What are the three important things I should be doing today?” he suggests.

And before taking a small business to the next level, he recommends questioning your commitment. “It's like having a child,” he says. “You’ve got to love it and be highly emotionally engaged.”

He adds that it’s also beneficial to get out of your bubble and take a helicopter view of the business before making any major changes. “It’s really important to get that perspective before it gets going.”

Four tips for business growth

Tom Griffith shares some key steps that have helped his small business expand.

1. Size requires scale. We've worked hard to ensure strong business systems are in place to support growth and minimise costs.

2. Know your worth. Competing purely on price is a race to the bottom.

3. Build a great team. We've found stalking people on LinkedIn to be particularly effective.

4. Get your finances in order. Spend time managing your cash flow.