The story begins back in 1983, when my father, Nicholas Murray-Leslie, bought Moewai Farm in Whitianga, New Zealand. Having previously owned a farm in regional New South Wales, Australia, my father was interested in natural medicines and organic farming processes.
When Moewai Farm was purchased, it was operating as a sheep and cattle farm. It was hard work and the farm was not able to sustain this kind of intense use of the land. After running stock on the farm for almost 6 years, my father knew he had to make a change. He started to think about how he could preserve the farmland whilst still being able to make a living from it.
An Idea Sparked
At the time, the Manuka and Kanuka plants were growing wild across the farm and spread quickly. My father had always known a bit about the native plants (commonly known as New Zealand Tea Tree Oil) – hence the name of his company) as theyhad long been used by the Maori people to help with common ailments. He started researching to see what else he could do with the plants, and that is where the idea sparked to make Manuka and Kanuka Oils.
For the first time since owning the farm, we decided to let the plants grow. What had previously been paddocks for cattle grazing became fields of wild harvest within a matter of years.
The First Batch of Manuka Oil is Produced
Despite his extensive research, my father needed someone who knew the science behind Manuka, so he enlisted the help of two experts, Professor Merz and Professor Haskell, both of whom would become good friends. Together they builtthe first distillation system by which the Manuka and Kanuka Oils could be extracted. The system was very basic and rustic and was housed in the old barn. It was here that the old barn was transformed into the Coromandel Mountains Tea Tree Oil Company.
After many months of planning and building, the day had finally come to distil the first Manuka bush. The original harvesting method was quite basic in the early days, out on the tractor with a trailer and big wool sacks to put the brush in. From there, it was then transferred into steel bins that were lowered into the distillation unit.
In 1991, the first batch of Manuka Oil was successfully produced on Moewai Farm.
Now what to do with the oil?
Making the oil was one thing – but working out what to do with it was the next challenge.
My father and stepmother first startedselling the oil in small 10ml bottles. In the early days, they would sit there at night with an old ceramic teapot and pour oil into the bottles – trying to spill as little as they could. The oil wasalsoused to make soap which was the first product we made and still sell to this day (under the original brand Coromandel Mountains Tea Tree Oil Company).
The soaps and oils were sold in independent stores throughout New Zealand, and over the years has built up a collection of hundreds of small retailers, but in the early days whilst the soap and oil were popular, it wasn’t enough to keep the business afloat.
Dad searched for more customers and met Trevor Craig, who was the Managing Director of Bin Inn – a large chain of franchised Bulk Wholefood and Speciality Groceries. Mr Craig put in the first order, stocking the product in more than 60 stores, which enabled the business to stand on its own. And the original products are still stocked there to this day.
The Family Business Expands
In August 2009, I received a call from my father, who was overseas with my stepmother in Belgium. Sadly, my stepmother suffered a stroke, which stripped her of movement down the left side of her body and 90% of her vision, meaning they would have to stay in Belgium for over a yearwhile she got the care she needed.
I was in Sydney working on a start-upcompany at the time and had only just seen them a few days earlier as they stopped by to visit.I offered to fly to New Zealand to look after things for a while. When they returned, I realised I couldn’t leave as my stepmother required 24-hour care.
The Start of Manuka Biotic
After three years running the farm and manuka oil businesswithout any profit and while still supporting my family,I knew I had to expand the business or let it go.
As the first step to growing revenue, we increased our Manuka and Kanuka Oil production and sold it to companies who used the oil in skincare products. That’s where I got the idea to start my own skincare business.
Having run the family business for a few years now, I saw the fantastic potential Manuka and Kanuka Oils had.
With no experience creating skincare, I enrolled in an Entrepreneurship Business course and researched manufacturers who could help make the products. It was here, I found Pauling Industries, who took a chance on us and made the product despite me nothaving the funds to pay them in fullfor the first batch. Samples were made in 2012, and by 2015 we had perfected the formula and made our first sale. We now stock our products in over 200stores across New Zealand.
A Special thanks
Having been around for over 25 years, we have overcome many obstacles and some amazing triumphs along the way. We couldn’t have done any of this without the help of so many people throughout the years who have made the brand what it is today.
To those that helped harvest the Manuka and Kanuka Oils. To the local community who have shown immense support and the neighbours that came rushing to our door with a water tanker the day our sheds burnt down. It’s so nice to know that New Zealand people come together to help one another when needed in times of crisis.
A big thank you to our customers, you are the reason we continue to operate and do what we do, and it still brings me great joy to hear the feedback on how we have helped people.
To my friends and family; my fiancé Alex, and my two wonderful kids, Ella and William, for constantly inspiring me.