Are you doing Dry January? Well a Yorkshire farmer has brought out a new grown-up soft drink that could help you. Catherine Scott meets Annabel Makin-Jones.
Farming is in Annabel Makin-Jones’s DNA. She is a fifth- generation Yorkshire farmer, having run the family farm near Leeds for the last 15 years. But she is also a shrewd businesswoman and entrepreneur. Annabel was determined to follow a career in agriculture from being a small child. “I was always involved in the business, from working in the office to answering phones, from the age of eight or nine. I loved it and went to agricultural college where I studied for four years for a degree in food production and marketing,” she says.
Makins was founded in 1955 when Edmund Makin invested in 350 acres of farming land and a farmyard which today is the location of the business’s large office complex and 200,000 sq ft of storage facilities.
In 1997 Chris Makin took the helm and established Makins as one of Europe’s largest grading sites and importer of potatoes. The farm was, and still is, an arable farm, but back in the Sixties a variety of crops were grown, including rhubarb, cabbage, swede, peas, potatoes and cereals.
The farm now comprises 800 acres of arable land, specialising in growing cereals and soft fruit. When Annabel was asked by her father to return to the farm she realised it needed to expand and concentrate on growing strawberries, She recently introduced Annabel’s Premium Quality Berries, which supplies strawberries to top retailers and restaurants across the country. “I always knew I’d come home. I felt it was the right thing to do. There were a lot of changes going on but I also wanted to do my own thing so I started growing strawberries,” says Annabel.
Makins now produce 1,800 tonnes of strawberries a year but Annabel saw another gap in the market. She has launched a range of all-natural sophisticated drinks made with English fruits and foraged botanicals, inspired by the flavours of the British countryside.
She is part of the new generation of entrepreneurial female farmers working to bring great-tasting food and drink to market that has been produced using sustainable agriculture practices.
But it was Annabel’s own personal experience that gave her the idea for her new business venture. “I had a night out with my friends and I was driving – and the non-alcoholic options were limited to sparkling water or fizzy drinks loaded with sugar,” says the mother of two small children.
“Sophisticated drinks you can pair with food are limited. I wanted to find a natural soft drink, not packed with sugar and preservatives to give my children. That caused me to think about what’s on offer.
“Lots of us are practising ‘mindful drinking’, moderating our alcohol intake. Non-alcoholic drink options are a bit limited and I longed for something a bit more sophisticated and celebratory than a glass of orange juice in the pub. I really care about what I eat and drink and where products come from.”
And Annabel is not alone. Almost a fifth of UK drinkers say they are cutting down on alcohol, making for a growing market of over seven million people and not just during Dry January. Around 30 per cent of customers in a pub or bar won’t be drinking alcohol and almost two-thirds of Britons are on a diet “most of the time”.
“Just because we’re not drinking alcohol doesn’t mean we don’t want something delicious and a bit more special. So I set to developing a range of natural drinks that can be drunk on their own or with a mixer inspired by the flavours of the English countryside,” adds Annabel.
“I didn’t really know where to start. I knew that I wanted it to be English. I have a big garden at home and I started looking at what was in the garden, and what could be used. I am into herbal remedies and knew a little about what properties certain things have.”
It was also Annabel’s garden that was the inspiration for the name of her drinks business, Tame and Wild.
She spent four months developing the range and playing with what flavours worked well together, ending up with Strawberry Cucumber Lime Flower; Blueberry Dandelion Lavender; and Rhubarb Elderberry Rose.
The ingredients include strawberries from the farm and other English fruits and botanicals. Annabel is also working on a fourth flavour to be launched this year.
“The carbon footprint of this product is low. We use up all the wonky strawberries in the drink and the bottles, labels and caps are recyclable – to help towards the future for us all. The absolute bonus is, as we’ve limited the sugar to only five grammes in each bottle, the drinks come in under 30 calories. I’m not claiming it’s a health drink but it is a grown-up alternative to what is being offered at the moment,” says Annabel.
The range has already found favour with Michelin-starred Yorkshire chef Andrew Pern, who will be stocking them in his restaurants and hotels as well as Swinton Park and Rudding Park. Bettys offers it as a non-alcoholic alternative to its champagne afternoon tea.
It helps that Makins already supplies a lot of top-end hotels and restaurants but it has still meant a lot of legwork for Annabel.
Family is at the core of everything she does. Her son Oscar is five and her daughter Jemima just four, which is why she is so passionate about sustainability and the future of the planet.
“I am passionate about ensuring the future of the planet for us all. It is in our hands and it deserves to be respected and therefore sustainability is one of our core values,” adds Annabel. “I am a massive believer in what I’ve done. I think it is good for my children to have a working mother who isn’t afraid to give something a go. The more I talk about it, the more I realise that people do care what they put in their bodies.
“I am Yorkshire born and bred and I am passionate about shouting about all the amazing and diverse things our county has to offer.”