Creating an international brand is no mean feat, particularly when you throw in six kids and a pandemic.
Jo Clark and Fran Woods knew they were onto something when they created Franjos Kitchen after meeting by chance on a street in Melbourne’s west during 2014.
What started off as two flavours of breastfeeding biscuits soon expanded to a product range to support mums and mums to be.
While the business grew the women, who have three kids each, were busy juggling the demands of motherhood and hit a major financial hurdle.
“We were totally consumed with being mothers to all these children and keeping things ticking on,” Torquay mum Jo explained.
“I think we ended up having about $1000 left in the bank and thought ‘oh my gosh, what are we going to do here?’
“This was just before Covid hit and it was pretty dire.”
At the time Jo and Fran, who had just moved her family to New Zealand, stripped the business back by putting product development and extra spending on the backburner, and concentrated on getting their team right.
“Slowly but surely it started turning around. Then Covid hit and we thought ‘oh my god it’s going to be the end of us’,” Jo said.
But in 2020 Franjos Kitchen experienced 81 per cent increase in online sales.
Jo said the remarkable turnaround was the combination of stripping back the business and the rise in mums wanting to increase their breast milk supply during the pandemic.
Jo and Fran were able to finally start paying themselves a proper wage and are now running a very profitable business.
It’s incredible to think that their business success story started on a street in Kingsville. Jo and Fran, who both resided in the inner-west suburb at the time, were out walking their firstborns when they struck up a conversation while waiting to cross the road at a set of traffic lights.
They both had very different careers – Jo was a naturopath, while Fran was, and still is, a practising lawyer. But they shared a passion for baked goods.
After meeting on the street, Fran went home and started to think about how she had been struggling to make enough breast milk for her daughter.
She started Googling and found a recipe for lactation cookies.
At the time, Jo had a naturopathic clinic in Flinders Lane and her own range of healthy biscuits called Kooka’s Natural Cookies, a homage to her dad’s Kooka’s Country Cookies.
Fran’s lactation cookies were working but thought Jo could use her knowledge as a naturopath to make them healthier.
She called Jo to tell her about her business idea.
Jo then changed the recipe to make the biscuits more nutritionally sound.
“I trialled it at home and we took it out to the factory where we were making our other biscuits and they did a run of 180 packets. Then Fran popped it up on the inner-west mums and bubs Facebook group,” Jo recalled.
“It was just snapped up like that by all the local mums. We drove around and dropped off samples and that’s how it all started.”
Business picked up faster than Jo and Fran anticipated. After 10 months, wholesalers and retail shops were sending them messages seeking product. Distributors then started hearing about them.
The women also began developing more products, including a pregnancy product for nausea and biscuits for kids.
Their sales success during Covid also meant they were able to develop a formula called Arepa to support cognitive function and reduce mental fatigue of mums experiencing ‘baby brain’.
Franjos Kitchen now has products going into New Zealand and Singapore, and is also working with China and Hong Kong.
“It’s reaching far and wide now. We have around 1000 stockists in Australia and are in some really great talks with some big retailers looking to take us on,” Jo said.
Jo and Fran also plan to launch three new products this year.
Needless to say the women, who came so close to calling it quits, have well and truly carved out a niche in the motherhood wellness industry.