Soap makers buy NSW Mid North Coast tea tree farm to produce essential oils for skincare

A short drive from the lakes and beaches of the Great Lakes region of New South Wales lies a lush pocket of farmland.

A 60-hectare property covered in 20-year-old native tea tree seedlings is among the farms in the area.

For Allan and Jane Hutcherson, the purchase of this property fulfilled a long-held dream.

“We have a contract manufacturing business…and one of the things we always wanted to do was create our own brand,” Mr Hutcherson said.

For nearly three decades, the couple have been making soap for major companies at their factory in Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

But the tea tree farm offered the chance to finally launch its own skincare line, using essential oils produced from the estate’s plants.

“It’s totally vertically integrated,” Mr. Hutcherson said.

“We actually produce oils from all of these wonderful botanicals, and we use them in our manufacturing facility.”

After the tea tree is mechanically harvested, Mr. Hutcherson takes it to the shed for processing.(Rural ABC: Keely Johnson)

Regenerate Farm

The couple bought the property in 2018 and have spent the last four years regenerating it.

“It was a bit run down, but we gave it a lot of love and planted a lot more trees and introduced new species,” Ms Hutcherson said.

The pair has expanded to include lemon myrtle, old man saltbush, and kunzea, and they don’t stop there.

“Right now we are working on preparing an area of ​​about 4,000 Melaleuca ericifoliawho a lot of people know as Rosalina,” Hutcherson said.

“We consider this to be one of our new oils and new products that we will probably launch in 12 to 18 months.”

Two images side by side.  The first shows overgrown grass, the second an enclosure filled with essential oil plants.
The farm in 2018 compared to now.(Provided: Amy Dempsey)

Mr. Hutcherson studied food science at university and later took a course in horticulture.

He said the farm allowed him to put his skills into practice.

“It’s great for me because I love it,” Mr. Hutcherson said.

“I grew up on a farm and missed it when we didn’t have one.”

From farm to factory

The plants are mechanically harvested and processed on the farm.

The essential oils are extracted from the trees and poured into large barrels, which Mr. Hutcherson transports about three hours south of the property to his factory in Sydney.

They also have 10 beehives on the farm to create manuka honey, another ingredient used in their products.

A large shed with a large steel steamer and barrels underneath.
The tea tree is extracted on the farm.(Rural ABC: Keely Johnson)

The business is a family affair involving their children and partners, who manage sales and marketing, human resources and plant operations with a workforce of 50 people.

The Hutchersons’ son-in-law, Grant Dempsey, oversees contract production, as well as that of about 40 of their own products that incorporate essential oils from the farm.

“It’s quite rare to make a product from scratch, basically from raw materials,” Dempsey said.

Five sachets filled with yellow liquid for hand washing are on a rotating table with a worker packing them into a box.
Lemon Myrtle & Manuka Honey Hand Soap Sachets are made at the Northern Beaches factory.(Rural ABC: Keely Johnson)

Small businesses work hard to succeed

The Hutchersons’ goal has always been to get their products onto supermarket shelves.

Their son Sam Hutcherson, who is the company’s sales manager, helped achieve this goal, but said competing with global brands was a constant battle for the family.

“It was a difficult process to get into it [supermarkets] and get in the door…and I guess the hardest thing is staying inside,” he said.

“Being a small business and being at the mercy of big business is tough. It’s stressful, but we support each other because our product is really good.

Smiling woman wears hat, light top, jeans, holds child, man in t-shirt, jeans, carries child in front of lemon myrtle plants.
Annie Hutcherson manages accounts and human resources, while Sam Hutcherson is in charge of sales.(Rural ABC: Keely Johnson)

“We don’t have millions and millions of dollars to pour into marketing like the multinationals [international companies] do, and so you’re really fighting for your life.”

Corporate sustainability

The Hutchersons’ daughter and business manager, Amy Dempsey, said it was important to ensure their business was sustainable.

“We just launched our refillable glass bottles and soap sachets. These save about 80% plastic and you can fill your bottle twice with them,” she said.

Handwash is also available in clear glass and plastic bottles, which can be recycled, and online orders are sent in plastic-free packaging.

A bouquet of products in a tray including: bars of soap, essential oils, hand creams, body scrubs, shower gel.
The family has developed around 40 products in its line of hair and body washes.(Rural ABC: Keely Johnson)

Recycling is just as important on the farm.

“Once we finish cooking the tea tree or lemon myrtle, we have the biomass that we compost,” Hutcherson said.

“We put it back on the plantation, and therefore we reuse it.”

A smiling couple with their three children standing in front of salt bush plants, the man is wearing a cap, a blue shirt, a woman a white shirt.
Grant and Amy Dempsey are also involved in the business.(Rural ABC: Keely Johnson)

Ms Hutcherson said she felt lucky to have her family helping her run the business.

“Having our children on board has been fantastic,” she said.

“They brought their own skills to the business, and their partners were able to join our business as well, bringing a completely different skill set.”

A group of men and women wearing hats, jeans with the smiling children on the farm.
The family often enjoys school holidays together on the farm.(Rural ABC: Keely Johnson)

The family is at the heart of this agricultural enterprise, but it is the farm that is its essence.

“The soul of our business is this wonderful farm and the use of the plants we grow here in our products,” Hutcherson said.

Watch this story on ABC TV’s landline at 12:30 p.m. Sunday or on ABC iview.