Article from THE TIMES Tuesday May 3rd 1994.
Herbal business takes root
AN UNEXPECTED drink at the soviet embassy in Lusaka was the unlikely beginning for Eladon, a North Wales herbal company.
Its founder, Richard Ross, owned a haulage business in Botswana in the 1980s. After an exhausting drive from South Africa he was offered a reviving drink by the ambassador.
He learnt that he had sampled Eleutherococcus Senticosus, a Siberian plant, the infusions from whose root have been drunk for generations to counteract stress and fatigue.
Mr Ross was determined to learn more about it, and he moved to North Wales to undertake an agricultural economics course at Bangor University. But he soon learnt that the plant was virtually unknown in Britain.
He obtained more information and, assisted by his wife, Moira Williams, a Gwynedd doctor, began to unravel the plant’s medical potential. He recalled: “We soon realised that Russian Eleutherococcus was of a variable quality. So our first priority, if the plant was to be marketed in this country, was to standardise it.
“An Israeli company, Botanical of Haifa, had discovered the requisite chemical combination. Therefore we decided to standardise Eleutherococcus extract from Israel, and then package it in capsule form in the U.K.”
Eladon was born in October 1990. It was financed by Mr Ross and his co-ordinator, Merfyn Davies, a former Midland Bank manager in Gwynedd. Mr Davies said “I did some work for an enterprise training agency in North Wales, and Richard came to me for help while writing his business plan, I saw the company’s potential, and I decided to join”.
A pharmaceutical company was commissioned to encapsulate the standardised herb, and the first sale was made in February 1991. The capsules are sold in boxes of 30 under the brand name Elagen.
In the early days, about 60 boxes a month were marketed by mail order. Since then, demand has increased to about 500 boxes a week, and the product is also available in health shops and some branches of Boots.
As well as helping to reduce stress, Moira Williams has found that patients suffering from ME (or yuppie flu) have also appeared to benefit.
In Russia, Eleutherococcus is used to help athletes train harder and cosmonauts to function better in weightless conditions in space. So in a selling coals to Newcastle type deal, the Bangor business will be supplying Russian cosmonauts with standardised Eleutherococcus within a few weeks.
Plans are also afoot to market the Siberian root in Germany and France in the autumn. Both countries have a long tradition for using herbal remedies. Interest is particularly forthcoming from Germany, where University research into the properties of Eleutherococcus has been undertaken.
Mr Ross said “One of the advantages of selling a herbal product in Germany is that you can say either on the packet or in the accompanying literature which medical conditions will be alleviated” That is not so in the UK as the company found to its cost in January when it was taken to court because its newsletter unwittingly contravened the 1939 Cancer Act. The newsletter had mentioned that some research being undertaken into Eleutherococcus at the Moscow Cancer Centre and, as a result, was fined £500.00.
At first, Mr Ross was afraid that the case would damage the company, but it has not. Sales have actually increased since, and turnover is now approaching £200,000 a year.
There is scope for further growth, Mr Ross believes, even though the herb is expensive. It costs $150 to ship 1kg from the farms of Eastern Siberia to Israel. There, standardisation results in much waste, because to obtain 1 kilo of usable, standardised Eleutherococcus, a further 6 kilos have to be discarded. The capsules in this country sell for between £11.00 and £12.00 a box, with each box containing a months supply.
Mr Ross’s plans for this year include developing new herbs. In association with Dexxon, the Israeli pharmaceutical company, Botanical has standardised feverfew, a herb believed to alleviate migraine and arthritis.