Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Couple’s new business wins award

A COUPLE who quit their teaching jobs to start a business selling traditional Indian drinks have

A COUPLE who quit their teaching jobs to start a business selling traditional Indian drinks have won an award.

Matthew Hulett and Jo Howson, from Shiplake, took first prize in the fifth annual South Oxfordshire New Business Competition.

Their venture Lashbrook Lassis sells three different flavours of lassi, a type of runny yogurt blended with spices, fruit and other flavourings.

The couple came up with the idea after travelling around India for three months in 2011.

They launched the business the following year and initially made the drinks in their kitchen at Lashbrook Farm, off Mill Road, and sold them at local markets and events.

Now they have moved into purpose-built premises at Nettlebed Creamery, where they will make bigger batches to sell to supermarkets.

They have secured a deal with a distributor and the drink should soon hit shelves in Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey. Mr Hulett and Miss Howson, both 33, grew up together in London and moved to the area in 2008 when Mr Hulett joined Henley Rowing Club and Upper Thames Rowing Club.

He was part of the Henley Rowing Club men’s eight that reached the final of the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta in 2009.

In 2010 they moved to New  Zealand, where Mr Hulett spent a year teaching rowing at a school, and then travelled to India.

The couple kept notes on the different types of lassi they tasted during their travels.

When they returned, they experimented with more than 100 recipes before narrowing it down to three: pear, spinach and ginger; beetroot, fig and cinnamon; and coffee, pistachio and cardamom.

They hope to introduce more varieties as their business grows. Miss Howson said: “In India we tasted a lot of lassis along the way and it was a totally new experience for us as we’d never tried them before.

“We love food and flavour and thought this was something we could enjoy experimenting with.

“We hadn’t seen anything similar on sale in Britain so we felt there was a gap in the market.”

The pair started out by making their own yogurt in a 60-litre saucepan that covered all four rings of their hob. They would add live bacteria to milk and keep it at a warm, steady temperature until it was ready two days later.

It took a further two days to mix in the flavourings with an ordinary household blender then fill and seal about 200 bottles by hand.

They sold the drink for the first time at a market at Shiplake Farm in 2012 and it proved popular.

It continued selling out at every event they attended, including last year’s Henley Show, so they started renting the Nettlebed premises in January.

Mr Hulett said: “The first sale was just a test but people were so impressed that they thought we were established and asked where they could buy it.

“We had to explain it was just something we’d put together in our kitchen. We were really overwhelmed by that response and were encouraged to keep pursuing it.

“We eventually realised the way we were making it wasn’t cost-effective — it was a labour of love but it was hard work.

“We had outgrown the kitchen and needed to find somewhere bigger if we wanted to make large enough batches to attract retailers.

“The move to Nettlebed was quite a commitment but we were selling out everywhere we went and felt it would be worth it.”

• Last year, farmer Rose Grimond and cheesemaker Anne Hastings began producing a new soft cheese called St Bartholomew at the Nettlebed Creamery. It is named after the saint of the village church, which is next door.

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