CheltenhamMaman HQ can’t believe her luck – she’s been invited to the Cotswold farm of Alexia Benson, Mum of four and Cream of the Apple Crop at Bensons The Juicers.
CMHQ: Hi Alexia. It’s such a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much for the invite to your beautiful HQ in Sherborne. We start every interview here at CheltenhamMaman by asking you to tell us a bit about your lovely smalls.
Alexia: Well I’ve got four children. Archie is 15, Paddy 13, Billy 10 and Nuala is 9. They are at school in Cheltenham and we’ve recently moved to Leckhampton Hill. I’d lived on the farm in a National Trust house for a long time but the drive to and from school was tough. Things seem much easier on the school run front now. I was brought up in Cheltenham so I’m definitely a CheltenhamMaman.
CMHQ: We are sat here enjoying the almost summer sun (we wish) in the glorious Cotswold countryside. How did a busy Mum of four end up being Commander in Chief at such a place of beauty?
Alexia: Though I was brought up in the Cotswolds I studied History of Art in Cambridge and after it finished I met my then husband and Business Partner who farmed there. We decided to return to this area and he studied at The Royal Agricultural College and I moved my new catering business to the Cotswolds. That was in 2000. My ex father in law owned a fruit farm in County Durham and we tasted some of his juices and were inspired to start up our business.
Back then we had no ties, no children and just wanted to make an honest living. We started the business with a very small amount, bought an apple press and Bensons was born. We started out by selling at Farmers’ Markets. They were much bigger back then as farming had taken a real downturn and producers needed to find ways to diversify.
CMHQ: How soon after starting the business did you become a Mum?
Archie arrived a year after we started up. I always assumed I’d find it really easy to return after having had a baby but that really wasn’t the case. It was hard and I wasn’t able to take any true periods of maternity leave with any of my children. I’ve had to find clever ways to work around them; from home or in the evenings. I never left them when they were young and I breastfed them all until they were nine months old.
With Archie things were particularly hard. We found out at six months old after multiple attendances at hospital (when he always seemed to miraculously recover from his bouts of intense pain) that he had a malrotated gut. He had surgery and thankfully he is fine now but looking back, managing the farm and coping with a very sick baby (without ever realising just how ill he was) was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Thankfully I was supported through those times by some great people. June who still works with us here would come to the house and watch the children while I did the accounts and all of the other jobs from home.
I quickly got used to managing mum guilt. It’s something I suffer with permanently but I stand by my decisions to put the kids first, always. It’s been a really hard slog, building a business, raising four kids and going through a divorce but it’s been absolutely worth it. Everything now is beautifully settled and because of this we are actively pushing the business forward and continuing to build our brand.
CMHQ: What’s a typical day like for you juggling being a Maman and a busy Cotswold business?
Alexia: On school days I’m up pretty early, half five, always by six. Couple of loads of washing in, a few emails sent and then get the children up and about. A healthy start for them is important to me. Our juices are a great base for a homemade smoothie. Drop them off at school for 8am and I’m usually at my desk by 8.30 ready for meetings and day to day jobs. My dog comes with me and we try to get out for a walk at some point.
Then it’s time to head back to school. I try and get to as many sports matches as I can, cricket, rugby, netball, hockey. They’re only young once and I know how quickly it goes and how lucky I am to be able to see them play. On a good day I get home and start preparing a home cooked meal but often I just don’t have time! Though our juices flavour a vodka and tonic pretty well I’m more of a Sauvignon Blanc girl. I’ve usually earned it and when bedtime comes around I’m out like a light.
CMHQ: How do you handle those days when you have thirty thousand things to do in three different places, the children are ill and the dog has been sick.
Alexia: Ha! Funny you say that, the dog was actually sick this morning. Honestly I’m getting much better at managing stress. I used to find it really hard. I have an amazing lady that comes in and helps me at home a couple of days a week, I’m not sure how I would manage without her. My team at work are also incredible and they function so well when I’m not here. I really struggle with guilt in the holidays when I’m not at work as much. My sister is a stay at home Mum and sometimes I look at her life with envy but the grass is always greener for us Mums and she probably envies some parts of my working life. I do recognise how lucky I am.
I also have the best Partner in the world. He’s a teacher so he’s such a huge help in the holidays when the kids are at home. You just deal with it don’t you… last night we had staff drinks until late and then my daughter was up not feeling very well at 2am and again half an hour later. Eventually my Partner was kicked out of bed so that she could come in with me as you get to a point when you just have to sleep. As a Mum I’m pretty good at just coping. That’s what we Mums do isn’t it?
CMHQ: We read such a lot in the rags about the danger of sugar in our children’s diets. If it’s not Jamie Oliver barking on about sugar tax it’s Fearne Cotton selling us her sugar free recipe books. What are your products and why are they such a godsend to our busy Mamans?
Alexia: We started the business with our Bensons Totally Fruity range. This is 100% pure fruit. It’s not made from concentrate and there’s no added sugar. The only sugar in it is the natural fruit sugar. Our Chilly Billy ice lollies again are 100% fruit. 150ml of either of these products count as one of your five a day. Kids love the Chilly Billy. They often won’t choose it themselves from the freezer with the chocolate ice creams and brightly coloured packaging but when they do taste one they always love them. You’ll find Chilly Billys in all Nandos restaurants on the children’s menu.
Our latest product is the JOOSED! Junior. Again 150ml is one of your five a day. The sugar in it is natural. My children look after their teeth, I make sure of it, they have sweets on the odd occasion because we all need treats. What I look for when I buy products for my family is the natural sugar content. It’s added sugar that is the enemy and all Bensons products are free from this kind of sugar.
CMHQ: Your products are Red Tractor accredited. For those Mamans who are more familiar with kitten heels than wellies – what does that mean and why should it matter?
Alexia: The Red Tractor symbolises a product made from British ingredients on farms that adhere to high standards as set out by Assured Food Standards. It means crops are grown safely, ethically and sustainably and that the working conditions of those involved in growing them are of a high standard. Every one of our products can be traced back to a certain farm and we can even tell you who picked it.
CMHQ: I’ve enjoyed many a Chilly Billy in the interval at Giffords circus. Any tips for the Mums out there who are starting up businesses on how to get their products noticed?
Alexia: We started locally. Don’t run before you can walk. We visited local Farmer’s Markets, trade shows, I did a lot of networking with local business groups and attended Business Link events and the Growth Hub in Gloucester. The JOOSED! Junior range launches in Waitrose this week which we are so excited about but we pitched to Waitrose two years ago and I can see now that we weren’t ready. If you are pitching your product or your service to a supplier, do your homework and make sure you have all the figures and information available. Our market, like a lot of others, is hugely competitive. If you don’t know your market and your product well enough you won’t be noticed.
CMHQ: Where else can we buy your range?
Alexia: So JOOSED! Junior is now in Waitrose which is probably easiest for Cheltenham Mums. We’re also in Nandos, all of the Tate galleries, Waterstones Cafes, National Trust venues, The Eden Project, Royal Shakespeare Company, Garden Centre Group, and lots of other venues in the Cotswolds and nationally.
We’re also collaborating with a couple of fab Mamas in the United Arab Emirates who own a company called MELT which is a mobile ice cream and lolly unit. They are stocking the Chilly Billy as the perfect refreshing treat for the Dubai heat.
If you live locally to us here in Sherborne you can buy on the website and call in to pick your order up too.
CMHQ: Thanks Alexia – it’s been a pleasure to see you at work. Let’s have a glass of your delicious juice to celebrate the start of a beautiful friendship!