Many of us know all too well that this year’s flu season was a particularly rough one and that once you’re down for the count with the virus, you’ll do almost anything to seek relief. When Jessica Lowery posted a photo of herself brewing elderberry syrup on Facebook, she had no idea the impact it would have, to the point that would eventually lead to her starting her own business. “I posted some information about how great elderberry is. I wasn’t trying to sell anything,” she says.
Lowery was merely trying to pass along the word of the success she’d personally had with the plant. She discovered elderberry’s uses a few years ago while pregnant with her first son, Beckham. “I had the flu and was curled up in pain in the doctor’s office looking for natural remedies because I did not want to take Tamiflu,” she says. She purchased some syrup. Lowery says, “Within 24 hours, I was back at work.” After that she used elderberry syrup regularly for herself and her family. Lowery developed her own unique recipe, much as herbal practitioners have done for centuries.
Sharing her knowledge and educating others is something she has found comes naturally to her. Lowery has an undergraduate degree in science from Coastal Carolina University and Master of Arts in Teaching in Health Education from the University of South Carolina. “My teaching focus is on personal and community health. I am most passionate about complementary and alternative health,” she explains.
And even if you’re skeptical about alternative health practices, this one has historical basis. Libby Vick, a physician liaison with Pure Compounding, says, “From the time of Hippocrates, the father of medicine, elderberry has been used to treat colds, flu, fever, burns, cuts and more than 70 other maladies, from toothache to the plague.” The remedy gained prominence during the flu epidemic last year. But just because something is trendy, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. So when Lowery’s friends discovered she was making the syrup, they began requesting it. What began as selling a few bottles to friends at the start of the year exploded. By the end of July, Lowery had developed a business that could boast sales of several thousand bottles.
Lowery’s background in science enabled her to develop a product that is consistent in potency and tastes good. She uses local raw honey and premium certified organic ingredients—among them elderberries, ginger and cinnamon—with filtered water. The product must be refrigerated, but for good reason.
Lowery sold her syrup at the CCU Earth Fair Farmers Market this past April.
“Unlike most commercial elderberry syrups, we choose not to add any preservatives, keeping our syrup all pure ingredients from nature, what God intended to bring healing to the body,” she explains. “The best part—kids absolutely love the taste.”
When the sales orders began to pour in after that Facebook post, Lowery realized her home remedy could turn into a commercial enterprise. She prayed on the matter and realized that the power of elderberries could aid their family finances as well as reach out to the community with a great product. The answer came in the form of even more orders and the assistance of friends and other advisors to work toward that goal, a goal that seemed to match up perfectly with Lowery’s own personal passions of community and alternative health.
Lowery quickly obtained a business license and approval for her product from the FDA and the USDA. “USDA representative Adair Hoover worked with us closely through product testing. She recommended a class both my husband and I attended, a two-day food safety course in Columbia,” Lowery says. Safety for consumers is key to Lowery’s efforts. Her website and the product labels include a list of ingredients and cautionary information on using the syrup.
Lowery’s friend Brandon Evans works for Southern Tide Media. Lowery says, “His team has set up label design, postcards, marketing materials, vinyl wrapping for the refrigerators in our pharmacies, website. They have been fantastic.”
Several of her early elderberry syrup customers also shared their talents and insights to help the fledgling business. Bonnie Huggins created the logo and assisted in organizing orders. “I saw firsthand how well her product worked when I began giving it to my family during flu season,” she says. “I had the knowledge and tools to help manage the flow of information and helped her to organize her ordering process.” It’s hard to find a better testament to a product being effective than those using it wanting to help get it out to others in the community.
Lowery also sought business advice from the free mentoring program of the Grand Strand chapter of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), a resource partner of the United States Small Business Administration. Jim Helfgott, with more than 35 years of marketing sales and operation in telecom, and John Lamoree, a former banker, became Lowery’s mentors. Helfgott says, “We have enjoyed working with them and think they have a great product. We helped the Lowerys to develop a business plan and look at what would be involved to develop, grow and increase the pace of the growth of their business.”
Lowery lined up her suppliers (organic and local when possible), including Bees by the Beach for her honey. She expanded her distribution by offering mail order through her Facebook page (The Power of Elderberries, LLC) and by participating in the Waccamaw Farmers Market in North Myrtle Beach, The Market Common and Surfside Beach. She is also a part of their Mobile Market (see the Waccamaw Market Cooperative Facebook page for more info).
Lowery also quickly obtained the necessary permits and approvals to sell to other businesses so that her product would be available in brick-and-mortar outlets year-round. One of her earliest outlets was Dr. Brooke Pond’s chiropractic office. Dr. Pond says, “I learned of her product through one of my patients. We recommend it as an immune booster, a help with colds, flu, allergies and digestive issues.”
Vick says Lowery’s customer service to wholesalers mirrors the care she puts into the formula itself—no detail left undone. “She provides the refrigerators, lawn signs and talks to the wholesalers about the uses and needs of her elderberry syrup. [She] loves to educate others about elderberry, its natural boost to our immune system and how her recipe is different from other syrups on the market, as well as educational information for our customers to take and read. She and her husband are very professional, care about the quality of their product and take great care of their customers.” Vick adds, “As a consumer, I feel confident knowing that The Power of Elderberries has high standards and expectations when it comes to both the quality and safety of her syrup.”
And things are only getting bigger. “We are adding new retail outlets all the time,” says Lowery, mentioning that they just started selling at Bay Naturals. “Check our Facebook page and our website, thepowerofelderberries.com, for a place to obtain our syrup.”
All of this success has added up to more orders than a home kitchen can cook up. The Power of Elderberries began to rent space in a commercial kitchen in Myrtle Beach and moved there full-time in August. At that same time, they hired Chad Robey, a chef friend, to become their Director of Operations. Robey’s commitment to the product and its consumers matches that of the Lowerys’. Robey says, “Consistency in product is driven by consistency in planning and process. Standards are set high by necessity. Throughout my career, insurance of product handling, sanitation, storage, receiving, temperatures and recipe adherence are all critical control points. This provides our friends, family and clients the best.”
Testimonials to the efficacy of the formula abound. The website and Facebook pages are full of comments like this one from Ashely Steele: “After I tried her first batch I was hooked. It was delicious and so smooth. I love the fact that she uses all organic ingredients and local honey!”
Sarah White, an early supporter whose company, Belmark, prints labels and has helped with the tamper proof seals, says “During that last cold and flu season in Myrtle Beach at the end of January, I was desperate to keep our family healthy. I reached out to her and purchased our first jar. Our family took the syrup religiously for probably three weeks leading up to our planned trip and the entire time we were at Disney. It worked. None of us got sick.”
Providing a quality product that shares a God-given healing herb produced using the best science available—an old remedy, updated and refined for modern consumers—The Power of Elderberries syrup is now available up and down the Grand Strand.