Tiny Dali Bernhaut turned up his nose, scrunched his eyes into a horrible grimace and spat everywhere. It was New York about seven years ago and the little fellow’s first experience of tooth-brushing.
His mum Rachel had done the best she could, heading to an upmarket supermarket chain to find an all-natural kids’ toothpaste. It nearly broke the bank, she says only half-jokingly, but Dali still wasn’t having a bar of the stuff.
Every parent knows the frustrating battle of encouraging infants and toddlers to begin a life of dental hygiene, wishing they could make it easier and happier. But half a world away, back home in Melbourne, Rachel and husband Justin had a dusty family asset tucked away that could make it a reality.
Many children of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s are imprinted with a faint, pleasantly banana-flavoured memory of their first toothpaste, the nursery-rhyme themed Jack N’ Jill. Originally made by Sigma in 1949, it was sold only through pharmacies.
As Sigma evolved into a major corporation it began divesting some product lines, and in the mid-1980s Justin’s father Adam, a pharmacist, bought Jack N’ Jill and began making it himself. It went out of production in the late ’90s, but the equipment and ownership were still waiting back home.
“It was a bit of a light bulb moment,” remembers Rachel. She and Justin, a pharmacist, had moved to New York after taking up photography, and had their two boys Dali and Jagger there. But the prospect of doing something with Jack N’ Jill was tantalising.
“We decided to come back and relaunch, re-brand and reformulate it,” says Justin, an RACV member. They would make significant changes, using only safe-to-swallow all-natural products such as calendula, fruit flavours and no mint or fluoride. “What we retained was, I guess, the spirit of what Jack N’ Jill was supposed to be. We’re quite protective of that – a fun, fruit-flavoured toothpaste.”
Using his father’s old machinery – “a big mid-century mixer that looks like it’s dropped out of space” – Justin and Rachel made the first 50,000 tubes from home. They also designed the packaging and website themselves. But after a trip to an organic expo in Sydney, “with our fingers crossed”, Jack N’ Jill took off.
It is now distributed through 37 countries, manufactured at a plant in New South Wales and the company has 14 employees. The paste comes in five fruit flavours and the Bernhauts have expanded the line to other products including environmentally friendly corn-starch toothbrushes.
“The area where we stand alone is that it tastes really yummy,” says Rachel. “When kids are starting their oral care routine, it’s vital that their first experience of toothpaste is positive. It becomes a healthy habit they have for life.”
Story: Gary Tippet
Photo: Shannon Morris
Published in RoyalAuto Dec 16/Jan 17