Women In Business

Sarita Merlo’s nanna, kept a cupboard full of concoctions—
alternative remedies for a whole raft of ailments. In fact, says Sarita, at 94 years old, Nanna was still calling the Blackmores Hotline to get advice on certain health issues.

Perhaps it was her grandmother’s influence that finally led Sarita down the naturopathy road, but sister Siobhan also had quite a lot to do with her decision.

‘I was in Spain,’ says Sarita, ‘and I was on the phone asking Siobhan (who is a psychologist) to re-enrol me in psychology at Melbourne Uni. She said something like, you really don’t seem interested in it, why don’t you do naturopathy. So I did.’

‘I had always been interested in herbs, so I thought, yes, that’s what I’ll do, it will be easy. I came back from overseas thinking it would be a bit like doing something practical like hairdressing.’

‘But it was four years of full-on study, lots of chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology. Only in the last year did we actually get to the herbal part and the natural remedies.’

‘But I loved it.’

Some way during her naturopathy course at the Australian College of Natural Medicine in Melbourne, Sarita transferred to the Brisbane campus and moved to live in the Byron area.

‘I got a job at the Byron Medicine Wheel, and it was there that I first started thinking about blending tea,’ she says.

‘I noticed that people didn’t really like drinking herbal teas on their own, and I came up with the idea of blending them. So I started experimenting and came up with the ‘Digest’ blend for myself.’

‘In those days (around 2005) herbal tea was still a bit unusual. For example the supermarket shelves were not full of all the different herbal teas like they are today.’

‘I think tea has got to be one of the best herbal remedies because it is so easy to access. It has healing properties but you don’t need a prescription. I also thought it was a great way to introduce people to herbal medicine.’

So Sarita began the journey that would eventually lead her to where she is today—owner/operator of Byron Bay Tea Company, a successful enterprise that employs 2, and supplies 20 different teas to a range of customers including cafes, retreats, resorts and retail outlets.

But it was not a sudden transition. Sarita did her research, and all the hard yards before bringing her product to market. That included a small business course, branding, packaging (bright primary colours that jump off the shelves) and testing on consumers.

She took an initial 5 blends to market: Digest, Energy, Calming, Immunity and Detox. Since then she has added a whole lot more to the range including Chai, and some classics like English Breakfast.

Everything is blended in her Newrybar factory, where she now lives. And she keeps life interesting by continuing to work as a naturopath at drug and alcohol rehab, The Sanctuary.

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