If you know anything about noni fruit then you are probably aware of its unpleasant appearance and awful smell rather than its purported health benefits.

Many people dislike noni because of its odour and taste, but Barbadian entrepreneur Larrio Herbert is hoping his ‘Natural Noni’ drink will change their minds.

Larrio started his business in 2020 after losing his beloved aunt Audrey who gave him the initial idea. Larrio wanted to follow his aunt’s example of helping others and began experimenting with noni when he noticed some trees had unexpectedly bloomed shortly after she died.

Yello chatted with Larrio about his evolving small business. He told us more about how he got started and why we should all be drinking noni juice.

Describe yourself using three words.

Fun-loving. Determined. Driven.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I have lived in the St Michael area all my life. I went to primary school at Lawrence T. Gay and then to Ellerslie Secondary School. I also studied computer maintenance at Berkeley College in London for two years.

I was in London for four years from 2001 to 2005. Being overseas opened my mind to different people, cultures, and aspects of life, and that’s always been of interest to me.

I am also very family orientated. They keep me going. That encompasses all my aunts, uncles, and cousins who keep me grounded and stable. I also have some friends who have been around me for more than 10 years and I consider them family.

What were your initial career plans?

At school I was mostly into art and drawing and anything technical.

I also liked sports especially football and basketball and I even wanted to be a basketball player but in terms of sports in Barbados you can only get to a certain point before having to find your own way. I also thought about being a pilot but that was out of my family’s financial reach.

I then started working towards becoming a computer games developer and after going to Barking I planned to go to Greenwich College to study C++ (a computer programming language) but it didn’t quite work out.

Tell us how your business ‘Natural Noni’ originally got started.

In 2019, I lost three of my grandfathers who I was close too. Then my aunt, Audrey Harper, who inspired my business and gave me the idea, started getting old and having a lot of ailments. She took good care of me when I was young and now I had to take care of her, and it was difficult watching her health decline. She died 26 August 2020.

Even though I knew she was out of pain, it was still very hard to lose her, and you can just never replace that one person. I would say that I was depressed because for about six months I can’t remember anything, even though I was going to work and coming home, but I was just a shell.

After she died all the noni trees, which were cut down, started to bloom within a couple of days. So, I started to do some research and reading on noni, and I ended up doing all sorts of things with it, and my body started to feel better. My head was still not really there but my body was energised and that was strange.

I gave some of it to my neighbours and they said they felt the same thing. So, I really focused on it, which kept my mind off the depression and anxiety, and eventually it evolved into a business.

My aunt was an amazing person, always helping people, and so I feel like I’m carrying on her legacy with this business which is really dedicated to her and her memory. I call it an extended eulogy.

How did you go about creating your ‘Natural Noni’ drink? 

It was mostly a trial and error process. I had to find ways to make sure the product was stable, food safe, and, most importantly, that persons could enjoy it.

I also had an issue with adding flavour, without adding sugar. So, I experimented with bay leaf and I found that just the right amount doesn’t overpower the noni but acts as a natural sweetener.

So, the first flavour I created was ginger, the second one was cinnamon. Then I tried nutmeg which is my personal favourite. I also added a non-flavoured version after someone suggested it.

Then I was thinking about making it more Barbadian by incorporating local fruits so I decided on Bajan Cherry which was a hard one to get right. Then I tried mango and I also combined the cinnamon and ginger for the cin/gin version after a friend suggested mixing them. All the flavoured ingredients complement the noni but the noni is always the main attraction.

One thing I have found as well is that I am not just selling a drink, I’m also educating persons about the product, because a lot of people on the island do not like noni because of the smell, taste, and how it looks.

The main question I kept asked myself was ‘how can I get people to even try it?’. So, I researched all the benefits and that way I could tell people everything about it especially in terms of how it can help your overall health.

I also call it a tonic so that people realise you have to take it over time. The body can absorb up to 120ml of noni per day but I recommend a tablespoon in the morning and at night which is 60ml in total.

So, what is noni and what are some of the fruit’s natural benefits?

Let’s start with the scientific name which is Morinda citrifolia. It grows in places like Asia, Hawaii, and parts of Central America. It is also grown in the Caribbean.

The tree itself takes nine months to a year and a half to reach maturity and even the leaves have some medicinal qualities.

The fruit looks awful and smells even worse. It looks like a beaten up mango. In its ripened phase it turns a kind of grey, yellowish colour and that’s when it smells like rotten fruit, but in that phase it can be juiced. You can try to eat it but it has way too many seeds and is not that pleasant.

The properties of noni juice can assist with high blood pressure, high sugar levels, and high cholesterol. The juice is not a cure but it can reduce those levels as an aid. It also has antibacterial qualities and clears the intestines by working naturally with the body as a detox to eliminate waste.

So it is an overall tonic for the body that can naturally boost the immune system, and once you clear the body of toxins you will feel a lot more energetic.

Where can people find your ‘Natural Noni’ drink?

The product is available all over the island. So, you can find it in Pharmeuticals Plus in Speightstown, RoundHay Pharmacy and Pharm-N-Care in Warrens, Heritage Pharmacy, the Health Store, Collins Ltd, Afya Klenz in Bridgetown, Better Health and Wellness Center in Cheapside Market, One Up Pharmacy, and Genesis Fitness. It’s also in all Carlton and AOne Supermarkets. I’m still trying to get it into Christ Church and St George. I deliver directly as well which some customers prefer.

I’m very thankful for all of the pharmacies and stores who took a chance on me and the product.

What has been the overall response from your customers?

First of all, most people are surprised that a man makes this product. But I’ve mainly had positive feedback. Most persons say it gave them a good clean out and it made them feel more energetic.

Some persons have also asked me if I can make it taste better (laughter) but I don’t want to add sugar and the aim is to keep it as pure as possible.

What are your plans for ‘Natural Noni’ over the next 12-18 months? 

I am working on a different flavour which has been in development for other a year and is proving a bit stubborn to get right.

I’m working on switching from plastic to glass bottles which will improve the look of the product and help if I go into the export market.

I also have another noni product that will be coming out soon which is being produced in conjunction with Cherish Forde who owns Che Essentials. My friends and family who have tested that skincare product are very excited about it.

I’m also currently researching another two variants of the product.

What advice do you have for aspiring Caribbean small business owners? 

No matter what, you will have sleepless nights, you will cry, you will be happy and sad. You will feel all kinds of emotions. Your business is your baby so you will have to nurture it, feed it, talk to it but what you put in, you will get out. No matter what, do not give up on it!

There’s no business that I know of, that is accepted by the public immediately. There are good times and bad times. So, make sure you treat your business with the upmost care, and respect your customers.

You will have rough times but keep pushing past the rejections.

What do you love about Barbados? 

The resilience of our people. I have travelled to other Caribbean islands and we are still the gold standard for certain things but we need to make sure we don’t get complacent.

But in these hard times, I have seen Barbadians using what is around them to build so they can survive and better themselves.

What do you do to relax when you have time off?

Normally I only get a couple of hours to relax so I try to sit still and spend time with my girlfriend, my mum, and friends. I admit that I do have an issue with staying still but I try to relax when I can.

What is your motto / approach to life?

My general motto is ‘Sic Parvas Magna’ which is Latin for ‘big things from small’ (or ‘greatness from small beginnings’). I actually got that from a video game and I had to look it up because it spoke to me.

My main aim is to help persons and that makes me feel good because it is my purpose. I don’t want to build generational wealth, I want to build generational understanding, so whoever comes after me knows that you can do whatever you set your mind too, but you have to go through something to get there.

Find out more about ‘Natural Noni’ on Instagram.

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