The Chuckling Goat Ltd, established in 2014, is a fast-expanding company turning over £4 million a year, selling 'therapeutic kefir milk' as well as kefir-infused soaps, lotions, cleansers, teas and, more recently, microbiome testing kits.
It all began in 2008 when Shann Jones, aged 41, met Welsh farmer, now husband, Richard Jones.
Years later, when their son, Benji, suffered from recurrent bronchial infections, Richard and Shann went looking for answers.
“Benji was being given course after course of antibiotics and I didn’t understand why we were going round in circles and he was getting worse and worse.
“Rich suggested that we get a goat. I said ‘that’s crazy, I tell you we have to help our son and you say let’s buy a goat’. But it’s well known in the Welsh tradition that goat’s milk is hypoallergenic and good for asthma, eczema and bronchial issues.
“So we went straight from the doctor surgery to a guy who had a goat, bought the goat and started feeding the milk to Benji and he started to get better.”
Shann believes the goats milk was good for Benji's health as cow’s milk contains the allergenic A1 casein which can inflame the gut and aggravate autoimmune conditions.
Inspired, Shann began thinking of other uses for her left over milk.
“I heard a Russian doctor on the radio talking about kefir. I had never heard of kefir before but I was really interested to know more so I contacted her asked her how I could create kefir using my goats milk.”
“She told me there are three main challenges of making therapeutic kefir: Don’t use cow’s milk as this could be detrimental to anyone with an autoimmune issue; don’t use flavourings, sweeteners or sugar as these could degrade the probiotics; and only use living kefir grains as opposed to powder which is not as powerful.”
It wasn’t long after this discovery that Richard was rushed to hospital with colitis. He came out without his large intestine but he had also contracted the antibiotic resistant super bug MRSA.
The future looked bleak but, thankfully, Richard did make a full recovery and Shann believes the kefir milk helped with the recovery process – a theory backed by a study from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 2018 which suggests that a 'good' bacterium commonly found in probiotic digestive supplements may help eliminate Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria that can cause serious antibiotic-resistant infections.
The couple decided more people needed access to this product and they sold Richard’s beloved motorcycle in order to fund the beginnings of their new venture which is now a business with 23 staff members, 50 goats, 15 barn cats and more than 200,000 customers in 56 countries around the world.
Gut, skin and brain
It wasn’t long after sales started that they began to hear of a huge array of health benefits their customers were enjoying.
“People were telling me they’d been taking it for their IBS or their eczema but they’d also found it had cleared their anxiety and depression.
“At first I didn’t pursue this as I was mostly interested in the gut and skin health aspects but these claims were so persistent that I had to start looking into the science behind this.”
Chuckling Goat’s kefir is currently being used as part of an Aberystwith University study into kefir’s impact on people with mood disorders.
A previous study at this university has shown the efficacy of Chuckling Goat’s kefir to improve the presence of good bacteria in the gut.
The company also started selling microbiome testing kits from Atlas Biomed, at a cost of £129.95, in March this year and Shann said the interest in these was shocking - 400 sales in the first week.
Shann has been rapidly expanding her team of nutritional advisors, with new team members joining every month, who can understand and explain the test results to customers (the results arrive as a science heavy 80 page pdf).
The advisors provide customers with a list of foods they can eat to help feed the good bacteria in their guts.
Dr Dmitry Alexeev, lead R&D scientist for Atlas Biomed, has also provided talks to the Chuckling Goat staff to help educate them on the subject of gut health and microbiome testing.
“I make sure every member of staff come to these talks as it’s important to me that the whoel team understands why we do what we do and what our overall mission is.”
Plant milk kefir
Shann plans to launch a plant milk based kefir at the beginning of September which she believes will open up the array of health benefits to a huge new audience.
“The plant milk kefir has been a long time in the making. We’ve worked hard to get the right substrate of grain that will be happy within the plant milk so there’s been a lot of testing and straining done to get to the right formula.”
In order to ensure she remains closely connected with her customers’ experiences, Shann says the company absorbs the cost of delivering products by DPD anywhere in the UK.
The company also exports to 56 countries around the world.
A testament to her passion for the product, Shann has authored four books inspired by her experiences of kefir’s impact on the health of those around her and one about her startup business journey.
One is a children’s book called ‘The Critters Inside You’ which explains to children how to look after their microbiome.
Her other books are ‘The Kefir Solution: Natural healing for IBS, Depression and Anxiety’, ‘The Good Skin Solution’, ‘Secrets from Chuckling Goat’ and ‘How to Start a Business on your Kitchen Table’.