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Page last updated at 13:41 GMT, Monday, 20 July 2009 14:41 UK
Fisherman's Friend couple's extra strong marriage
Doreen and Tony Lofthouse
Doreen and Tony Lofthouse married in 1976

Fleetwood pharmacist James Lofthouse developed a simple remedy back in 1865 to relieve coughs and colds suffered by local fishermen out at sea.

It proved so popular it became known as their "friends" resulting in the Fisherman's Friend name.

For the next 100 years, the lozenge was virtually unknown outside the fishing community.

That was until 1963 when the magical ingredient was added - Doreen Lofthouse - who transformed into a global brand.

Thanks to the entrepreneurial skills of Doreen, who married Tony Lofthouse, the cough sweet is now available in 120 countries and is estimated to be worth £165m.

Doreen was the first person to start selling the mixture of liquorice, capsicum, menthol and eucalyptus oil outside Fleetwood.

James Lofthouse's pharmacy
James Lofthouse's East Street pharmacy in Fleetwood

Tony, the great grandson of James, explains: "During the old days of the Wakes Weeks people from the Lancashire cotton towns would come to Fleetwood for their holidays.

"They would buy our lozenges while they were here but couldn't find any when they returned home so they would write to us requesting supplies by mail order.

"My wife collated the letters into geographic order then took them to the relevant town and approached just one retailer there asking them to stock the lozenges. If they agreed, she promised to write to the people who had ordered from us advising them that they could now purchase them from their shop."

It was a shrewd move especially in hindsight with the demise of Fleetwood as a major fishing port. The word spread and they began receiving enquiries from wholesalers in Lancashire, then from Yorkshire and then they were besieged by wholesalers from all over the UK.

Doreen also managed to persuade Boots the Chemist to trial the tonic and it soon became a "must stock" item in all branches.

Her business acumen came as no surprise to Tony. "She has always been full of energy and has the ability to spot opportunities whenever they arise. She has a natural instinct for business."

Fisherman's Friend
Three times recipient of the Queen's Award for Export Achievement

First stop the UK, the next was to capture the world-wide market. In 1974, Fisherman's Friend was exported to Norway because of their cold climate and their fishing heritage. The export market exploded and the fishing trawler emblem soon sailed into all five continents.

Germany has the biggest market but hot climates can't get enough of the chew, either. Singapore are the second most significant importer behind Germany; they munch on millions of them a year.

Interestingly, the UK is the only country to regard Fisherman's Friend as a pharmaceutical product; other countries class the product as sweets. For every 100 made - 97 are exported and just three capsules remain on home soil. They introduced sugar free versions and new flavours to appeal to different country's tastes such as aniseed, lemon and cherry.

In recognition of the global success, Fisherman's Friend has received the Queen's Award to Industry for Export Achievement three times. But it isn't just the business that Doreen has been honoured for; she has received both an OBE and MBE and she has been made Freeman of the Borough of Wyre for her charity work.

The company remains a family business run by Tony, Doreen and her son Duncan - just as the Lofthouses like it. "It keeps things simple. We have no other shareholders and no boardroom. We just talk things through in the office or at home."

Fisherman's Friend oil
Originally the remedy was an oil but later made in capsule form

Doreen married Tony, the managing director in 1976, and he says there has never been a problem working with the missus. "It's been easy. I respect her views and judgement. There's no secret to keeping the business and home life happy; we cherish both."

What is it like to be part of the Lofthouse dynasty? "There isn't one: we are just a normal family." They might own one of the world's biggest brands but they shun the champagne lifestyle saying they don't have time for parties. Instead, they enjoy the simple things in life like their dogs. Doreen spends time working on their garden while Tony is Trustee of Fleetwood's Heritage Trawler "Jacinta" which has now been restored to seagoing condition and takes part in Maritime Festivals around the UK coast.

Tony explains their idea of luxury: "As far as luxuries go, we appreciate being able to live in a nice house and I would also class good friends and good health in this category."

He says they aren't driven by money so what motivates the Lofthouses? "Trying to ensure that the company continues to grow and provide employment." The formula is still working: even in challenging times turnover is up 5% this year to £33.5m and they are one of Fleetwood's major employers with 280 staff on their payroll.

Their home town is a place very close to their heart. As well as providing the area with work, the family set up 'The Lofthouse Foundation' in 1994 to put something back into Fleetwood. They put a percentage of company profits into the foundation to fund special projects to benefit Fleetwood. "We always select projects that will be of benefit to the community rather than individuals."

The original extra strong mints are still made to the exact recipe James Lofthouse devised in 1865. It is a potent mix of liquorice, capsicum, menthol and eucalyptus oil with no artificial colours or flavourings
Originally a liquid remedy it was made into small lozenges to make it easier to transport
Doreen Lofthouse was awarded the OBE in 2008 for her charity work and service to the business community

The Foundation has put millions of pounds into helping the local area including refurbishing Fleetwood Hospital, medical equipment, a children's playground and improvements to the promenade and part of Fleetwood's shopping centre now named Fisherman's Walk.

The couple say they have never been tempted to leave the fishing town. "Fleetwood folk are the salt of the earth and we love the wonderful sea views." Quite symbolically, Doreen donated a statue of Eros the Greek god of love to the people of Fleetwood.

However, it hasn't all been plain sailing for the Lofthouses. The couple are still coming to terms with a violent burglary at their home in March 2009. They suffered a ten-hour ordeal while thieves ransacked their house. Tony attributes it partly to the Sunday Times Rich List; Doreen and the Lofthouse family are ranked 346th on the 2009 list. "I believe it is an intrusion into peoples' privacy and, quite possibly, the reason our home was burgled and so many personal items stolen."

What does Tony think his great grandfather would make of how far his potion has gone since he first concocted it in his chemist in 1865? "We hope he would be pleased."




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