Natural beauty products get into Whole Foods
BY SKIP DESCANT
Advocate business writer
July 04, 2012
Sallye Mouk is sending bottles of her Stop Scratchin’ Lotion to far-flung places like Pennsylvania and California. Police officers in West Baton Rouge Parish are spritzing her Shoe Spray on everything from hats to bulletproof vests.
The orders for her line of all-natural lotions, shampoos and other skin care products are coming so fast Mouk can hardly fill them.
The spike in business for Dr. Sam’s Essentially Natural Lotions started about a year ago, and has only grown — quadrupled, “at least” — Mouk said, not disclosing sales figures, on a recent afternoon from her office on Quarters Lake Road in Baton Rouge.
And a few weeks ago, Mouk landed what may be the most coveted shelf space for a maker of natural skin care products — Whole Foods Market. Her products are in stores in the Baton Rouge and Austin, Texas, metro areas. They will soon be in New Orleans.
This summer Mouk will take to the roads visiting stores in Austin; Oklahoma City and Tulsa in Oklahoma; Little Rock, Ark.; and Atlanta to promote the products in Whole Foods.
“It’s pretty amazing,” remarked Mouk, whose workspace evolved from her home to now a five-room office setting where she employs three workers. Her products can also be found in area retailers like Radiant Health, Our Daily Bread and a number of salons.
Landing quality local products is important to national retailers like Whole Foods. It can help to individualize a store and keeps with Whole Foods’ philosophy of fresh, local products, said Kristina Bradford, community relations coordinator for Whole Foods Markets in Louisiana.
“At Whole Foods Market, we have a commitment to support local farmers, producers and artisans by buying locally,” she said. The company has hired a local buyer to work with local and regional providers.
Dr. Sam’s Essentially Natural Lotions, which includes sprays, shampoos and lotions, are intended to tackle all the typical skin ailments like itching and flaking.
Their ingredients lists contain the names of no chemicals. Instead, it’s stuff like cherry bark or apple and special blend of essential oils.
Mouk, a former paramedic, has a degree in nursing and cosmetology and is certified in natural medicine (though Louisiana does not license natural medics).
What’s equally important to both Whole Foods and local businesses hoping to get their products on the shelf is the high bar Whole Foods sets when it comes to quality. The products must be free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats, among other ingredients.
The products — with the exception of loose items like produce — must have bar codes so they can be scanned at the registers.
“That can be a big ordeal right there,” remarked Christina DeLeon, who owns Totally Rawsome, a maker of organic, raw vegan foods in Covington. Whole Foods stores in Baton Rouge and New Orleans began selling Totally Rawsome products like cookies and tortillas in 2008. But before the first product could hit the shelves, DeLeon’s kitchen had to be inspected and approved and labels needed the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
DeLeon also had to get for her products Unified Product Codes, those little bar codes allowing the product to be scanned at the cash register.
“All this had to be done before any product was even submitted for tasting,” said DeLeon, 38.
Mouk said she also had to have labels printed with bar codes as well as list the ingredients on her lotions according to the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. This is a legal labeling requirement, which has all ingredients listed by their official INCI names. And ingredients have to be listed from the order of most to least quantity.
“For example, the first labels I made said something like the ingredients included hugs, loves and smiles, or something like that,” Mouk said. “I had to remove that from the label because you can’t measure it and quantify it. It has to be an actual ingredient.”
A small local business operation wanting to sell it its products to a national retailer can be intimidating. Those who have done it say it takes tenacity and, most of all, a quality product.
“I went to Whole Foods and approached them,” Mouk recalled. “And they said, ‘We really like the samples you gave us. This is really nice. You should talk to our buyer.’ And I did.”
DeLeon got her start by getting permission to give away samples of her foods in the store at Whole Foods.
“It took forever, in the beginning, because I didn’t know what I was even asking,” she said, recalling the maze of store officials she encountered before landing the right person.
“There was a lot involved in getting in Whole Foods,” Mouk added. “There’s even a whole vendor packet to show you what’s needed.”
Whatever hoops need to be jumped through local businesses say they’re willing. The store brings with it the reputation of quality and for the most part savvy, well-heeled shoppers.
“I think of Whole Foods, to me, as a good way of marketing,” DeLeon said, adding, it gives her the chance to put her products on shelves widely seen by the kinds of shoppers who would be interested in raw food.
“They see that I’m local, and then they get in touch with me.”