Last fall, when I visited the J.R. Watkins headquarters in Winona, MN, I had the pleasure of meeting the company Vice President of Sales & Marketing, J. R. Rigley. He and company president, Mark Jacobs, were very excited to tell us all about the history of the J.R. Watkins brand (over 140 years old!) and their line of personal care, home care and gourmet products.
As part of my quest to make sense of personal care product labels, I wanted to know more about the process of getting J.R. Watkins products certified by the Natural Products Association, something they have been working hard on for the past couple of years. J.R. was kind enough to answer some interview questions on the subject:
MIndful Momma: Why did you choose to go for the Natural Products Association certification vs. other certifications like USDA Organic, EcoCert or others?
J.R. Rigley: It was really important for us to partner with someone that was truly an independent third party and not for profit. We were looking for an organization that could evolve the J.R. Watkins Freedom Code and create a recognized standard for the entire industry. Partnering with NPA really was a natural fit. The NPA has been recognized for being the credible voice in the natural products industry and we are honored to carry their seal.
What percentage of the company’s personal care products currently has the NPA seal?
Currently, more than 70% of the JR Watkins Natural products in the personal care category are certified or pending certification, including the brand new baby line.
How many products did you need to reformulate to meet the NPA standards?
Through our Freedom Code, which you can see online at J.R. Watkins for each category --- home care, personal care and gourmet --- we followed manufacturing protocols and ideals consistent with what you see in the NPA standard. It was important for us to do this from the beginning, even prior to the NPA certification. We are always formulating our products to the highest standards. And, today, as the NPA standard evolves with industry advances, new ingredients and breakthrough personal care processes, we will continue to tweak and improve our formulas.
What kind of feedback have you had from customers about having NPA certification?
Consumers are becoming aware of what the NPA seal means. There has certainly been an increased demand for certification as retailers aim to distinguish their natural sets from their competitors. It has certainly become a strong selling point for our brand.
You were part of the team that created the standards. Can you explain a bit about the process, the goals and the challenges you ran into?
The creation of the standard was a collaborative effort among manufacturing, retailers and suppliers of natural ingredients. We were excited to be a part of the group. Like any committee-based process, there are different opinions and voices every step of the way, but the objective from the start was to successfully agree on a standard for natural products that would be credible and easy to understand for consumers looking for natural products. It needed to be easily recognized across the industry in order to be credible and effective.
There is some criticism that the NPA standards were written by manufacturers and retailers who have the most to benefit financially. Can you explain how outside input was considered and reflected in the standards?
Manufacturers and suppliers are at the forefront of natural personal care industry, which offers a forum to share advances in technology, natural ingredients and product formulations. That information sharing is critical, and created a really sound discussion from which to build the standard. There have been other standards written by for-profit companies, but the NPA is an independent, not-for-profit group.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about J.R. Watkins and your use of the NPA seal?
Our goal is for consumers to realize that the term “natural” is not regulated in the market, and applying the NPA seal can help distinguish those products that are truly natural from the imposters. The auditing process to receive certification is extensive, and we encourage people to learn what the seal means and how it coincides with their lifestyles.
Are certifications like the Natural Products Association seal important to you? Have you seen it on any products you buy?