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How did Anointment transform from soap to a best-selling New Mom & Baby skin care line?

Anointment Original Branding

Anointment began as a stall in the Halifax Brewery Farmers’ Market in 2002. Selling bar soap, Anointment did brisk business with customers who came weekly to buy multiple bars of soap packaged simply in hand-stamped paper bags secured with twine. Herbal baby products were a side idea for a booming soap business. Fifteen years later, the tables have turned and soap is now a smaller focus for a business known more for its New Mom & Baby products. How did that happen?

Anointment left the Farmers’ Market in 2008. After a brief hiatus and a change of ownership, Anointment re-emerged at a Halifax natural parenting store then owned by new Anointment owner April MacKinnon where local customers were relieved to find their beloved bar soap. For the next few years, soap remained the top selling category.

In 2011, after relocating from Halifax, NS to Sackville, NB and the birth of her third child, April worked with a handful of local families to provide postpartum doula support until her own family obligations forced a re-prioritization. April was also struggling to find direction for Anointment. One day, while having a lengthy telephone conversation with a fellow baby industry business owner, it was suggested that Baby Balm be submitted for a PTPA Media Award for best new product – and Baby Balm received that award! The lightbulb went on! What if Anointment New Mom & Baby products could embody the postpartum support of a doula in the products themselves? What might that look like?

It started with product formulations. Every ingredient was scrutinized and evaluated. Parents have a lot on their plate, it’s important that Anointment create products with intentional ingredients and product formulations that are pure, simple, and effective. We made changes, we found new suppliers with organic certifications.

We continued with packaging and new label designs. How could we impart a welcoming, supportive feeling into our packaging? We went through several iterations of designs, including lighthouses, whales and other Maritime imagery before bringing it really close to home: using the designs pressed into the doorknobs of the century Farmhouse I call home with my family. It fit like a perfectly warm hug.

That was just the beginning. As interest and product love grew, so did our New Mom & Baby line. We added more products to support moms in the immediate days postpartum when our body and spirit are raw. We tucked well wishes into the flaps of boxes, recipes into the insides of gift sets. Adding the intangible into a tangible item.

Anointment continues to grow and evolve, but today, our New Mom & Baby Line continues to be our best-selling line of products, and we couldn’t be more proud!

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Sunflower + Calendula Soap

Last week I had the opportunity to lead a soapmaking workshop with a small group of youth from the Sackville Community Garden. Using organic sunflower oil and dried calendula (a type of marigold with excellent skin soothing properties) from their garden we made a small batch of a lovely mild soap.

This was a first for me – I have never given a soapmaking workshop before. I have learned that my workshop space is not particularly well suited to having a group of people! I did enjoy the process and got a rare chance to experiment with a new recipe AND make soap in a rectangular mold for the first time (oh how it is so simple compared to round molds)! It remains to be seen how interested the youth were – their willingness to participate in the process – well, they were a bit stoic about the whole thing but maybe they’ll come to appreciate it later on.

Sunflower oil contains a high percentage of high-oleic acid oils which makes the soap much slower to harden than I am used to – after 48 hours they were still easily ‘smooshable’ when removing them from the molds.

Sunflower + Calendula Soap

This soap also contains a small amount of annatto seed infused in the lye, giving the soap a lovely light yellow colour and tiny reddish flecks. I can’t wait to try it out and compare it to the super-secret-and-highly-coveted Anointment soap formula.

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Sharing a Passion for Natural Living

Photo by Katie Tower
Written by Katie Tower, the following appeared in the Wednesday, October 5, 2011 issue of the Sackville Tribune-Post

April MacKinnon is what you might call a busy mom.

With three children under the age of six, renovations underway on their 150-year-old Victorian farmhouse on the outskirts of town, and a home-based business that is starting to gain notoriety across North America, as well as manning a booth every week at the Saturday morning farmers’ market, the stay-at-home mom keeps a pretty hectic schedule.

And MacKinnon is enjoying every minute of it.

“It’s a fine balance between growing a business and raising a family . . . but it’s something I love to do,” she says.

MacKinnon, who recently moved back to her hometown after more than a decade in the Halifax area, runs Anointment Natural Skin Care Inc. out of her spacious home in Upper Sackville – making handcrafted soaps, baby oils, balms, toners and bath salts from pure ingredients. She says she’s proud to be back in Sackville with her family, doing something she is passionate about.

“We make our soaps and body care products in small batches, by hand, the old-fashioned way,” she explains. “It’s a slow deliberate process that’s not mechanized in any way.”

The road to where she’s at now, however, has been a winding one.

Her training is as a civil (environment) engineer, which was how she met her husband back in 1998. But her work in the field, in which she saw firsthand what goes on at city dumps and landfills, was what ultimately set her on a different path.

When she became pregnant with her first child in 2005, she knew she wanted to make some changes in her life.

“I had become really aware of how much we throw out,” she says. “And I felt strongly that I didn’t want to use disposable diapers on my kids or use chemicals that would harm them.”

When her daughter Anna was born, MacKinnon started up her own online business selling cloth diapers and natural baby supplies from her home in Dartmouth.

Three years later, the business had grown to the point she was giving monthly workshops in the community on cloth diapers and baby carriers and she was getting ready to open her own retail store.

It was then, when she was operating her shop Nurtured in downtown Halifax, that she was given the chance to acquire Anointment. MacKinnon had been selling the products in her store and the woman who had founded the business was getting ready to step down from it.

With a newfound passion for natural living and a love of the Anointment products, it was an opportunity MacKinnon says she just couldn’t pass up, even though she had her hands more than full.

Her life began to get even busier.

She was trained in soap making so she was now spending her evenings and weekends producing skin care products for her own shop and a handful of wholesale clients.

It didn’t take long, however, before she started to realize the demands of running two growing businesses were taking its toll on her and her family.

That’s when they decided to make another big change.

Selling her store just this past March and their home in April, MacKinnon and her husband, with their three kids in tow, left Halifax and returned back to her hometown, deciding to put all her efforts solely into Anointment.

“Because Anointment is primarily a wholesale company, I can basically do it from anywhere,” she says.

Her new country home, which features a second kitchen which is being used solely for making the Anointment products, has been ideal for both her growing family and her growing business.

And the new setting has paid off for MacKinnon. The success of Anointment is continuing to flourish.

Her products – which are made from only the purest ingredients with no synthetic fragrances, colours, petroleum products or preservatives – are being sold in 25 retail stores across Canada and she has deals with a number of cloth diaper manufacturers who purchase her baby products.

And even more recently, MacKinnon’s top-selling product, Baby Balm, was awarded the Parent-Tested Parent-Approved (PTPA) Seal of Approval. PTPA has North America’s largest volunteer testing community, with over 40,000 parents.

MacKinnon says she’s thrilled to have received this recognition for a product she so strongly believes in.

“It was really fantastic to get that vote of confidence that people love it . . . to get that kind of feedback from people is a really phenomenal achievement,” she says.

Baby Balm, which doesn’t contain zinc oxide as most other mainstream baby ointments do, is more cloth diaper friendly because it doesn’t plug up the fabric and it’s easier on an infant’s skin.

“It’s made with certified organic oils and herbs that provide skin soothing and healing properties,” she says.

Baby Balm, which takes about three days to make by hand, was one of many entries from across North America competing to earn the PTPA seal.

“I really enjoy making it. So if that’s going to be our flagship, then that’s great.”

So what’s the next step for MacKinnon? She says it will now be more important than ever to find new ways to market her products, “getting them out to more stores and growing the brand across North America.”

And although you would expect in a world where people are becoming much more environmentally-aware, she needn’t be too concerned about how her business will fare. But that’s exactly the toughest hurdle she faces.

“There is a growing demand but there’s also a competitive market . . . so setting yourself apart is the biggest challenge,” says MacKinnon.

In Sackville, Anointment products are sold at the Crofter or the Saturday morning farmer’s market on Bridge Street

She says her adult skin care products are big sellers locally, including the herbal clay cleanser, rose toner and Om Shanti soap.”

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Mike and the Goats vs. The Government

Meet Mike, a fellow Sackville Farmer’s Market vendor. I buy goat cheese from him because my children are allergic to the protein in cow’s milk. He’s being faced with going out of business because he can’t afford a very expensive piece of pasteurizing equipment the government says is required to make his cheese safe. He keeps a small herd of goats and makes all of his products by hand, the old fashioned way – not unlike the principles I use with Anointment.

A few years ago, I was faced with a similar situation. Health Canada “asked” that I refrain from selling Anointment products because the labeling was not up to date. It was not bilingual and the ingredients were listed in English rather than the industry standard “INCI” – International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients” language, which usually amounts to the latin names of the ingredients. There was nothing WRONG with the products, no health issue, no safety issue only labeling issues. Similar issues could be found on many, many mainstream cosmetic brands who hire celebrity spokespeople, but as an easy target, I was faced with a very difficult decision. I was in the process of updating the labels and had planned to do it as funds allowed. Instead, I was faced with a deadline by Health Canada that amounted to over $10,000 in research, translation, design and printing fees. That cost nearly crippled Anointment and when I inquired about “financial help to comply”, the safety officer merely shrugged her shoulders. In fact, the experience was so bad that I not only complained to the officer’s supervisor but to my MP as well.

It infuriates me to see another small scale producer who cares about his animals, cares about his product – and if you’ve ever talked to Mike, you KNOW he is passionate about what he does – being faced with the same issue. Yes, public safety is important, and if regulations are required and to be followed, I firmly believe there should be programs available to small businesses to meet these needs. Ten or twenty thousand dollars is more than most small businesses make in a year. Offer some solutions: a grant or interest-free loan, for example. If Canada truly has an interest in economic development, entrepreneurship and RURAL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, offer us support rather than trying to shut us down at every turn.

As far as pasteurization goes, I know many a family who PREFER not to have their milk pasteurized. It is NOT routinely pasteurized in France and I’m pretty sure the French are not dropping dead in droves from E. Coli outbreaks. I have purchased cheese in Halifax made from raw Quebec milk. If they are heating the milk and cooling it, that’s good enough for me. I don’t need flash pasteurization!

Mike, I support you and I will buy a share in your farm to not only prove a point but because I believe in what you do.