A Visit to Aura Cacia and Frontier Natural Products Co-op

A Visit to Aura Cacia and Frontier Natural Products Co-op

by Gretchen Fox-Schempp, Wellness Manager

This past October Carl, Oneota Co-op Bulk Buyer and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Frontier Co-op in Norway, Iowa and the Aura Cacia Co-op in Urbana.  Carl and I order weekly from Frontier and were excited at the chance to see the facilities where many of the items on our shelves are from and learn more about their sourcing.

To give you a bit of history about the companies, Frontier was born a collective in a cabin by the Cedar River in 1976 and has grown into a major supplier for the natural foods industry.  Aura Cacia was founded in 1982 in Weaverville, California and was bought by Frontier in 1993.  At that point Aura Cacia was well known in the industry for its aromatherapy products and Frontier was known for its high-quality testing and sourcing capabilities.  Their union was destined to be one of great success and high quality.

At Aura Cacia we toured the small facility, got in on some beautiful aromas while they were mixing up some mango body cream, and witnessed a live distillation.  We then were bussed to Prariewoods, a retreat and conference center dedicated to ecology and spirituality.  It was the perfect setting for our catered lunch from New Pioneer Co-op and our afternoon of product making and aromatherapy training with local celebrity Tim Blakely.  All of this followed first hiking the grounds and then walking the labyrinth if we wished.

Frontier’s staff and management are a wonderful group of passionate and intelligent people.  One of the beliefs at the core of Frontier’s principles is that their staff should be treated well.  They believe in access to affordable on-site child care, healthy organic food, and the opportunity for their staff to eat lunch with their children and visit them during the workday.  We were fortunate to get to share in the high vibe the next day when we toured the Frontier facility and ate two delicious meals in the Frontier Co-op Café.  After lunch we were invited to a tea cupping or a walk through their on-site prairie guided by Kathy Larson, Frontier’s Vice President of Sustainability.

Dr. Ravin Donald (or Dr. Donald as the friendly Frontier bunch call him) is the Vice President of Quality Assurance.  We met him in the Gas Chromatography laboratory where we were shown test results on various essential oils on the market.  “Gas chromatography (GC) is a method of measuring the volatile chemical constituents of a substance. It is one of four objective tests that Frontier uses to determine the quality, identity and purity of every essential oil. GC analysis produces a ‘fingerprint’ of the oil by showing the quantitative presence of each chemical compound. The results can be compared to established standards and reveal oil purity and other information (even the country of origin) which helps validate the oil quality. GC readings that are inconsistent with established standards can be the result of contamination, adulteration, the use of wrong plant parts or species, off-season harvesting, improper distillation techniques, or product enhancement practices that Frontier finds unacceptable.”  (Frontier glossary.)  Many of the market oils tested were found to be adulterated, thus illustrating the importance of buying your essential oils from a reputable company.

The Steam Safe sterilization method was another impressive part of the Frontier tour.  This state-of-the-art technology allows herbs and spices to be sterilized in a fashion without ever compromising the integrity of the product or the health of the consumer.

Well Earth is Frontier’s sustainable botanical sourcing program.  The goal for Frontier is to provide the highest quality of organic herbs, spices, teas and essential oils that are produced responsibly and sustainably.  The principles of this program include: worker treatment and safety, sustainability, community, product safety and environmental impact.  Frontier has fifteen Well Earth suppliers in twelve countries.  These suppliers receive technical and financial support through purchasing commitments that provide viable and stable revenue, education, training and financial support for communities.  Through Well Earth they are able to source directly from the farmers.

Frontier employees travel some 500,000 miles a year to visit these farmers, and 95.4% of their products come from direct sourcing.   “Being there is SO important to quality,” says Cole Daily, VP of Global Sourcing.

You might say we just ate a lot of really good food, went for leisurely walks in the woods and got mellow with lots of lovely smells…and you would be right.  We also spent time talking about new products, marketing and the high quality that these passionate folks work so hard to achieve and pass on to their members…just like we do to ours.

In cooperation and abundant gratitude to Frontier Co-op.