Alain Ménard laughs when he recalls the early days of The Green Beaver Company, more than two decades ago, when he and his wife Karen Clark first began formulating their idea. “We basically started a hobby, but it burst into a company,” he says. “Because, really, this company wasn’t born with a business plan, it was born on a mission—for us to go out there and promote healthy, natural living in a sustainable world.”
At the time, Clark and Ménard were planning to start a family, but as scientists working in the pesticide and pharmaceutical industries, they were concerned with all the chemicals they saw in household cleaners and body care products. “This was 20 years ago, so the natural versions of products were harder to find,” says Ménard. “So, we bought a few heating plates, mixers and we converted part of our kitchen into a small laboratory. And then we started making our own stuff.”
Eventually Clark, a biochemist, decided to fully commit to the endeavour, quitting her job to focus on the arduous task of formulating the organic products. It was not long after, when Ménard’s 32-year-old sister was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, that he realized how important their products could be if they were made without harmful ingredients. “I finally clued in and said, ‘I agree … Let’s start this company, let’s go out there and educate people.’ So that was our mission: we were using the products as a means to show that there are alternatives that could be better for you and the environment.”
It was a team effort, says Ménard (who now helms the company, as Clark has stepped back from day-to-day operations). “Karen would do the base formula, and as a microbiologist I’d come in and see how to preserve the products without any chemical preservatives.”
When Green Beaver officially launched in 2002, it was one of a few Canadian natural product companies in a market dominated by U.S. and European brands. To distinguish themselves, the duo focused on innovation and sourcing Canadian ingredients whenever possible. Their first products were an aluminum-free deodorant made with sage oil and Labrador tea, and a fluoride-free toothpaste featuring vitamin C, calcium, and coconut and fruit extract. “Then, of course, the challenge was convincing people to try it,” recalls Ménard. “I remember being at consumer shows and people would look at you like you were from Mars!” A breakthrough came in 2011, when Green Beaver launched Canada’s first certified organic mineral sunscreen. “It attracted a lot of attention, and all our other products started picking up as well,” says Ménard.
From its 20,000-sq.-ft. facility in the Eastern Ontario town of Hawkesbury, Green Beaver now produces a wide range of popular items including all-purpose cleaning soaps, body lotion, lip balm, hair care, as well as lines for babies and children. All products made by the company are organic, Ecocert-certified, vegan, bio-degradable, and free from GMOs, chemical preservatives and potentially harmful ingredients like plastic microbeads. The brand is available in most major health food stores, grocery and pharmacy chains across Canada, and the company recently began exporting to the United States.
Notable new innovations include Canada’s first aluminum-free antiperspirant (as opposed to deodorant), and Naturapeutic Toothpastes made with xylitol, which have Health Canada’s approval to include a cavity-prevention claim. The company also introduced a 100% natural hand sanitizer at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there has been sustained high demand for it as well as the company’s hand soaps. Ménard believes it’s a sign that demand for chemical-free alternatives has reached a tipping point. “The natural market has grown all these years, but in the last five years something has been happening. Demand is increasing significantly,” he says. “And I think it’s primarily the millennial moms—they’re changing the market.”
The company is currently working on more sustainable packaging, as well as what Ménard calls a zero-plastic line featuring concentrated versions of products. He doesn’t rule out adding new categories as consumers request them.
“In the future, you’ll see that the majority of products in any category are going to be natural. That’s what people are going to demand, especially because the efficacy of natural products now matches—if not exceeds—the conventional products,” he notes. “And I think somehow we contributed, [through] all the conferences we did and the social media, to educating millennial parents about natural products. That makes me feel good, because if you get the parents you’ve got the future generation, too.”
This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s September-October 2020 issue.