Todd waller bringing natural aloe Relief to the Valley and beyond
After more than 15 years in the Valley’s aloe vera industry, involved in everything from production methodology to R&D at various Valley companies, Todd Waller in 1999 decided to go out on his own. He formed Pangea Phytoceuticals, Inc. which today grows aloe vera barbadensis and manufactures aloe products under its Aloe Re-Leaf label.
Initially Pangea researched under a NIH grant, but Waller saw other possibilities beyond the studies that focused on single properties of aloe. “Aloe has so many good qualities. I like to keep it all intact,” Waller said. So Waller and his wife Bonnie bottled an aloe cream that appeared to aid persons with arthritis, shingles and psoriasis. They added an aloe lotion that helped dry, itchy skin and minor rashes.
“We don’t say our product does anything … we say aloe does it, and our product is 98 percent aloe,” Waller said. “We say our customers experienced favorable results.” That wording and the non-drug name of Aloe Re-Leaf keep them from running afoul of the Texas State Health Department and the FDA, which currently considers aloe vera an “inactive” ingredient. Yes, aloe has been shown to be an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic and is useful in wound healing, increasing blood flow, moisturizing and easing burns whether from the sun, hot pans or radiation. “We have a lot of people using aloe during radiation treatment.”
Waller last year retired from a position as a science teacher to devote his full time to Aloe Re-Leaf and its growing clientele. He no longer has to stay up until midnight manufacturing products. Waller himself fillets the aloe leaves in a small processing facility where the fresh juice is compounded in small batches with ingredients such as glycerin and Vitamin E for the lotion, for example. “Within three to four hours, it is finished. That’s as fresh a product as you are going get.”
The business is adding more plants to the thousands they already have in their fields. Waller has found steps he has to take when growing aloe and when processing it to obtain the highest quality.
Initially the Wallers sold their products at the Don-Wes Flea Market, but switched to selling at market days in Harlingen and Port Isabel, at craft and health fairs, festivals and online. Free samples of a quality product and customer interaction are at the heart of the company’s success.
“What I enjoy is meeting people and educating them about aloe. I like them to try it and to see that they like it,” Bonnie said. Numerous times people have rubbed Aloe Re-Leaf on an aching hand, walked away and then circled back to tell her their hands had stopped hurting.
Bonnie told Todd they needed to produce a gel for local residents who had aloe plants in their yard but didn’t want to deal with the sticky, fresh aloe leaf. Todd produced a spray that is popular with sunburned beach goers. “That has really taken off this year,” she said. And after fielding requests for a night repair face cream for women, Todd concocted both a night and day face cream. “We keep selling out. It was a good call,” she added. So was the decision to make Aloe Re-Leaf shampoo and body wash.
Customer input has prompted the creation of additional aloe vera products. “That’s a benefit of going out and meeting people. They tell you what they want, and after a half dozen requests, you look into it,” Bonnie said. Another benefit of being small is being able to respond quickly.
Unlike most other aloe companies, Aloe Re-Leaf is not made from reconstituted aloe vera and doesn’t include preservatives. Additionally, aloe is the first ingredient listed in Aloe Re-Leaf products although it is typically near the last ingredient in many others. The lotions are directed at topical skin issues– dryness, itching and burns — while the creams are more penetrating and are favorites of customers with arthritis, eczema and the like. Gel is aloe as it comes out of leaf.
Winter Texans were stocking up on Aloe Re-Leaf products in March before leaving the Valley. But the company’s website is getting stronger. “The website has really taken off this year. Getting the word out that we ship has been important,” Bonnie said. Aloe Re-Leaf’s Facebook page posts the locations and dates where the product will be available.
While most of the Valley’s aloe vera production and processing have moved out of the region, Bonnie and Todd Waller have positioned their company to supply locally made relief in a leaf.
For more information, see mkt.com/aloereleaf.
This story by Eileen Mattei appears in the April 2017 edition of Valley Business Report