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Whither Goes the Wise Woman

wisewoman.gif Nutrition Business Journal is coming down from its healthcare practitioner high, but I couldn’t let the channel rest without discussing Wise Woman Herbals (WWH) out of Creswell, Oregon. In reporting our issue about MLM & Practitioner Sales in the Nutrition Industry, and then again in our issue about Direct-to-Consumer Sales, we heard repeated and emphatic accolades about the quality of WWH’s handmade products.

So I picked up the phone and talked to Dave Garland, Operations Manager for WWH, about the story behind the company’s quiet success. WWH produces more than 350 supplements, with a focus on organic, wildcrafted and natural ingredients sold primarily to healthcare practitioners. You won’t find WWH in many health food stores.

prod_shot1.jpg“We’re trying to represent that whole traditional, handcrafted approach to herbal medicine,” says Garland. “We don’t do huge batches. Everything’s small-crafted. We think of ourselves as a micro-manufacturer, if you will, of small-batch tincture.” A key to this philosophy is preservation of whole-herb constituents, working as an herbalist might have hundreds of years ago. In fact, the company name reaches back to a time of village doctors, when every small community had a ‘wise woman’ treating illness with handmade tinctures and herbs.

“We don’t want to strip the herbs, to heat-treat them to death,” says Garland. “Our philosophy is that the whole plant is good, there are things there that we don’t want to destroy.” This allows WWH to exert a high-level of quality control into its processes, from sourcing locally to manufacturing compounds by hand. “We don’t manipulate much,” says Garland. “It’s a more natural approach, if you can have a more natural approach to natural medicine.”

WWH follows cGMPs rigidly, and has operated from the outset with quality and safety a top priority. Many of the companies NBJ encounters at the leading edge of quality control—like Gaia Herbs and Ascenta Health, whose traceability programs get a closer look in our upcoming issue—are companies verily built on the concept. GMPs aren’t a big deal if you’ve been operating in-line with them for a decade.

WWH was one of the first small companies granted cGMP compliance. Many product ingredients are sourced locally in the Cascades and coastal mountain regions, with some vendor relationships dating back 20 years. This is another key ingredient to the current debate about supplement safety and efficacy rearing its head in the media and on Capitol Hill. Safety and efficacy seem, in part, the result of working with trusted vendors, whether you are a manufacturer sourcing component ingredients or a retailer selling finished products. Trusted vendors are the kind of vendors who accept corporate audit programs, independent third-party testing, and strategic alignment with philosophical goals around wildcrafting and organic certification. Trusted suppliers lead to trusted products, and consumer trust in the supplement industry as a whole.

Quality control is all the more important when you sell directly through the healthcare practitioner channel. Some products that Garland refers to as ‘low-dose’—like an anti-parasital supplement with black walnut—have alkaloids and low levels of toxicity that preclude sales to a general, retail audience. These are short-term, low-dose compounds that require professional supervision, and a sharp focus on safety during manufacture.

Another way to make high-quality products? Keep it simple. “Our premise is traditional, naturopathic,” says Garland. “Basic, simple tinctures. Simple compounds. We don’t believe in standardization. There are constituents in the herb we want to preserve.”

Related NBJ links:

NBJ's Integrative Medicine Report 2009

April 2010: MLM & Practitioner Sales in the Nutrition Industry

Health Practitioners Value Revenue-Generating Potential of Selling Supplements

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