Organic, natural, hand made; these are all terms that get thrown around with almost wild abandon these days. As consumers we are (quite rightly) beginning to care more about what goes into our products, who made them and whether or not they were paid fairly, yet at the same time we are all increasingly suspicious of marketing campaigns and brands who can seemingly slap “natural” across their packaging just because there’s a hint of a fruit extract in the product. What does it even mean to be ‘natural’ in 2015? Is it all just some fancy wording?
It was with these thoughts whirling around in my head that I sat on a plane to Malaga, bound for a beautiful finca in the lush green countryside of Estepona. I was off to take a look at Santaverde, a brand of aloe vera products started 30 years ago by a German couple, Kurt and Sabine. I’ve been very fortunate to travel with my blog, to meet with companies and sometimes get a peek behind the scenes, but nothing prepared me for the experience I would have on those aloe-filled hillsides.
I could tell you about the beautiful hotel we stayed at (Estepona Palace), I could talk about the wonderful company I shared, or the bar lined with bank notes from all over the world where I had one too many glasses of Disaronno, but all of those things can wait for another time. What really stood out to me was how open Kurt and Sabine were, how we sat at their table to hear their story, shared wine, talked about our lives and not only got a mere peek behind the scenes but saw the whole shebang, even becoming part of the process ourselves.
Kurt and Sabine were already accomplished entrepreneurs when they bought a holiday home in the form of a rural finca just outside Estepona 30 years ago. They spent summers there and made friends with their neighbour, a Texan who one evening gave Sabine an aloe leaf “to help with her skin.” A little embarrassed (her skin was her one concern) and very skeptical, she took the leaf to be polite and though that would be the end of it. The aloe ended up being a life saver, and after chatting with said neighbour about how to grow it, their entrepreneurial minds kicked into overdrive and they saw a nice little business opportunity.
They filled their land with aloe plants and spent 15 years researching it’s benefits, experimenting with planting and harvesting methods and dreaming up ideas of selling raw materials to cosmetic giants. Sitting with friends on their terrace they joked about how one day lorries would be leaving the finca full of aloe, off to be used in products from some of the biggest brands in the world. Little did they know they would end up making products themselves and shunning the opaque, often misleading manufacturing style of the cosmetic titans.
The real story began when they approached manufacturers to buy their raw material – they were shocked to find out that all of the ‘aloe’ products on the market hardly contained any aloe at all, but in fact used tiny percentages of reconstituted aloe powder which had been heavily processed. “Is it still effective?” Sabine asked, and was told no, it probably wasn’t that effective but people were sheep, you could make a fortune pumping your product full of about 70% water and fillers, the public would see aloe on the label and buy it, they didn’t know any better.
Rather than rubbing their hands in glee, Kurt and Sabine were angry. It didn’t seem right to mislead customers and exploit their trust, so armed with a field full of aloe they started on a new adventure, producing their own products. It began tentatively in their finca’s kitchen, but they held fast to the belief that there was a gap in the market for a transparent, 100% pure brand. If the public bought into marketing hype and misleading labels, they knew that if their products used pure ingredients instead of minute amounts of powders and extracts they could be incredibly powerful and create an alternative, something people could really trust.
That’s how the finca was transformed to house not only fields of aloe as far as the eye could see, but also a processing plant, a beautiful structure built into the hillside and made of glass, a symbol of the transparency they hold so dear. They are so open in fact, that anyone can visit and take a tour of their operations. They are so confident in their product and it’s quality that many of their competitors have been through the doors to take a look. They have nothing to hide, no secret formulations they guard closely, they just make excellent products that really work, the result of 30 years experience and aloe growth.
They harvest aloe in the autumn, so I got to witness the process and even have a go myself, armed with the sharpest of knives we took the leaves that were ready and processed them, which let me tell you, the lovely girls working there make look much easier than it is. We washed, sliced and removed the precious aloe inside, which is then packed into chilled blocks and taken to Germany. If Estepona is the heart of Santaverde then Germany is the brains, and as natives who spend most of their time there it made sense to run some operations there, where efficiency is key and they were familiar with the business world.
The end result is a stunning product line made up of pure aloe, no 70% water, powdered substances or bulking agents in sight. the range, true to the company ethos, is pretty simple, with unisex items and clean, minimalist design. Items like the oil and gel can be mixed with the cream to create skincare that is lighter or more rich depending on what you need that day, and it’s all done in a responsible way – Santaverde carry the vegan society seal, are certified organic and leaping bunny approved, meaning they are totally cruelty free.
Seeing the operations at Santaverde left me feeling hopeful, and filled with optimism for the future of business. As consumers we are becoming more and more informed about our choices, and in these modern times when our money is hard-earned we want to spend it with people who are doing things right. I can’t wait to try the products, which are already highly regarded in Germany and have won many awards, and I couldn’t wait to share my experience at the finca, and I really mean that, I’m writing this on the plane home.
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