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Transparency in Cleaning Products: A Statement on the Ava Anderson and Branch Basics Issues

generic personal care product

Transparency in Cleaning Products: A Statement on the Ava Anderson and Branch Basics Issues

3.26.18 UPDATE: Branch Basics relaunched with a new formula in 2017, read more here.

By now, some of you may have heard about the controversy facing companies like Ava Anderson and Branch Basics. I’m sure many of you, like us, were saddened and honestly quite frustrated by the news that these companies’ products weren’t what they advertised. While it’s easy to write them off as green-washers, or worse, become cynical about the entire natural beauty products industry, it’s important to dig into exactly why this happened. As you know, Women’s Voices for the Earth has long been advocating for ingredient disclosure. Critical to this is transparency within the supply chain itself. If companies aren’t getting full information from their suppliers, how can they truly assure you – the customer – that their products are what they say. This is what happened at AA and BB. It points out exactly why it’s so critical for companies themselves to demand transparency. Meliora K, one of our No Secrets Business Partners, is one of those companies. We are happy to share an excellent blog post from their founder, which outlines just how important supply chain transparency is. – Erin Switalski, Executive Director at Women’s Voices for the Earth.

Kate Jakubs Meliora K
Kate Jakubas
Founder of
Meliora K Cleaning Products

Recently, companies in the cleaning products industry, Ava Anderson Nontoxic and Branch Basics, have had some serious issues with ingredient integrity related to subcontracting their cleaning product formulations and manufacturing to third parties. To borrow a phrase from Ava Anderson, “Ingredients are everything” when it comes to understanding cleaning products, particularly when you are spending hard-earned dollars on products for their presumably lower impact on human and environmental health. A fraudulent ingredient list is a very, very big deal and companies that have issues like these erode consumer trust in the entire industry.

Meliora K Cleaning Products takes a different approach. We:

  • Develop and manufacture all formulas ourselves. We don’t use an outside supplier to come up with our formulas, and we don’t use an outside company to make the products we sell. We fully understand the complete chemical makeup of each formula. This doesn’t eliminate the chance of, for example, trace contamination of a raw mineral ingredient, but we get to inspect each raw ingredient before it goes into the finished goods we make. We can’t accidentally use a surfactant or a synthetic detergent instead of soap, because we make the soap ourselves. The current issues are not about unexpected contamination; undisclosed ingredients were intentionally added to the products without proper disclosure.
  • Insist on full ingredient disclosure from suppliers. We buy things like organic coconut oil for soapmaking, and washing soda for blending into laundry powder. We only buy from suppliers that tell us every ingredient they use. We’ve actually been slowed down because of this. For example, we’ve had trouble introducing an oxygen bleach product because many suppliers will only sell sodium percarbonate with a mysterious ‘coating’ that is claimed to be proprietary. No ingredient list = Not going to be something we sell. We’d rather not sell a product than introduce something with a mystery ingredient.
  • Provide an honest, accurate, ingredient list. No vague ingredients like ‘plant based surfactants’ or ‘natural scents’. We use internationally-recognized INCI nomenclature to be as clear as possible about the chemical substances in our products. Also, no listing cutesy non-ingredients like ‘love’ or ‘zen’ or ‘bliss’. Ingredient lists are important and are not the place to joke around or be unclear.
  • Don’t use ‘proprietary’ blends. Keeping ingredients – yes, even fragrance ingredients – secret does not protect us from competitors knowing our formulas; a bank account, some lab equipment, and a good chemist can tell anyone all they like. Instead, secret formulas withhold information from someone more important – you, the consumer who buys the product. This can create disappointment when the real ingredient lists are revealed and the associated marketing claims and inflated price tags are found to be bogus.
  • Have an open factory. Please come and visit our Not Secret Factory in Chicago. We want to show you how our products are made and we’d love to answer any questions you have when you stop by.

We are disappointed that these companies were clearly trying to provide healthy solutions for customers, but did not do enough research on product formulas or ask enough questions of suppliers. You should be able to trust companies to be responsible, open and honest about what they are providing for use in your home. You deserve as much ingredient information about your cleaning products as you do about food and cosmetics.

Meliora K Cleaning Products promises to always provide that information. We can’t promise to never have an issue in our supply chain, but by insisting on transparency from every supplier and passing that information along, we believe we are reducing the risk of a nasty surprise.

We will continue to share lots of information about how we do business. Please feel free to ask public (here, on facebooktwitter) or private (email us) questions about us and our products.
Kate Jakubas is the founder of Meliora K Cleaning Products,  a company committed to understanding and sharing information about product ingredients. We not only disclose all ingredients, but also share the actual recipes used.

10 Responses

  1. Kim

    Int is my understanding rant Ava Anderson Non Toxic took all their same steps except the manufacturers lied. I believe this is what happened to Branch basics as well. As soon as Aa found out, they stopped working with those manufacturers and disclosed the issues to customers. As far as the enagic products at were concerned, the ingredient AA did not know about was still considered non toxic and safe. So you can take all the safety measures in the world but if you have an unscrupulous supplier or manufacturer, you get screwed. Ava is moving all manufacturing in house with chemists to tests every aspect.

  2. I’m glad I stumbled upon this! In my quest for safer cleaning products, the laundry soap may be my ticket! I already use a safer skin care, so on to my laundry needs!

  3. Mary

    I am in complete agreement with Kim. and I thank Kim for her wise and insightful words. Ava Anderson and Branch Basics are to applauded and greatly admired for coming out with this information, at great risk to their financial health and reputations, rather than hiding it and lying about it to survive. How many companies would take such a risk? Can you imagine how many manufacturers have encountered this same problem and have simply buried the truth? It’s an enormous step, shows great integrity, and should be included in the article. I don’t care how many companies say they make their own products to avoid this — every company has suppliers, and no matter how many questions are asked and testing is performed, it ultimately comes down to trust that there will be full disclosure. And honestly, this article is not fair reporting. To have another product manufacturer pass judgement, when that company is clearly benefiting from your post, is just plain wrong.

  4. Susan

    From what I have read, AA management was questioned years ago about the ingredients in their products. They didn’t fess up to their customers until someone finally sent some products out for independent testing and proved that the labels were faulty and that there were questionable ingredients in the products.

    Daisy Blue is another company that is truly all natural, develops AND MAKES the products themselves, is owned by a woman who is a chemist who oversees everything, insists on ingredient documentation from vendors to assure the ingredients are up to her standards and who still tests in-house as well to be doubly sure and fully discloses ingredients. Yes, I am a consultant for Daisy Blue. We have cleaning products and laundry detergent. No secrets with Daisy Blue either.

  5. Elizabeth Conway

    Mary — you make some great points — and another comment on FB by Linda Sepp pointed out very eloquently “It’s really sad that people who are trying to do better get called out more [in regards to AA and BB] than the major polluters, but when you are making claims that aren’t true, while claiming to be a safe alternative, then people do expect more from you.” And I completely respect your statement about unfair reporting. But what I really like about Kate’s post is how it brings to light what I think a lot of consumers are confused about (the fact that some companies formulate their products in-house, but many contract with external suppliers) and highlights how this level of ingredient scrutiny can be achieved by businesses & really hammers out just how critical full ingredient transparency is — all the way through that supply chain. I hope this blog keeps the conversation going. Thanks so much for your comments Mary and everyone who is weighing in!

  6. Mary

    Elizabeth, thank YOU, and WVE! Yes, although biased, the writer makes some very good points, and Linda Sepp totally hit the nail on the head. Also, in spite of my negative comment above about WVE (which I wish I could erase!), I truly believe that WVE is a wonderful organization, and I greatly admire the work you’re all doing. For any non profit, it can be very hard going, yet you’re helping so many with such grace. Your organization is making an enormous contribution and I have watched your work with great respect since you started. I just want you to know that that’s what I really feel and believe about WVE, in spite of my impulsively sent comment. And I will continue to support you by sharing your posts and telling others about you, as I have often done. Thank you for all that you do.

  7. Elizabeth Conway

    Mary, thank you – that means a lot. And we welcome the feedback — our backbone is built around providing a community where women can raise their voices!! Thank you for sharing yours!

  8. Christie Gibson

    Does anyone know who the supplier(s) were? Are they related? It seems surprising that they would both find out about issues from a supplier at the same time. I guess AA and BB are bound by non-disclosure agreements, but I would be really interested to know if that company is a supplier for other products as well. There is some investigative journalism to be done here.

  9. “Critical to this is transparency within the supply chain itself. If companies aren’t getting full information from their suppliers, how can they truly assure you – the customer – that their products are what they say. This is what happened at AA and BB.”

    The ONLY way this can be what *happened to* Ava Anderson and Branch Basics, is if these companies were willfully blind. Key word – willfully.

    You don’t have to have a degree in cosmetic chemistry or hire a team of experts to realize these products were fraudulently labeled.

    “Purified water, fatty acids, coconut oil, folic acid, minerals and enzymes derived from edible and seed bearing plants.” is not soap. It is not a cleaner. It is a fabricated description of something…but not a cleanser.

    It’s like labeling a product as containing “naturally derived botanical extract from biodegraded 100% organic plants” to describe mineral oil or petroleum jelly.

    You don’t have to have a pHd to know coconut oil is solid at room temperature so WHOMEVER is selling this liquid concentrate, is lying about what it in it.

    So if the ladies at Branch Basics did not know they were being lied to and passing those lies on to their customers, they did not WANT to know.

    And if Ava and Kim and their entire management team did not know they were being lied to – and when told over and over again that this product COULD NOT BE what they claimed it to be, then characterize that information after the fact as “bullying” and “harassment”, they really have no excuse and their excusese are an insult to people who actually ARE bullied and harassed!

    You can pretend not to know something but that does not make the story of THEM being the victem of the companies who private labeled these products for them the truth. The only victems of beind misled are the customers to TRUSTED the marketing claims.

    I am so impressed by the philosopy of Meliora K Cleaning Products, they clearly walk the walk…not just talk the talk. I look forward to trying these products!

  10. Kate Jakubas is the founder of Meliora K Cleaning Products,  a company committed to understanding and sharing information about product ingredients. We not only disclose all ingredients, but also share the actual recipes used.

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