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Sunnies Naturals

Wednesday, January 8, 2020
filed under: Utilization/Trade


       The men who work at Colorado Mills are some of the hardest working men you’ll ever meet.  But despite long hours of manual labor at the sunflower processing plant in Lamar, Colo., you won’t find calluses on their hands.
       Don’t let that fool you, though.  In fact, not having calluses on their hands could be considered a perk of the job, and it’s led the company to a start a new line of products called Sunnies Naturals.  Jody Kerzman talked with Jonna Castanos about the products made by Colorado Mills.
Explain the idea behind your product. 
       Sunnies Naturals is a natural skin care line.  We started it in September 2018.  We noticed that the guys working in the sunflower processing plant doing the oil extraction had absolutely no calluses on their hands, even though they work super hard. Sunflower oil is high in vitamin E, which is great for your skin — and that made sense [as to] why their hands were so smooth.
       At the same time, one of the gals in our office was looking for something to keep the mosquitos away from her granddaughters.  Nothing they bought over the counter worked for her granddaughters; they were mosquito magnets.  So, she did some research and found different blends of essential oils she then mixed with our sunflower oil to make an insect repellent.  It worked great.  We shared it with people at a charity golf tournament we were involved with, and that caught our general manager’s attention.  He came into the office and said, “What else can you do?”
       We are always looking for different ways to market our oils: we sell sunflower oil in 750 ml glass bottles, 48,000-lb tankers, and every size in between.  But we knew there was more we could do.  So, we came up with a line of skin care products we call Sunnies Naturals.
       We now have a pretty full range of products, including cream and oil-based body moisturizers and a facial serum that works on all skin types—from dry, middle-aged skin to oily, acne-prone teenage skin. 
       We have an all-natural multipurpose salve.  There is no water, alcohol or preservatives in our salve.  It works great on dry hands, cracked heels — and, during the dry winter months, some people use it as an all over body moisturizer.  It is our most hydrating and moisturizing product; it can even be used as a lip balm, but we have lip balms too. Those come in three different scents.
       Insect repellant is also a big product for us; it’s what got us started, after all.  We have three really great scents of our all-natural insect spray.  I have personally tried them all, and they all work so great.  I went fishing for five hours one day this summer, only reapplied once, and the bugs left me alone all day. It keeps not only the mosquitoes away, but also the gnats, flies and those pesky bugs we call “no see-ums.”
       We have extended our insect spray to include a livestock insect spray as well.  It has no harsh chemicals and doesn’t need to be diluted.  This was a really big thing for us because many of our customers buying livestock spray are 4-H kids, and we love being able to provide them with a natural livestock insect spray that is safe for them and their livestock.
Why do you use sunflower?
       Colorado Mills is a sunflower processing plant.  Sunflower is what we do.  These products are just another way we can use the product we already have in our facility.
       We crush black oil sunflower seed, and 85% of that seed comes from sunflower we contract within a 150-mile radius of Lamar, Colo.  This is a local product.  We crush the sunflower in our facility, we extract the oil and refine it here, and we create the Sunnies Naturals products right here too.                
       We are a no-waste facility.  After we crush the sunflower, we have two co-products: crude oil that we refine and the meal, which we put into our livestock feed.
What makes your products stand out?
       I think the biggest thing is that our products work — and they work well.  They are made locally, using local products, and we work really hard to make sure that our product is as high of quality as it can be for a decent price.  We wanted to make sure the price of our products was affordable for everyone.
Approximately how much sunflower do you use each year?
       Hard to say, but I can tell you we are using a lot more now than a year ago.  When we first started making these products we were using maybe a 750 ml bottle of sunflower oil a week.  Now we use 10 to 15 gallons of sunflower oil a week. It takes one cup of sunflower oil to make 11 three-ounce containers of salve.
What is your customer’s perception of sunflower? 
       I have to admit, I was one of those who doubted our products.  I break out easily, and I just didn’t want to take the risk that a new product would make me break out.  Eventually I was like, “What’s a little bit of acne going to hurt?”  Once I tried it I was pleasantly surprised.  I use all our products now!
       We hear similar stories from people: they just don’t want to change products, but once they do, they are repeat customers of Sunnies Naturals.
       Everyone in our office has been testers of these products.  We all know they work, and we all use the products.  I use them daily now because they work so great for my skin type, and it makes me feel good to use a locally made product. And the testimonials we have from customers are helping spread the word about our products.  The facial serum has helped people get rid of acne scars and faded sunspots.
       We also want to get over the stereotype that skin care is just for women.  We have many male customers.  In fact, one of our repeat customers is a gentleman in his 60s who stops in every month to get our skin relief oil.  We had a customer come in to pick up seed one day, and when he put his hand on the counter to write his check, we noticed a cut between his fingers.  He said it had been there for a while and just wasn’t healing.  We gave him some of our salve, and within six days it was completely healed!
       Those are the people who are helping spread the word about our products, and helping people realize how good sunflower oil is for your skin.  We believe that men should be allowed to take care of their skin, so we have worked to make some more masculine scents.
What kinds of challenges have you faced?
       Marketing has been a little difficult just because people are hesitant to try a new product when they have something that is working well.  But once people give it a try and see results, they’re hooked.  Then they’re telling their friends and family about our products.  Our repeat customers are great advocates for us; they’re always telling people about our products and bringing us more business.
       That has been great, but it has also presented some challenges.  Right now, we just have two ladies making the products for us, and they both work in our office five days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They often stay after business hours to work on Sunnies Naturals products.  They’ll be here until 10:30 p.m. some nights.
Any new offerings, new products?
       There has been some talk of additional product lines, something more artisanal or handcrafted. But for now, we are just focused on keeping up with what we’re doing now.
Where can Sunnies Naturals products be purchased?
       Our products are available in 11 retail locations, and we are working on setting up an e-commerce website.  We are happy to ship our products anywhere in the world.  We have a customer in Tennessee who makes a purchase every month. We also ship to Ohio, New Jersey and Oregon.
       We are very active on Facebook (; but to be honest, most of our business has come through word of mouth.  We have given a lot of samples to truck drivers.  They tried our products when they were at the facility, loved them, and so we sent samples with them to share with their friends and family.  Those people get a sample, love the product, order some for themselves and share with their friends and family.  Our products have gone as far away as Israel! 
Are you doing advertising, PR, social media or grassroots efforts to promote your product? If yes, what? 
       As I mentioned, we are very active on Facebook, both on our Sunnies Naturals page and on the Colorado Mills page.  We have done some very limited radio advertising, but honestly social media and word of mouth have worked best for us.  We also make sure we are at local events to hand out samples.  I think we went to every single county fair in the area this year!  I drove seven hours to hand out samples at a rodeo, and we are constantly walking in parades so we can get our products into more people’s hands.                                          
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