My Visit to the J.R. Watkins Factory

JR Watkins Headquarters
As most of you know, last week I had the chance to visit the headquarters of J.R. Watkins Naturals in Winona, Minnesota with four other bloggers (Micaela from Mindful Momma, Jodi from Mom’s Favorite Stuff, Jennifer from Savoring the Thyme, and Lori from Groovy Green Livin). I was super excited about this trip because J.R. Watkins is one of my favorite brands and has been for a while. Their laundry detergent is a staple in our household and I’m in love with their all-purpose cleaner in every scent. Basically, if J.R. Watkins makes it, I’ll buy it because I know they make quality products. (When I told my grandma about the trip, she immediately knew J.R. Watkins for their “fantastic vanilla,” which she used to buy from her local farmers market!)

JR Watkins Factory Tour

Thanks to Jodi @ Mom’s Favorite Things for sharing her photos!

Although the trip only lasted two days, I feel like I learned so much that I’m still processing it all. On the first day of the trip, we were given a tour of the J.R. Watkins factory and museum by the company’s archivist, John Goplen. (Surprised that J.R. Watkins has an archivist? Well, they’ve been around since 1868 and have a lot of history to document!) The headquarters building was constructed in 1912 and much of the equipment in the factory dates back many decades. Because the factory is in a residential neighborhood, it was built up instead of out–products are started on one floor and then pumped down to the floor below for bottling and packaging. Using gravity in this way means less energy is needed. We were able to see some of the lines in progress, the vats where extract is stored, and even where vanilla beans are pressed!

After the grand tour, we were given the opportunity to speak with the CEO of J.R. Watkins, Mark Jacobs, the Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, J.R. Rigley, and the Product Development Manager, Kate Mannor. I tend to be a cynic when it comes to business, but it was clear from our conversation that J.R. Watkins is a brand that is committed to making natural products–real natural products. It’s easy to slap a label on a product proclaiming it to be natural when that’s only a half truth–and not only is it easy, but it’s cheaper than actually doing all the work involved in formulating products that are truly natural and effective. It’s good to know that J.R. Watkins goes the extra mile to make sure their ingredients are all-natural, even if it means product development takes more time or costs more money.

JR Watkins Product Testing
On the second day of the trip, we returned to the company’s headquarters to do a little product testing and preview some new products (including a baby line–if you have an infant or toddler, get excited, because it’s good!). You know the scene in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory where all the kids go into the chocolate room for the first time? Yeah, it was kind of like that. (Unfortunately, there were no Oompa Loompas.) I’ve been big into J.R. Watkins home care products for a while, but the product testing introduced me to my two new favorites: Lemon Cream hand cream (which smells like lemon frosting–yes, I repeat lemon frosting) and the Mango lotion. I think I must have applied about 10 layers of lotion that morning. I couldn’t stop rubbing my hands the rest of the day because they were so smooth–I’m sure everyone at the airport thought I was insane.

Alexander Mansion Winona

View of the Alexander Mansion–another picture from Jodi

The weather in Minnesota was perfectly brisk (albeit a bit gloomy) and I was happy to be back in the Upper Midwest for a few days. The whole J.R. Watkins team was so friendly and hospitable to us bloggers. We stayed at the beautiful Alexander Mansion, where I had an entire floor (with a kitchen! and a living room!) to myself and all the other bloggers were clearly super jealous. The innkeeper, Richard, made us a fantastic four-course breakfast in the morning which included the best frittata I’ve ever had. Since this was my first blogger event, I felt a little bit intimidated at first, but the other bloggers on the trip were really fun (and full of good blogging tips!) and I was happy to get to know them.

Do you use J.R. Watkins products? Do you know them best for their home care, bath and body line, or food products (or maybe all three!)?

Disclosure: J.R. Watkins paid for my trip to their headquarters and provided me with product samples in exchange for my honest opinion.

Kiersten Frase

About Kiersten

Kiersten is the founder and editor of Oh My Veggies. She loves cooking, trashy reality shows, and Hello Kitty. Kiersten also blogs about blogging at kierstenfrase.com.   Read more from Kiersten →

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Comments

  1. says

    I consider myself pretty well-versed on ‘green’ products but I’m fairy certain I’ve never heard of J.R. Watkins! Seriously, I just looked over their website and am just baffled – but these sound like products I need to try. What a fun trip – awesome tour!! Thanks for ‘bringing’ us along :)

    • Kiersten Frase says

      They sell J.R. Watkins products at Target, Whole Foods, and a few other stores too. You should definitely check them out! And if you can’t find them at a store near you, you can always order online. :)

      • Betty Broders says

        Yes, they sell Watkins products in stores (but only a few of the over 280 products)…. but there are also Watkins Consultants out there that offer the complete line. They sell to individuals, they do vendor shows, they do home parties.

    • Kiersten Frase says

      Even before I started working with J.R. Watkins on my blog, they were my favorite natural cleaning products brand. Everything smells so good and clean, but without smelling too strong, and there are no artificial colors or fragrances. And they have the coolest labels!

  2. says

    I love the scents of JR Watkins. Fortunately I live in a fairly hippie city so JR Watkins is sold pretty much everywhere (even the regular grocery store). I’m glad you learned so much and got to go on such a fun trip!

    • Kiersten Frase says

      It’s funny, I didn’t realize that they sold J.R. Watkins stuff at my local grocery store until a product manager at the company told me they do! I always buy that kind of stuff at Target so I’ve never even been down that aisle. :)

      Have you tried the new grapefruit scented products? So good!

      • Betty Broders says

        Don’t forget about the Watkins Consultants who can offer you the complete line of over 280 products. We do home parties, vendor shows and sell to individuals who wish to order.

  3. says

    I was clearly jealous of your full suite at the Alexander Mansion! It would have been a great spot to hang out! I agree-it was so nice to be back in the Midwest. Great to meet you Kiersten and looking forward to keeping in touch!

    • Kiersten Frase says

      When I got back to NC, it was 84 degrees. Quite a shock to the system! We’re finally getting cooler weather here, but it was nice to have a taste of fall in the Midwest, even if it was for only 36 hours.

      …oh, and my business cards came in the mail today. I am ready for my next event!

  4. says

    Watkins products have been in the homes of my family members for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl my Grandpa sold Watkins products. Your mom and I both know about the good vanilla and they also had pie mixes that were to die for. I am thrilled you had the opportunity to visit their headquarters!

    • Kiersten Frase says

      Thanks for sharing! I first discovered J.R. Watkins at Target and it was only recently that I learned that, until a few years ago, they were primarily direct sales. What a coincidence that your Grandpa sold Watkins products! Are these the pie mixes you mentioned?

      Banana Dessert Mix
      Chocolate Dessert Mix
      Lemon Dessert Mix

      They say they make puddings, pies, sauces, and fillings. I haven’t tried them, but I just started using their spices and seasoning grinders and they are great!

    • Kiersten Frase says

      They are awesome! You really need to buy their Lemon Creme hand cream. It’s seriously the best hand cream I have ever used. It smells so good, I want to chew off my fingers. Okay, maybe that’s not the best mental image, but um, it smells good.

  5. says

    Hello! I came across your blog while researching to go on a tour!!

    My grandma has been selling Watkins products since before I was born so naturally, as a kid I thought EVERYONE used all Watkins products! Long story short, it was only a matter of time before I started selling it. I love every single product. My hubby and I don’t have kids, but I even started using some of the baby line (along with basically every other product I/they sell)!!

    I already emailed John about taking Grandma on a trip to Winona from “up north” MN. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to stay, but after reading this, I know where we’re going to stay!!! Thanks for the great review!!

    • says

      By the way, LOVE the blog!!!!!! I’ve been wanting to become vegetarian but after growing up on a beef farm, I couldn’t think of any good balanced recipes!!! Thank you!!!!

      • Kiersten Frase says

        Thank you! Most of my readers aren’t vegetarians; they’re just looking to cut down on meat or go meatless a few times a week. So I try to make recipes that are palatable to most people–you know, to show that vegetarians don’t have to eat salad for every meal. :)

    • Kiersten Frase says

      Oh, you will love the tour! The museum is a lot of fun (but then again, I always love seeing old products and packaging!) and the people who work at Watkins are so helpful and friendly. The building is gorgeous, as is the area in general. And the B&B was an experience in & of itself! It’s very cool to hear that Watkins has been part of your family for so long. I love all of their products too (and thanks for leaving your store link!) and always get compliments on the hand soap and lotion I have in our powder room. :)

  6. says

    Just wanted to say that not ALL Watkins Products are available in retail locations. They are actually sold to Target etc. to generate interest and get people to visit the website.

    I recently became a Watkins Associate because I wanted to buy other items at a discount. Check out their website at http://www.watkinsonline.com/home – You need an associate number to order or you can become an associate and get up to 30% off, if you plan on using the products like deoderant, etc. My associate number is 396691.

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