Edina, Minn. — The world is a softer place thanks to an accidental discovery. A lotion made from central Minnesota soy oil was developed 12 years ago. Since then, thousands of hands — from the Midwest to the Middle East — have felt the healing benefit of SoySoft.
“It amazes me how people find us,” says Lucy Larson, who operates the SoySoft company with her husband Cliff at their Edina home.
SoySoft produces deep-treatment and daily moisturizing body lotion as well as five scented lotions and matching body washes. Products are available in hundreds of stores in more than 30 states. But it’s the online business that has seen the biggest boost.
“Internet sales used to be about five percent of our business. It was minimal,” Larson says. “Now it’s up to almost 30 percent of our business. That surprised us.”
SoySoft has been a surprise since its unexpected discovery.
In the mid 1990s, plant workers and electricians at Midwest Protein in Grove City, a soybean- rocessing facility owned by Cliff Larson, noticed their dry, chapped and cracked hands softened and healed after direct contact with soybean oil. The plant uses a mechanical rather than chemical process to separate soy oil from meal, leaving vitamins and essential fatty acids intact. Those active
ingredients improved workers’ hands.
The Larsons recognized the possibilities and began working with a cosmetic chemist to formulate a soy-oil-based lotion. In August 1996, they had a prototype. Shortly after, they began working with a Minneapolis manufacturer to produce and bottle SoySoft. They were entering a market dominated by industry heavyweights, so they focused marketing efforts on gift shops and small retailers.
The soy lotion was a natural promotional fit for organizations like the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the United Soybean Board, Larson says. Soybean groups in Minnesota, Kentucky and Maryland have actively promoted SoySoft and found retail markets across the country. In 2007 they marketed an average 1,550 bottles of lotion per month, Larson says.
SoySoft isn’t just a hit in the United States. The lotion has been shipped to soldiers in Iraq by the Minnesota Soybean Growers and there is a loyal customer base in England. Larson says they even have a sales representative for Morocco and Dubai because those markets have nothing like SoySoft.
Like most small businesses, SoySoft has made changes. The lotion is now manufactured in Henderson, Minn and SoySoft is doing private labeling for other companies. Larson says she would like to develop an organic product to reach other market segments.
Over the past 12 years, SoySoft sales in small towns have been hurt by retail outlets closing due to struggling rural economies. But that has been partially offset by online sales, which helps SoySoft function like a much larger company.
“I’ve had a good experience and learned a lot,” Larson says. “I still get testimonials from people who say they’ve tried everything, but our products are the only ones that work for them. That keeps me going.”