A North Carolina company that makes aloe vera-derived health supplements is moving to downtown Ellsworth and bringing approximately a dozen employees with it.
Desert Harvest, founded in Colorado in 1993, is in the process of buying the Maine Grind Building at 192 Main St., where it plans to house its offices and retail shipping operations, CEO Heather Florio said. The company expects to complete the purchase of the building in early December.
The company’s move to Ellsworth will be its second interstate move in less than a decade, after Desert Harvest relocated from Colorado Springs to Hillsborough, North Carolina, in 2014. That move came after large forest fires struck the mountain city in 2012 and 2013. Desert Harvest was one of several Colorado Springs companies recruited by the state of North Carolina to move following the fires, Florio said.
But a different emergency two years ago prompted Florio, who took over the company from her parents when they retired in 2012, to consider moving again. Her husband was successfully treated for cancer in 2018, she said, but was told by doctors that North Carolina’s sub-tropical climate could make him sick again.
“We immediately started looking to move” to a cooler part of the country, Florio said.
Her husband is from Vermont, which offered some incentives for the company to move there after the couple started looking. But after they broadened their search, Maine did the same, she said. Florio is close with her employees, and when she asked their preference, the staff voted in favor of Maine, she said.
“It was unanimous,” she said. “Everybody wanted to go.”
The company has 15 employees, she said, and a dozen of them are making the move to Ellsworth, Florio said. The company will have to hire two or three people in Maine to fill vacancies.
Another reason moving to Ellsworth was attractive is because the company is working with researchers at McGill University in Montreal to develop CBD pain-relief products. As part of that arrangement, Desert Harvest is looking to expand some of its operations to Saint John, New Brunswick, which is only a three-hour drive from Ellsworth, Florio said.
Desert Harvest got its start after it developed a concentrated aloe vera formula to help relieve chronic bladder pain, Florio said. It now also offers CBD, nutritional supplements, hand sanitizer and topical skincare products, all of which contain the aloe vera concentrate Florio’s parents developed.
Florio did not release sales volume or revenue figures, but said the company specializes in selling its own products through its website, though it has agreements with distributors in the United Kingdom and Australia, and is reaching similar agreements in China and Canada. She said the company relies on farms in the Caribbean and processing and packaging facilities in Florida and Texas.
Desert Harvest plans to maintain its niche as a specialty company, Florio said, and does not have its sights set on ramping up production so it can sell its products through large retail chain stores. Trying to get into Walgreens, for example, where a $68 bottle of Desert Harvest aloe vera capsules would compete directly with aloe vera supplements that cost less than half as much, doesn’t make a lot of sense, she said.
“We are a farm-to-bottle company,” she said. “For us, it’s all about direct-to-consumer sales.”
Outside of running the business, the staff at Desert Harvest also hope living in the Ellsworth area will provide them with a good work-life balance, Florio said. The lifestyle in Maine and the people they have met and dealt with in Maine so far also helped convince them to make the move.
Florio and members of her staff are in Maine now, and hope to start moving into the Maine Grind building this week. Flexit Cafe, which has operated on the building’s main floor since 2015, will continue in its current location, but Desert Harvest will occupy the rest of the building.
Disclosure: The Bangor Daily News rents an office in the Maine Grind building.