Made in America: Burt's Bees... and Corporate America

I am in disbelief that my favorite toothpaste, Burt's Bees Multicare Flouride toothpaste -- something one takes for granted -- has been discontinued. But! It's available online for $22 a tube and even $95 for two tubes.

Most toothpaste made by Corporate America contain sodium laurel sulfate, which scratches the gum and may contribute to canker sores. It is so rare to find natural toothpaste that feels clean and not artificially sugary and gritty.

This was the case long ago when I was an early user of Tom's of Maine, back when the tube was an aluminum or tin tube and you could roll it up and fold it (not today's plastic tube it comes in). Tom's of Maine was a small company that cared about its products -- natural ingredients, no SLS -- and that generation of Tom's toothpaste was unlike any I had used before (coming from the ones we all grew up using as kid, after watching their TV commercials); it tasted and felt substantial, correct, and clean in the mouth. Although it now sounds like I am, I am not a toothpaste connoisseur. But over the years you know what works, what feels right, what feels non-artificial -- especially when one brushes twice a day or more. You don't want a toothpaste with SLS that could scratch your mouth and give you painful canker sores.

I used to buy and hoard several tubes of Tom's back in those days, just out of laziness or to save a few bucks, and so somewhere between that time and fast forward years later, one day I realized the toothpaste changed. It had SLS, and it was a noticeable change. It was definitely not the same formula; the natural, minty, substantial feeling was gone and replaced by some thinner and grittier and scratchier weak imitation of what I remember using years before. It happened sometime after Tom's was sold to Colgate-Palmolive in 2006 for a reported $100 million.

Gone was the familiar tube and the toothpaste now feels the same as the others made by this same company. I have an unused tube because it has SLS and it is no longer the same formula it used to be. It actually feels cheaper than the old formula, is the only way to describe it. Who knew one could miss that substantial and minty feeling that old formula of Tom's offered. Life's little things. But when little things are uncomfortable, it adds to the rest of life's actual issues. Or at least is one more thing to be upset about.

Burt's Bees also started out in Maine. I recall several years ago when the tube of Multicare Flouride toothpaste split apart at the seams, causing the paste to leak out, I emailed to let them know and someone in the Durham, North Carolina, office sent me a replacement tube. It made my day, a gesture I didn't expect, such attention... and I remember finding out most of the products were made in their Durham plant -- made in America!

But in 2007 Burt's Bees was sold to Clorox for $925 million. I remember one radio host talking about that sale and we all hoped it would be good for the company and that they would keep the brand independent and allow it to stay the same in terms of their quality and values.

And finally, my local Whole Foods Whole Body department tells me they found out it's discontinued and that's why they haven't been restocking the shelf with it for quite some time. I didn't find out till now because a while ago the store shipped two tubes from another Whole Foods so I had enough for awhile. Back then I should have ordered a whole box when they offered that option.

One can only surmise the real reason Burt's Bees discontinued its toothpaste line is that it wasn't cost effective for the ingredients the original formula called for to the amount of tubes made and sold.

A note to Burt's Bees: But as consumers we would pay the extra bucks for the old formula back -- there is no other toothpaste like it on the market -- and you can see it's going for more than $20 a tube, so people are willing to pay a little more for good-quality toothpaste that does not scratch one's mouth with SLS. Almost like the old Tom's of Maine formula, it had the same heft and clean feeling to it when one brushed with it.

Burt's Bees used to be that line of products that had beeswax or honey in every product. Yes, at one time you probably thought that line of products cheesy, with honey or beeswax as the ingredient in almost every product, but now that they've gone away from that, it doesn't leave us consumers with much choice.

There was something nice about these hippie companies (or what's left of true hippies) with its environmental bent and values that they took a stand for. It's sad for us consumers out there when they fold into Corporate America. Especially since America is about freedom and freedom of choice.

I grew up using Crest and Colgate, so it was nice to have discovered an option in young adulthood, and to have the option to buy from those two environmentally-friendly and socially responsible companies that balanced out Corporate America, at one moment in time.

Now that they are part of their corporate family, we hope maybe they will once again offer products not found in the marketplace made by their sister companies.