Eco-friendly Bon Ami marks 125th anniversary
Not every cleaning product can inspire a love song — but nothing's quite like Bon Ami. The Kansas City-based company is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. It still features the retro chick logo chirping that its brand of gentle cleaners "hasn't scratched yet!" Bon Ami is a $5 million brand owned by the Beaham family, with products sold nationwide. The company has stuck with all-natural formulas since 1886. That eco-friendliness makes it part of a modern trend.This summer Procter & Gamble offered Tide detergent and Downy fabric softener in vintage packaging at Target stores. Over the past few decades, other brands have ventured into the green cleaning niche. Between the nostalgia and environmental factors, Bon Ami has developed a bit of a cult following. Carolyn Beaham West, brand ambassador for Bon Ami, said the company received a lot of feedback from customers through letters, Facebook postings and even a love song on YouTube. "When I say I work for Bon Ami, people are like: 'Oh, my grandmother showed me how to use that. I remember sitting in her kitchen as she showed me how to clean,'" she said. "As a brand, we have a sweet spot in the marketplace because people have got such strong memories." The company's product line now includes dish soap, liquid and powder cleansers and an all-purpose cleaning spray. For its anniversary it brought back an 1886 original: the cleaning cake. A household staple in the 19th century, the cake is rubbed with a damp cloth, which is then used to polish away dirt. A limited run of 1,886 of the soap bar-sized cakes were made this year. Beaham West said the cake was originally an alternative to harsh scouring powders. The company stuck with its all-natural formulas since its inception, even through the chemical revolution of the 1950s. That green mindset is reflected from the inside out. Brian Dougherty is the founder of the California-based Celery Design Collaborative, which created sustainable packaging for Bon Ami. The bottles are all made from 100 percent recycled — not just recyclable — plastic. The cleaning cake box avoids using adhesives. He said the vintage designs popular for cleaning products right now are an attempt to make people feel safer about what they're using. But he said there was a difference between timelessness and kitsch. "Bon Ami has stuck to its values. It does its thing, and it does it well," he said. "It's different from typical consumer product models that try to be everything ... for every market segment." Beaham West acknowledged the company's market share decreased with the introduction of chemical cleaners. But though Bon Ami's following may be small, it's very loyal. "After World War II, you could suddenly spray something, and it would get clean before your eyes. With Bon Ami, you still had to use elbow grease," she said. "Then people started to think beyond their own sink. If it's blasting away dirt from my sink, what is that doing to the environment?" Once the green movement started in the 1960s and '70s, some consumers started shifting back to gentler alternatives like Bon Ami. "It's exciting to spray something and watch it obliterate dirt, until you realize if you touch it, it will burn your hand," she said. "There are harsh chemical cleansers that have their uses — but you don't need to have a sledgehammer to tap a surface."