A Winnipeg Start-up Carves a Niche in the Highly Competitive Skin Care & Beauty Market
Heather Urquhart started HUNA initially because her skin was acting up, and she couldn’t find an organic, natural, healthy and safe skin care product that could resolve her finicky skin concerns. When Heather couldn’t find what she needed, she decided to learn and develop something custom that met her specific skin needs and high standards for clean and green ingredients.
HUNA (which stands for Heather Urquhart Natural Apothecary) began as a hobby, passion, and an answer for Heather’s own stubborn skin concerns with premature aging, acne, and an inflammatory skin disorder. After seeing impressive improvements in her own skin health, she began sharing her products with friends and family. Soon after, she had a small local customer base that was demanding her advanced organic science-based skincare formulations.
Heather is a trained Botanist, Chartered Herbalist, and Natural Cosmetic Formulator. Heather’s father was the first to encourage her to go into business on her own, by launching the brand nationally across Canada on a website that Heather had originally built herself. In 2015, HUNA began growing its own rare and obscure botanicals as active ingredients for exclusive use in HUNA products, which carved a unique niche and competitive advantage for the HUNA brand. There are now over 30 different botanical species grown in its organic Skin Nutrition Garden on the family acreage in Piney, Manitoba.
In early 2016, Heather was still running HUNA as a small business, but a milestone moment occurred when she entered Innovate Manitoba’s Entrepreneur Boot Camp in the spring of 2016. Heather credits the weekend with transforming her from a small business owner to a ‘full-blown entrepreneur’. Heather then entered Innovate Manitoba’s Venture Challenge, where HUNA took home a first-place win. Heather says “Winning Venture Challenge was an enormous mental shift for me as a Founder, and a monumental shift for the company. We received $100,000 in non-diluted funding, $50K in usable market research data, access to a team of all-star coaches and mentors, and countless professional services and supports.” Heather adds, “This is actually where I met Cathy Hamilton from TDS, who has been HUNA’s lawyer from day one.” Venture Challenge was a pivotal moment for the company, as HUNA really moved from being a disorganized start-up, into an established, high-potential and global business venture in the months that followed.
We asked Heather, what makes HUNA so unique? “HUNA Apothecary is the first beauty company in Canada to grow its own botanical active ingredients, and to my knowledge, we are also the first skincare company in the world to partner with a major university for production and research efforts.” The HUNA lab and offices are based in the University of Manitoba’s Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals.
HUNA develops and manufactures all of its formulations in-house, using scientific expertise to target three main skin health concerns. “We have three distinct product ranges called – Revitalize for aging skin in need of a healthy revitalized glow, Clarify for acne-prone, blemished, oily or congested skin in need of balancing, and our Nourish range for dry, inflammatory and sensitive skin in need of healing. Heather says “There is no other clean beauty company in the world like HUNA. No one else is developing science-based organic cosmetic formulations using botanicals based on herbal medicine, that they’ve grown organically on their own farm. We own our entire value chain. We are truly one-of-a-kind, and we’re now really starting to see demand and interest for HUNA on a global level. It feels incredible.”
Fast forward to 2018, and HUNA is experiencing very strong growth. Its online webstore drives global traffic and is the company’s main source of revenue, with 70% of online customers repurchasing within 6 months. HUNA has a very loyal customer base from across Canada, with most of the brand’s early growth being through word-of-mouth and customer referrals. The HUNA Referral Program which still runs today, offers a $25 credit to both the referral source and the new customer. HUNA has won a National Award for its #1-selling signature product Revitalize Age-Grace Face Serum, and an International Award for the brand’s intensely moisturizing and healing Nourish Skin Nutrition Balm.
In addition to online, HUNA products are sold across Canada in premium Beauty Boutiques, Derm Centres, Medical Spas, and Luxury Spas. The prime markets are Canada’s urban centres: Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, among others.
HUNA reached a major goal and milestone by launching its first exportation into the U.S. market online in 2018. Heather says “Entering the U.S. was a bit of a process, as we needed to go through the process of regulatory compliance first.”
Team HUNA currently has 5 employees, with 2 new hires coming on board in November 2018. HUNA has just welcomed Dr. Erika Zago to its team, a PhD Organic Chemist from Brazil bringing technical expertise in botanical extractions for a scientific research project that HUNA has recently started with support and grant funding from NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada).
Big growth and expansion are on the horizon for HUNA. Looking to 2019 and beyond, Heather and her team are looking to develop strategic distribution partnerships to expand into retail across the U.S., leveraging flagship retail stockists for brand visibility and reach. The company has a solid pipeline of new innovative clean skincare and cosmetic products, including a groundbreaking plant-pigmented colour cosmetics range launching in late 2019. Looking three to five years into the future, Heather foresees the company expanding distribution and operations globally, entering into the UK, EU, Australian, and Asia-Pacific markets.
HUNA’s busiest time of year is the Holidays, and the HUNA team is ready for the rush this year with its upcoming Holiday Skin Nutrition Gift Sets, launching in November online and in retail stores. HUNA has also recently launched a Limited-Edition Botanical Body Nectar, a luxury organic body oil that is hand-infused with a single Calendula flower from the HUNA Gardens in southeastern Manitoba. Just 200 bottles were created, and HUNA nearly sold-out of it in a matter of weeks.
HUNA is proud to be a Manitoba-based business. “We grow our ingredients in Manitoba, we handcraft all of our products in Manitoba – our labs and offices are based at the University of Manitoba. This place is our home. Manitoba has been hugely supportive of our growth, vision and dream since the early days, and we are forever thankful to Manitobans for their support, confidence, trust and belief in HUNA” says Heather.
HUNA is pleased to offer a special promotional code for online orders at www.hunaskin.com. Use the code TDSLAWHUNA at checkout for 15% off your first order with HUNA Apothecary. Code expires January 31, 2019.
TDS congratulates HUNA on its success. We are honoured to call HUNA a client of our firm.
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