New Jersey Company Booms with Alabama Kudzu
New Jersey—It’s hard to mentally reconcile the voice answering the phone at Topical Solutions with the fact that the company uses kudzu in a variety of skin care products. Kudzu is the South to many, and Rose Bianco, vice president of Topical Solutions, speaks with a pronounced northern accent. When asked the obvious question of why kudzu, she replies, “Because there’s so much of it,” in a voice that would fit right in a “Seinfeld” episode.
Adding to the weirdness quotient, Topical Solutions is located in, of all places, Bloomfield, N.J. Bloomfield is 15 miles from New York City, about the distance an average kudzu plant can sprint in a day. Or so it would seem to those of us who have spent most of our lives fighting the tenacious, voracious plant. (About a foot a day is the actual growth rate.)
But while Bianco is located in the Northeast, she has Southern roots. Her family hails from Fayette, in Walker County, and that’s where the concept of kudzu-based products began. “It’s a family recipe that is 75 years old or older,” Bianco says. “My grandfather used to make a cream from it, and my mother was telling me that she used it on me when I was a baby. About five years ago, we were talking, and she said, ‘You know, we used to make a cream out of kudzu.’ I asked her if she remembered any parts of it, and she said it was just kudzu and some other ingredients. So I called my cousin, and he sent me up 10 pounds of kudzu. It took us all summer long, but we finally perfected this cream.”
Granted, as long as Southern summers are hot there will be an inexhaustible supply of kudzu, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good product base. Nobody uses fire ants for manufacturing fodder, after all. So what’s the magic ingredient in kudzu that makes it suitable for skin care? Nobody really knows. It just works. “I don’t know why it works, but I’m sure there are some chemicals in it that help the skin heal itself. My grandmother said they used it for acne, for everything,” says Bianco. Since the South gave America grits and chitlings, there’s a certain amount of “use what you have” Southern logic to her statement.
Bianco’s cousins and uncles, mostly Pruitts and Hughes from Fayette, serve as kudzu-pullers. After the vines are harvested, they’re sent overnight to New Jersey. “It’s wrapped in wet paper, so all we have to do is clean it, chop it, cook it, beat it up and then turn it into a cream,” Bianco says.
So far, the company has come up with a kudzu skin cream, lotion, eye gel and soap. Future plans call for a shampoo, body butter, body mist (made using kudzu flowers), lip balm and, next year, kudzu candles.
After production, the products are shipped to some rather unlikely places. It seems the Northeast likes kudzu. “We sell most of our products in-state here,” Bianco explains. “Philadelphia is also a big market, and the Bronx is a huge market for us. You should hear the names they call it. ‘I want some of that, what is it? Ka-zee? Ka-zoo?’”
Topical Solutions can be reached by phone at 973-429-0005, by fax at 973-429-0177, or by e-mail. The company’s website is http://www.topicalsolutions.shoppingcartsplus.com
Dunn, Jim. "New Jersey Company Booms with Alabama Kudzu." Business Alabama 05. 2004. Benchmarks. [http://www.businessalabama.net/?id=19].
I had heard about this and thought who would of thought a solution for that aggravating vine?