The Supply Side: Balm Innovations looks for a big year

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 306 views 

It may be early, but 2014 is shaping up to be a great year for Little Rock-based Balm Innovations thanks to the test underway with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences bio ventures startup recently gained approval to test sales of its Omnibalm Daily Foot Therapy cream in 130 Wal-Mart Stores across seven states.

The product has had the most success in the Arkansas Wal-Mart locations because of the strong brand recognition the product carries throughout the state, according to Lydia Carson, founder of Balm Innovations. She also cites testimonials, word-of-mouth advertising and improved packaging as contributing factors to the growing success of Omnibalm inside and outside the state.

Founded in 2004, Balm Innovations manufactures and holds the licensing for both Omnibalm products, and pays a royalty to UAMS, which helps to fund further additional medical research at the University.

Balm Innovations manufactures Omnibalm Daily Foot Therapy, a non-greasy foot cream intended to repair general and diabetic skin problems. The product was developed nearly 30 years ago by Dr. Bill Gurley, a UAMS pharmaceutical researcher at the time.

Gurley created Omnibalm to soothe his own severe sunburn, but it wasn’t long until he realized the product successfully provided relief for a wide variety of skin maladies, including xeroderma, cracking and itching, cold sores, shingles, chafing, and more.

Carson said Omnibalm is formulated using 13% authentic tea tree oil, the highest percentage of any skincare cream on the market. She said the product is well-received by diabetics who report in multiple studies healthier feet when using the product once or twice daily.

Because of Omnibalm’s appeal to diabetics, the product recently split into two –Omnibalm Daily Foot Therapy, specially formulated for those with specific foot care needs, and Omnibalm Skin Relief Cream. As for an addition to the Omnibalm skincare line?

“(Dr. Gurley) is not currently focused on developing a specific product, but is always tinkering around in the lab,” Carson said. 

The product made its initial retail debut in USA Drug stores in central Arkansas. The drugstore chain has since been bought by Walgreens. Prior to this debut, Gurley gave away the cream for free.

Carson said Balm Innovations is now waiting on the results of the Wal-Mart product test and of an ongoing clinical study before pushing Omnibalm Daily Foot Therapy with other national retailers. 

The independent clinical study, expected to continue through 2014, focuses on the use of Omnibalm Daily Foot Therapy as preventative method for diabetic foot ulcers. Initial research indicates that the cream does reduce the percentage of foot ulcers experienced by diabetics. 

“While we are not actively pursuing getting into other retailers at this time, we do have a list of possible opportunities to pursue, depending on the results of the clinical study,” Carson said.  

Health and wellness is big business for Wal-Mart Stores, garnering roughly $30 billion in sales, which was 11% of the retailer’s total U.S. sales in fiscal 2013. Sales grew 3.8% from the prior year but the retailer is barely scratching the surface of opportunities as there are major shifts underway in this segment.

Dr. John Agwunobi, president of health and wellness for Walmart U.S., said during a recent speech in Rogers there are ample opportunities to grow market share. One area of huge potential is over-the-counter (OTC) wellness and nutrition innovation, he said.

“There is room for product innovation across multiple categories in both private label and branded,” he said.

The retailer also is seeing older seniors and demand growth in diabetes and incontinence products. Agwunobi extended an invitation to suppliers to bring those innovation solutions to the table.