By Alyssa Stahr
Photos courtesy of Purilum
Deep in the heart of Greenville, N.C., sits East Carolina University, a home for BMX riders and the first e-liquid cartridge bottling facility to produce automated assembly in the United States. In July 2014, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Chinese clean room facilities; however, after a pitch from Unbroken’s VP of Marketing Justin Wiesehan at Chicago’s Vapor Expo International, I was on my way to my first domestic tour.
North Carolina certainly has some charming airports, from Charlotte’s bathroom attendants to Greenville’s two-gate waiting area, complete with table lamps and rocking chairs. I knew flying into quaint Greenville was going to be a treat, and I was excited to begin the tour of Purilum’s facility, which manufactures and provides testing, labeling and bottling services for the Unbroken e-liquid brand.
Upon our arrival at Purilum, I met with Justin Wiesehan, Unbroken’s VP of marketing; Jake Wiesehan, global sourcing manager; Anthony Dillon, Purilum’s board member; Bianca Iodice, Purilum’s president and head flavorist; and Jessica Robertson, Purium’s business development manager, to get a healthy background on both companies before the facility tour.
Prior to working in the vape industry, the senior management team of Unbroken worked in a business that distributed many products to travel centers and convenient stores. Due to the company’s relationships with these types of retailers, they worked with a major e-cigarette company to help gain major distribution in this channel from 2007-2009. When that partnership ended, they saw further opportunities in the
industry and decided to start their own e-cig company.
The senior management team at Unbroken started their official foray into the e-cigarette world in 2012 with Justin and Jake’s dad John Jr., who is CEO; one of their dad’s business partners, Todd Millard, who is COO; other brother John III, VP of sales; and Bradley Trawick, VP of sourcing. Since starting the company as the Mistic brand, which is a cigalike product with a cartridge and rechargeable battery, the company has since evolved way beyond that. Mistic started in select retailers like Wal-Mart and Circle K, with a distribution of around 17,000 locations. It has since expanded to more than 70,000 locations nationwide.
In 2013, they developed the HAUS brand, which is a personal vaporizer with a tank, e-liquid and high-powered battery. At the end of 2014, they saw a shift in the marketplace going to vape shops, so that’s when they developed Unbroken, their line of premium e-liquids. Unbroken’s unique juice is based on the very distinct flavor profile of South American botanical fruit extracts.
A Partnership Formed
The relationship between Unbroken and Purilum started because Mistic wanted to get its cartridges out of China. Another reason was inventory purposes, and, for communication purposes, it’s easier for the Charlotte-based team to drive down to Greenville for an in-person visit. Justin said, “We didn’t want to keep them there because of the quality. There’s not a lot of quality control, and we wanted to give people a product they can trust. We thought being U.S. made would accomplish
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that; we think it has. The partnership we’ve developed was the key. They [Purilum] could’ve been in California and we still would’ve done it.” Jake agreed. “Probably the main reason we decided to switch our whole production to the states is FDA and what they’re going to regulate.”
Also, if you’re buying something out of China, you have a four- to six-week lead time. By the time it gets to the shelf, that liquid has been sitting in the cartomizer for four to six weeks or longer. With Purilum, lead times are days, so customers are getting a fresher product.
The company has a team in Washington, D.C., that deals with regulations and what to expect, and the team challenged Mistic and HAUS at the end of 2013 to switch everything from China to the States. Everything was switched in 2014, except for raw materials like batteries and hardware, where China still corners the market.
Thus, Purilum started filling Mistic’s cartridges Stateside, in addition to developing flavors for HAUS and Unbroken brands. The Unbroken line, which launched in May, has been a little different than what the Wiesehan brothers expected.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worse or better; the sale process is a little bit different than we envisioned it to be,” Justin said. “I think a lot of vape shops are not sure who to bring in right now; they get a lot of different samples every day from a bunch of different companies.”
The key to the sale process is standing out, and Unbroken is doing its best to serve that with its square bottles, labels, branding and nic levels (they run an untraditional 0, 4, 8 and 16).
Unbroken’s Brazilian Roots
Vaping, Justin said, is very subjective, like wine. Just because one person likes something doesn’t mean another one will. What Unbroken tried to do was separate itself from the normal custards, cereals and desserts. When they came to Purilum with an idea for an e-liquid, Iodice, who is from Brazil, had the idea of using fruits from Brazil.
“We started tasting different fruits, different flavors, and that’s how Unbroken came to be. Because of the market, what you have right now is sweet flavors and fruits, and we wanted something different. It’s fruits, all right, but it’s very different types of fruits,” Iodice said. “Inspiration is kind of a mix. You have to move to where your customer is. So you have to listen to your customer, but at the same time you always want to introduce something new in the market.”
They truly are like nothing else on the market, giving consumers something they haven’t tried before. Their taste is unique, from the fruit extracts of Brazil. Ripe fruits and also pulps were used during the development phase in order to obtain the unique characteristics of these fruits. While this isn’t too different for Iodice, she said that for Americans to taste something straight from the Amazon jungle, it’s very different.
“This could be a good thing or a bad thing,” Justin said. “They could be like ‘Whoa, that’s really different, but I like it,’ or, ‘Wow, I really like this because it’s not another cereal.’”
The group started out with 10-15 finalists for the brand in January, whittled them down to about eight and settled on the last five in February:
A best seller from northeastern Brazil.
Fruit: Carambola, derived from the starfruit, provides a sweet citrus flavor that can be compared to a mix of apple, pear and grape with caramel and sugary nuances.
Another best seller from the northern Amazon.
Fruit: Guaraná and apple, which gives the flavor of a green apple, and the Guaraná, which is round, rooty and berry-like. Iodice said that you can drink and vape Guaraná. Justin explained: “The alkaloid present in Guaraná is equivalent to caffeine.”
From coastal Brazil.
Fruit: Pitanga, which provides a delicate flavor with a hint of sweet, sugary cherry and is a source of vitamin C and calcium.
Derived from the northern Amazon rainforest.
Fruit: Cupuaçu, which gives off a mint kick due to an added touch of menthol, and boasts a blend of pear, banana, chocolate and passion fruit.
From southeast Brazil.
Fruit: Perhaps the most polarizing e-liquid of the five, the Jabuticaba serves Root with grape and berry-like undertones. “Root people either love it or hate it,” Justin said. “It lives up to its name 100 percent. On the inhale, it tastes like dirt and root, but then on the exhale you get a really nice berry fruit. Jabuticaba grows from the trunk of the tree, so it moves up the trunk as it grows, so that’s why you get that earthy taste.”
Purilum’s Well Oiled Machines
Purilum was the first company in the United States that began providing automated cartridge filling and assembly. Purilum focuses on manufacturing, production, bottle filling and flavor profiles, accomplished in its ISO 8 Class 100,000 fully automated clean room facilities. The facility prides itself on its fully automated bottle filling and assembly and cartomizer filling and assembly in its 19,000-square-foot plant.
Robertson explained that Purilum started about a year and a half ago as a joint venture between IOTO USA, a branch of a Brazilian flavor house, and Alliance One Specialty Products Investments Limited. Alliance One is an international leaf dealer, with its North American headquarters in Farmville, N.C.; IOTO’s facilities are in Greenville.
This served as medium ground for the minds of Dillon and Iodice to come together. The facility broke ground in April and started with production of the Mistic line in September 2014.
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We suited up in our clean room booties, gloves, hats and suits and headed into the production facility. During the first part of the tour, Dillon explained that the facility was designed around the flow of goods and materials.
“We didn’t want a facility that was too big, because maintaining cleaner environments is a lot harder than building cleaner environments,” he said. “The bigger the space, the harder it is to maintain, so everything’s been designed around the flow of our goods and materials.”
With this in mind, all goods come in through the back and everything is held in quarantine until Purilum verifies purity levels of all incoming raw materials. They do not rely on any manufacturers’ certificates. They test everything themselves in-house. Once all incoming raw materials have been verified for quality levels (the same is true for bottles, components, cartomizers, labels, etc.), they are issued into one of the various storage rooms, and segregated for PG, VG, flavor and nicotine. Purilum receives its USP grade nicotine from Europe, the United States and, primarily, Switzerland.
“Our nicotine is kept in a locked room with restricted access, segregated from other e-liquid components. We anticipated initially handling pure nicotine. We have a lot of experience from Bianca’s background and my background with handling pure nicotine, but for safety reasons, we chose not to in this e-liquid manufacturing facility,” Dillon said. Thus, all nicotine purchased is diluted in VG or PG; Unbroken’s PG/VG ratio is 50/50.
Even though Unbroken is only a couple of months old, the company’s goal has always been to start in Brazil and move to the next region of the world. So, whether it’s Indonesia, China, the Caribbean or Mexico, the goal is to have fruits from those regions become the next e-liquid flavors in the line.
Justin said that they wanted to get the first five flavors out first and get reactions.
“This industry changes every three to six months. A flavor that is hot today, no one may even buy in six months, so you have to continue to evolve your product line, your offering, or you’ll just be stale.”
For more information, visit http://www.unbrokenvape.com/.