An interview with Annette Rogers, owner of Kai's Virgin Vapor about what it takes and what it means to obtain USDA organic certification for an e-liquid company.
Q: What was your inspiration to start Kai’s Virgin Vapor?
A: I made the switch to vaping way back in 2009. I was thrilled by this new technology and was amazed that, after years of struggling to quit smoking, I lost interest in smoking instantly when I began using an electronic cigarette and I never looked back. Electronic cigarettes were a very new technology and most people had never heard of them. I really wanted to help other people find them after they helped me so much.
Q: Why did you decide to go organic when you started your company?
A: I had this “ah ha” moment one day. I loved trying out all the different e-liquid flavors and one day I was vaping a bubble gum flavor. I looked down at the bottle and it suddenly hit me, “Why is the e-liquid a hot pink color?” It dawned on me that the color was likely due to artificial colorings added to make it more appealing. I knew from being an organic consumer for many years that some of the FDA approved colorings have been linked to some serious health issues. I already avoided them in my food, why would I want to be vaping them when there was no reason they needed to be in there? This started me on a path, initially out of concern for my own safety, to discover how to make the purest, safest, simplest, most natural e-liquid that I could. Before long, other people started begging me to make some for them, a friend set up a website for me and Kai’s Virgin Vapor was born.
Q: What has been the greatest challenge in going organic?
A: The paperwork and the bureaucracy for one! There are a lot of moving parts to keeping a product certified organic. It’s not just our certification as an organic handling facility, it’s also keeping up with changing regulatory requirements, putting in place very exacting systems (fortunately that’s something we’re good at) and, like I said, a lot of paperwork.
The biggest challenge though has actually been dealing with our raw ingredients suppliers. We source flavors from around the world and some of them are produced in very small batches. The producer may suddenly decide it’s not worth the hassle or the cost to get their flavor certified organic and out of the blue we have to reformulate or change our labels or else convince them to change their minds and recertify. Raw ingredients suppliers falling in and out of compliance has been the biggest challenge. The most frustrating part of it is that their product remains the same, there’s no actual change that makes the flavor suddenly “not organic” beyond a technicality. It’s the exact same thing we’ve been using all along, but we can’t label it that way until we work through the hurdles. It can be maddening!
Q: What do you think would be the most surprising thing about the organic certification process to consumers?
A: It’s been interesting to get an inside look at the organic certification process. I’ve been a long time organic consumer myself and seeing what actually goes on is quite eye opening. One surprising thing is that organic is defined by the process rather than the product. In other words, if you follow a proscribed process or protocol in producing it, that makes the product organic, not whether or not it actually has pesticides in it, for example.
Q: Has finding that out made you feel less confidence in certified organic products?
A: No, I wouldn’t say that, because the process is important. For example, when growing organic crops, you can’t spray them with pesticides. That’s important. But they may still have pesticides on them from the soil they were grown in. In organic agriculture, soil that has been used to grow non-organic crops, crops that have been sprayed, must be rested for a period of three years. The farmer cannot spray the crops during that time but he can’t yet call the food produced organic. After three years he can. But, of course, there are still residual pesticides in the soil that get on the food. Our world is a toxic place and I support organic methods more than ever. However, I guess I do see room for growth in the future.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: Well, I love what a supplement company called Health Force Superfoods is doing. They’ve created their own standard called “TruGanic” and they certify their products through independent third-party testing that proves the product is up to that standard of purity. The standard is not just process based, it’s product based. The product has to test clean to a high degree of purity. Then you know what you’re getting. I’d really like to see the organic movement go in that direction. At Kai’s Virgin Vapor, we’ve modeled our own product testing after Health Force to some degree because we also test our products using an independent laboratory. We test for things that are specific to e-liquids such as diacetyl and diacetyl analogues, heavy metals, formaldehyde. If any component of our product doesn’t test clean, it goes immediately into the trash.
Q: What laboratory do you use to do your testing?
A: We use Enthalpy. They specialize in testing e-liquid and that’s important, the lab has to actually know what they are doing since e-liquid has some very specific considerations that make testing it different from testing a food product. Enthalpy is kind of the granddaddy when it comes to e-liquid lab testing, they do exacting work and we feel they are very trustworthy.