Lily of the Desert: Celebrating 50 years

Don Lovelace reflects on the company’s success and shares what’s on the horizon.

“Retaining the Quality that Nature Created.” That is the motto that informs every move made by Lily of the Desert, a company founded in 1971 and owned by the Lovelace family. “The motto speaks to our commitment for producing superior, value-added Aloe Vera products,” says Don Lovelace, CEO. “Science confirms that the Aloe plant naturally contains over 200 biologically active/efficiencies constituents. Our commitment is to retain those constituents from the aloe fields through our manufacturing processes to provide our customers with a finished product that contains what nature created in the original Aloe plant.”

As the company celebrates 50 years, WholeFoods touched base with Lovelace to talk about what sets Lily of the Desert apart. He points to the company’s focus on small details. “By taking advantage of our vertical integration from growing, processing and marketing, we can control the quality of our products at every step.” He explains that retaining aloe’s quality can be a fragile process, and the little steps—such as getting the leaf into refrigeration immediately after harvest, controlling temperature, and taking the time to ensure that the Long Chain Polysaccharides are not broken—are critical to ensuring maximum efficacy in the final product. “It’s the little things that make a big difference for our customers. Utilizing scientific evidence to support benefits and product claims has always been important to our company and something that we have put much effort into through the years. If it was developing USDA organic product, studying how the polysaccharide works and its positive effects when utilized correctly, or having our products GRAS (generally recognized as safe) certified and putting our facilities and processes through rigorous tests, it was all to give our customers a superior product to use in their daily lives.”

The Focus that Drives Success
Recalling the early days, Lovelace shares that after college, he worked for a friend in the aloe business and was impressed by the benefits of aloe vera. “I became determined to build a business bringing the benefits of aloe to American consumers.” Lovelace opened his first aloe farm in Mercedes, TX in 1977, then became a founding member and first president of the International Aloe Science Council in 1980. In 1985 he purchased the Lily of the Desert brand, and began building the brand reputation for innovation and quality. The company reports that by 2006, Lily of the Desert products could be found in 99% of natural product stores and major grocery chains across the U.S. based on SPINS data, creating a loyal brand following that the company works hard to continue to strengthen.

Then: A look at the early Lily of the Desert packaging. Courtesy of Lily of the Desert.
Now: The packaging has been refreshed with a bright look. Courtesy of Lily of the Desert.

“I believe the responsibilities of a business owner can be significant,” Lovelace says. “There is the commitment to customers of providing quality products at a fair price. The commitment to employees to keep your word, to empower them by providing them the resources to achieve their goals and the commitment to yourself to be true to yourself. To face challenges and adversity head on.”

Lovelace recalls one challenge that ended up resulting in one of his favorite accomplishments about 15 years ago. “Everyone that has ever tasted aloe knew it had a bitterness to it, mainly because of the preservatives used in all aloe. We developed a Preservative Free product that met USDA certified organic guidelines. We were the first to do so and it is now our best-selling sku and has provided consumers an all organic product that has none of the bitterness. It is one of my prouder moments when we were able to make that happen and the positive results it had on our company and our consumers.”

The important thing, Lovelace adds, is to overcome the challenges while remaining true to your core principles. “For example, we have endured several winter storms causing the Aloe fields to freeze, requiring that we purchase organic aloe from fields further south at high prices. How did we respond to these challenges? We absorbed the increased cost and continued to provide our customer with 99% Aloe Juice all the while losing significant dollars for several months.” While he says some brands may reduce the Aloe content and add water to the product instead of absorbing the loss, that practice would never occur at Lily of the Desert.

Reflecting on the challenges of 2020, Lovelace expresses his admiration for his team. “They have gone the extra mile to ensure that 2020 was a successful year. When the pandemic began, we were flooded with requests for our juice to help make hand sanitizer. Our team answered that call efficiently and safely even with increased productivity and extra shifts to make sure all of our customers were getting what they needed. We also recognized that this was an opportunity to speak to a new group of customers about the internal benefits of drinking aloe daily. Our team grew our customer base by emphasizing the benefits of Lily Aloe for Immune Health, supported by the results of our gold standard, independent, placebo-controlled human clinical study. We also added making Hand Sanitizer into our manufacturing capabilities and now make our own line in our Lewisville, TX location that utilizes 15% of our soothing aloe to keep hands soft, yet help eliminate germs.”

What’s next? “Our company is currently producing several products through our Nutrition Division—Lily of the Desert Nutraceuticals,” Lovelace shares. “Based on the results we have seen in clinical tests with Aloesorb, we feel that it has potential to also increase the efficacy and bioavailability of key ingredients like curcumin, turmeric, elderberry, CBD, etc. We will continue to research and utilize Aloesorb to enhance products for Joint, Digestive, and Immune health to give our customers even more value-added products. We believe that Lily Aloe Vera can play a major role to support these product formulations both in powder and liquid form.”

Words of Wisdom
For businesses that are just getting started, Lovelace has some advice: “I think it is very important that your business principles define who you are and your core values. For example: Do I really believe and am I committed to providing my customers excellent value in the products? Am I committed to ensuring that our team is constantly improving, because success is a journey, not a destination? We must constantly challenge ourselves and our team to improve.”