Bag Balm, that yellowish salve made in the Northeast Kingdom, was developed 115 years ago for farmers who wanted to soften their cows’ teats before milking.
Customers say the gooey stuff in the iconic green and red square tin soothes diaper rash, softens dog paws, even lubricates firearms. The formula hasn’t changed much. But this year, new owners are giving the century-old brand a new container.
About 11 a.m. on a dreary, raw morning, bright red and green metal tins punctuates the Bag Balm production line humming along in an old frame building in the heart of Lyndonville. Only three men are employed to operate the gleaming steel machines.
Traditionally, Bag Balm has been packed either in a tiny 1-ounce tin — perfect for holiday stocking stuffers — or an 8-ounce container. The new owners, operating as Vermont Originals LLC, are peddling a new size: 4-ounce tins. Director of Manufacturing Mark Perkins says after about a week, the new equipment is running smoothly.
“We purchased the new machine, we just got it installed in October, I think it was. It can run all three sizes, one 4 [ounce] and 8 [ounce], right here, with just switching things over real quick. And it makes things real nice,” Perkins says.
He figures if the new sizes are popular he might have to add a few more line workers.
The bigger news is that Bag Balm now comes in a quarter ounce tube, perfect for lip gloss. Perkins says the tubes are made and filled in Rhode Island, not Vermont, but some are sent to the Lyndonville warehouse.
Perkins cuts open a carton to show a small box with the recognizable Bag Balm logo and colors. A bunch of tubes stick out the top.
“There’s a dozen in the box; [it] cuts down, makes a nice display on the counter. Doesn’t take up a lot of room, either,” he says, holding up the box.
Bag Balm’s new CEO, Jim Kelly, calls it “the legendary rescue balm” and hopes the phrase will catch on with a younger generation. He also hopes the tubes will land in the parka pockets of outdoors sports enthusiasts who find Bag Balm ideal for soothing chapped skin and preventing chafing.
“Especially when you’re outdoors and skiing in the winter. We have a number of new products that we’re launching and they have all been announced to the retail trade and to our distributors,” Kelly says. "We are out there selling them now and trying to get them into increasingly broad distribution and we have made some good distribution hits already on a lot of these. So the benefit of all this should start to come in 2016.”
Will tubular Bag Balm trigger the wild enthusiasm that fans have posted on the Internet about the instantly recognizable metal tins? Maybe, with a little help from social media. Fans flock to Bag Balm's Facebook page, especially in the winter.