Aruba Aloe Celebrates 125 Years
In 1890, the seeds were literally sown for a lasting legacy near and dear to Aruba’s heart. Cornelis Eman embarked on a journey that would have lasting effects on the island both economically and culturally. On a dusty plot of land scorched by the sun and wind in the area known as Hato, Cornelis saw growth and opportunity when many dismissed Aruba as a place where not much of anything of economic significance was grown or harvested.
Although the Dutch introduced the Aloe vera plant to the island in the 1840s, it was Cornelis’s initiative to cultivate Aloe vera commercially that put Aruba on the map as “The Island of Aloes.” By 1905, Aruba Aloe Balm, Inc. was the world’s biggest producer of Aloin, a raw, yellowish substance produced from the cells of the plant (mainly used as a laxative), selling it to pharmaceutical companies internationally via Curacao.
Cornelis’s son, Casey, eventually took the reigns, building a factory to process the raw aloin for medicinal purposes. In an interview with Dr. Koos Veel, who has been with Aruba Aloe Balm for the past 31 years, Dr. Veel explains that “it was an ambitious project for that time—lots of machinery and technology—but Casey was able to achieve production of more than 30 percent of the world’s aloe at that time, which is a huge achievement for a little company on a tiny island in the Caribbean.”
Casey’s success was short-lived, as the giant pharmaceutical companies, who were once buying the unprocessed Aloin, stopped buying any Aloe products—raw or processed—from Aruba Aloe Balm because they were essentially in competition with them for the processed medicinal product. Casey, defeated by the pharmaceutical giants, sold the business to his brother, Jani.
Jani had a new vision for Aruba Aloe Balm—cosmetic products. Explains Dr. Veel, “Jani knew the benefits of using the gel extracted from the leaves…locals had already discovered the benefits of using the gel as a moisturizer, or for burns and abrasions; you have a skin problem, you go straight to the garden, cut open a leaf, and put the gel on it—that was the standard treatment here in Aruba.”
In the 1960s, Jani built a plant to process the gel to put into cosmetics. “You have to imagine, back then nobody in the world knew about Aloe as a cosmetic product, yet he was far ahead of his time, putting it in lotions and creams,” says Dr. Veel. For the most part, the Aruba Aloe Balm products were only sold in stores and pharmacies on the island. But in 1980, the Eckerd Pharmacy chain in Florida began importing Aruba Aloe Balm products, launching a new era for the company.
Unfortunately, Jani passed away a year later. Cornelis’s great-grandson, Henny Eman, took over in 1984, hiring Professor H.E. Junginger, Ph.D, a pharmaceutical technology professor, and Dr. Koos Veel. “We developed a whole new line of products—from shampoos and deodorants to skincare and suntan products—increasing the product line from five to 100 products,” says Dr. Veel. The Aruba Aloe Balm products attracted an international audience, putting the company’s main focus on exporting again.
In 1986, Henny Eman became Aruba’s prime minister. Understandably, his political duties to his country left little time to run the growing Aloe company, prompting him to eventually sell it to Louis Posner, a successful local businessman, in 2000. Louis pushed for further globalization of the brand and built a modern factory next to the original Hato Aloe fields, with a companion museum offering tours. The fields were further cultivated, more products developed, and new packaging was achieved for the brand’s products. “The changes and investment were remarkable and paid off,” informs Dr. Veel, “and to date we have 17 stores in Aruba, one in Indianapolis, and one in Amsterdam…we also have websites in the U.S. and Europe that generate impressive Internet sales, and more than 80 employees locally.” Notably, Aruba Aloe Balm also has a medical-grade cream, Alhydran, that is revered by the medical community and sold in 28 countries for its healing effects on burns and wounds, and for the reduction of scarring of the skin.
Concludes Dr. Veel, “The Arubans still see Aloe as a very important part of their culture and history—you see it in the Coat of Arms of Aruba, you see it on some of the older houses in the form of decoration (folkloric hex signs were once very popular on homes in Aruba), and many Arubans still go right to their gardens for treatment using their homegrown Aloe.”
This article was written by Tina Causey-Beslik.