While squeezing toothpaste back into the tube remains a metaphor for the impossible, you can at least see how it gets in there to begin with by taking the factory tour at Tom's of Maine (www.tomsofmaine.com), available in summer from mid-June.
In 1970, Kate and Tom Chappell moved to Maine in search of a simpler life. Their strategy? Creating a company committed to developing all-natural personal-hygiene products, such as toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, and deodorant. While we don't know whether they found a simpler life, they have created a successful company. In fact, their toothpaste—made without artificial preservatives, sweeteners, or coloring—is a top brand in the U.S. (It has even found a market among the famously troublesome teeth of the British.)
The company also strives to be socially and environmentally compassionate. Almost all of its products are made by a manufacturing facility in Sanford, Maine, that is designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
As you walk upstairs to the second floor, you'll know what products the toothpaste and liquid lines are packaging. If you smell cinnamon, they're packaging that flavor of toothpaste or mouthwash. An intense coriander smell usually means deodorant. You will see the machine that pumps the toothpaste into recyclable tubes and clamps the backs closed.
In general, the company tries to minimize packaging while maximizing the portion of recyclable material used in packaging. For example, in mouthwash containers the outer paper carton has been replaced with a thin leaflet that folds into the back of the recyclable plastic container.
What is most interesting about this tour isn't so much the production process but the sense that the workers enjoy their jobs and take quality control seriously. In an effort to stave off monotony, every hour most workers on the packaging line switch positions. A worker who has been putting the tubes into the filler machine moves on to box toothpaste. The smiles you see aren't just to show off good teeth—Tom's of Maine seems to be a nice place to work.
Indeed, factory tours can provide fascinating insights on how others work and live. To read about more tours you can take, see our book Watch It Made in the U.S.A.
Posted By Karen Axelrod Jun 18, 2008