J.R. Watkins and the Quirky Catalog


Courtesy of J.R. Watkins, Inc.

By most modern eyes, J.R. Watkins is a wacky company. Created before people believed much in modern medicine (or before such medicines were widely available), the company offers cures to your ails as well as spices and crab dip mix. A catalog that offers both peppermint lip balm and peppermint stick cocoa points out that much of our food comes from the same source as our medicines. But, is this something we want pointed out?

J.R. Watkins started making and selling his products from his home in Plainview, MN. When the popularity of his products outgrew his home, he opened shop in Winona, MN, where the company's US headquarters is still based today. The very first product sold by J. R. Watkins in 1868 was called "red liniment" and is still sold today. It uses a mixture of camphor and red pepper extract to relieve pain.

But, if what you more commonly suffer from is hunger pains, you may want to sample J.R. Watkins natural gourmet line. At a recent visit to the Twin Cities Chocolate Extravaganza, I tried their white chocolate almond cocoa. What a delight. If you like amaretto, you will love this cocoa. The taste is much like how I think of myself: warm, mildly sweet and nutty. The cocoa also comes in two other flavors - raspberry truffle and peppermint stick. The products are part of a limited edition seasonal line of Watkins products.

Courtesy of J.R. Watkins, Inc.

I also sampled Watkins crab dip. Watkins sells mixes - take 2.5 tablespoons per 8 ounces sour cream and voila, dip! I wasn't blown away by the crab dip the way I had been with the cocoa, but I could still see the appeal. It tasted fine (probably better if you add in some fresh ingredients), but the real plus was its cost effectiveness. Each bottle of mix could make about ten tubs of dip, so it would be an easy treat in a fix, especially if you are the type of person who gets a lot of spontaneous visitors. Clem Birch, a top seller of Watkins products, swears by the number one dip seller, the salsa-sour cream flavor, advertised as "smooth, not-too-spicy dip that's perfect with tortilla chips."

Birch says, many people have questions about Watkins products, particularly since they are not available in stores. To buy them you order online or go through an individual selling them. According to Birch, many customers are wary of that type of sales model, but what they soon learn is that the people selling have long been using Watkins products. As Birch puts it, most sellers start out as customers buying a product, and then all their friends start asking, "Can you get me some?" and pretty soon, like ol' Watkins himself, they're in business for the long haul.