CORINNA (AP) – A woman who mixed up a batch of all-natural bug repellant for her infant son five years ago now sells the product at hundreds of stores across Maine and the Northeast.

Alison Lewey, 32, concocted a nontoxic bug repellent for her baby son, Luke, made from soybean oil, peppermint and rosemary. “No way was I going to put DEET on him,” she said, referring to the toxic active ingredient in many commercial repellents.

She shared the potion with friends, and it proved so popular that other young mothers began asking Lewey for their own supply. That’s when she realized she had created a marketable product.

Last year, the first year Lewey was in business with Buzz-Off, her sales didn’t even cover the cost of her ads. This year, Buzz-Off is sold at more than 700 stores in Maine alone, and mail-order and Internet sales are brisk, Lewey said.

Lewey and her partner, Fred Wessely, manufacture and bottle Buzz-Off in the unfinished first floor of their modest home at a rural crossroads in Corinna.

But Lewey hopes that within a year or two she can move production, marketing and distribution out of her home and up to Princeton and to Perth-Andover, New Brunswick, to provide jobs on the Passamaquoddy and Maliseet reservations there. Lewey is an American Indian of Passamaquoddy and Maliseet heritage.

“I’m guided,” Lewey said. “God’s on my side. I’m going to do nothing but good with this.”

Lewey credits her knowledge of herbs on her Indian upbringing. She recalls when her mother picked herbs in the woods and dried them in their home.

Buzz-Off is 80 percent soybean oil, from beans grown in Aroostook County. To that base, Lewey now adds wheat germ oil and vitamin E, to lighten the texture and make it more easily absorbed and nourishing to the skin.

Active ingredients, to scare off the bugs, include oils of lemon grass, peppermint, thyme, geranium and rosemary. Lewey purchases the ingredients from a supplier in New Jersey.

The finished product is a thin, amber fluid that disappears quickly into the skin.

Lewey guarantees her stuff will keep away mosquitoes, black flies, ticks, no-see-ums, fleas, gnats, horseflies, chiggers, ants and spiders for up to three hours.

Once it’s on the shelf, Lewey said, the product sells fast. Among her best locations are EBS in Ellsworth, which sold 69 bottles in a single day, and Bangor Hardware, which has moved 300 bottles so far this season.

Despite growing demand, production of Buzz-Off is still at the mom-and-pop stage. Lewey and Wessely mix the ingredients in a 55-gallon plastic drum, stirring with a long attachment on a power drill.

A home equity loan allowed the recent purchase of an $8,000 bottling machine that draws the liquid from the drum and fills six 4-ounce bottles with the push of a button. Twelve bottles fill a cardboard case, which brings a wholesale price of $60, or $5 per bottle.

The recommended retail price is $7.95, but Lewey said she has seen stores selling Buzz-Off for as low as $6.99 and as high as $11.95.

AP-ES-07-13-03 1241EDT



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