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The Sweet Smell of Success

Body Mint, a daily deodorant in tablet form, has been a breath of fresh air.

Claire Tanoue and Rona Wong Yim have very sensitive noses. In an island state with many fragrant blossoms that can be a blessing. But in a place that also has high humidity, high temperatures and a custom in which people take off their shoes before entering the home, a precise proboscis can be a curse.

Over dinner one night about four years ago, the pair, who had been classmates at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law, wondered out loud why no one had developed deodorant that worked from the inside out, something that worked all day long? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just take a pill and smell fresh all day?

Those simple questions led to more than three years of market and clinical research, an unexpected discovery and one surprising product that is flying off store shelves.

Take your pills please!: Rona Wong Yim, Eddie Onouye and Claire Tanoue and their odor fighting product.

Body Mint is a 100 percent natural all-body deodorant in tablet form that is taken orally like a daily vitamin. It is claimed to be an “internal cleanser” that eliminates body odors, which include breath, underarm, genital and foot odors, from within. Introduced last April, the product retails for about $14 and is sold in all Longs Drugs and ABC Stores across the state, along with several other outlets. That is a total of about 100 stores, which sell approximately 7,000 bottles a month.

“We have never seen anything quite like it,” says Percy Higashi, vice president of Advantage Webco Dodge Hawaii, a local distributor. “This item is at or near the top in sales for the different individual products that we carry. To put it in perspective, Body Mint sells as much as some of our packages of toilet paper. That is a lot. Body Mint has been the subject of many of our monthly meetings.”

“It was just an idea at first,” says Wong Yim. “We realized that most hygiene products just don’t work and if they do work at all, it is only for a short period of time.”

In researching their product, Tanoue and Wong Yim spent hours at the UH medical library looking for a permanent cure to stinkiness and they found one—chlorophllin, a water-soluble form of chlorophyll, the chemical that keeps plants fresh and green. Once the pair got their science down, they contacted small businessman Eddie Onouye, who set their business plan in motion. With a budget somewhere less than $100,000, the trio hired scientists to develop a pill and then they refined their formula for more than three years before they reached odorless perfection.

“We had some decent formulas but we wanted a really good one,” says Onouye. “We tested nine different ones over three years.”

The partners are understandably very protective of their secret formula, even the location of their manufacturing plant. And they claim ignorance as to what is happening chemically within the body when someone swallows one of their pills. Indeed, Body Mint’s claimed process of fighting odors seem to run contrary to conventional wisdom that odors develop outside of the body as bacteria feeds on sugar-like substances in the body’s perspiration and starts to grow. But the proof is in the sniffing with Body Mint gaining legions of fans, including Higashi who takes a pill a day. “It really works,” says Higashi. “I’m happy. My significant other is happy.”

Onouye says that his company has saturated the Hawaii market and he and his partners are planning to introduce Body Mint to the mainland this year, first in New York, then Los Angeles and then throughout the Midwest.

“When we first started, we thought this would be creating a vanity product,” says Tanoue. “We had no idea that it would take care of some many different kinds of odors and help so many people.”

A real breath of fresh air.

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Hawaii Business,April