Curt Valva, general manager of Aubrey Organics, apologized in advance for his pun: "Organic personal care is supernatural."
Not only is organic body care the "next level of natural," as Valva put it, it's also shown an otherworldly growth rate.
After logging a stellar average yearly growth rate of 144 percent between 1996 and 2000, sales of organic personal care products increased 38 percent between 2000 and 2001, according to the Organic Trade Association's Manufacturer Market Survey. In 2002, the sales increase was 29 percent, according to this year's market overview.
In comparison, sales of organic food have increased about 20 percent a year.
The Natural Marketing Institute in Harleysville, Pa., estimates the U.S. target market for organic personal care products at 57 million people, or 20 percent of the population. In addition, in its 2002 Health and Wellness Trends Database, NMI reported that 12 percent of people who already buy organic body care products said they increased their usage last year.
"We're hearing loud and clear: The consumer is screaming to us that they want more organic products," Valva said.
But despite the demand, Valva and other manufacturers polled by OTA project that organic personal care product-growth rates likely will stabilize at 20 percent annually through 2005.
"That total U.S. target market of 20 percent is because of price," Valva said, noting that only that portion of the population is likely to pay more for organic personal care products.
"I know I can't personally afford it," said Ryan Hebert, buyer for Common Sense Wholesome Food Market, a co-op in Plymouth, Mass. Only 5 percent of Common Sense's personal care products are organic.
Hebert said that while one organics line sells well in his store, others don't.
"We sell a lot of Nature's Gate, but not the organic. You buy Nature's Gate 18-ounce [containers of shampoos, conditioners or lotions] and you get quite a bit for the price in comparison to their new Organics line. We sell quite a bit of the Avalon organic, but it's less expensive. I don't know if price is a factor there."
Valva has another theory. "Products that have been organic for 10 years aren't growing that much," he said. Instead, he believes, the clamor is for new products and formulations. "We've seen a lot of growth because there are a lot more products available. There was no organic shampoo two, three, four years ago."
Tampa, Fla.-based Aubrey introduced a line of spa products in March, including body polishes, massage oil and bath salts, that is certified organic under the National Organic Program standards. The products carry the U.S. Department of Agriculture organic seal, but Valva's not sure that's much of a selling point.
"I don't know if it is increasing sales yet, since consumers really are not yet aware of the seal," he said. "I think within a year it will be important to them."
Hebert said because his store is in a tourist area and gets a lot of casual, day-trip traffic, "I don't think that organic makes a difference" when his customers choose personal care products.
Common Sense devotes about 8 percent of its floor space to personal care, but the section accounts for 45 percent of the store's total sales.
Hebert said the top-selling personal care product at his store is shampoo, followed by toothpaste, conditioner and moisturizers. Valva expects organic moisturizer sales will increase nationwide in the near future because "there was a void there for a while. You may see some mainstream companies come in with products."
According to Nutrition Business Journal, through all retail and direct channels, skin care products accounted for 32 percent of natural and organic personal care product sales in 2002, followed by hair products at 18 percent, soap and bath items at 15 percent, and oral care at 9 percent.
Vicky Uhland is a freelance editor and writer in Denver. She may be reached at [email protected]