Burt's Bees Baby takes organic lifestyle products mainstream

Burt's Bees Baby takes organic lifestyle products mainstream

A partnership between independent licensee Ayablu, Inc. and personal care household name Burt’s Bees recently birthed an organic mom and baby lifestyle brand that strives to keep prices low and quality high. Burt’s Bees Baby President Maria Asker shares why the company has potential to make organic lifestyle products such as clothing, linens and toys accessible to the masses.  

The Burt’s Bees legacy all began with selling honey out of a pickup truck. Thirty years later, the now Clorox-owned brand is one of the most well-known natural personal care companies in the world. Needless to say, a company doesn’t earn 88 percent brand recognition in U.S. households by selling honey alone.

Combined, powerhouse companies Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine (owned by Colgate-Palmolive) and the Hain Celestial Group comprised over 65 percent of the natural and organic personal care market in 2010, and each continues launching new products to maintin their strong hold on the market, according to Chicago-based market research firm Mintel. Today, Burt’s Bees’ product offerings range from classic lip balms and salves to acne products and throat drops. 

Though Burt’s Bees' selection is already vast, it's growing. Last month the company joined with Westport, Conn-based licensee Ayablu, Inc. to launch a separate lifestyle brand, Burt's Bees Baby. In the past, Ayablu has helped launch other children's businesses with companies such as Lucky, Nike and Ralph Lauren.

Catering to new moms

The collaboration places Burt’s Bees in a position to snag a large chunk of another emerging category: organic lifestyle products for moms and babies.  

“Burt’s Bees is a very recognizable brand and holds a lot of weight in terms of credibility and authenticity,” said Burt's Bees Baby President Maria Asker. “[Ayablu, Inc.] loved what they have done and the integrity of the brand itself and it felt like such a natural springboard to launch into children’s.”

Because Burt’s Bees hasn’t yet focused on apparel and lifestyle branding, this was a “perfect partnership,” according to Asker. July's launch featured baby apparel and accessories for newborns to nine month olds, and the company will soon expand into various other product-type categories, including bedding, toys, furniture, storage and more.

“We can pretty much encompass the whole world of baby and child,” said Asker. 

BBB on launching an organic lifestyle brand 

Capitalize on brand recognition

Burt’s Bees Baby’s greatest asset also may be its biggest hurdle: How does a company use its legacy to reach a large customer base at its launch, while establishing a unique brand identity?

“It was really a wonderful challenge because there’s so much legacy opportunity with the brand itself. Roxanne Quimby, the co-founder of Burt’s Bees, created so many strong brand assets and many of them go on to live today,” said Asker.

Asker and her team’s solution was to pull subtle inspiration from the branding of Burt’s Bees Baby Bee and Burt’s Bees Mama Bee products, as well as incorporate some of these products into gift sets (for example, a set of three organic wash cloths in beautiful iconic tin inspired by Burt’s Bees with a Baby Bee shampoo).

“As we expand out into other product categories, we will continue to draw on inspiration from the heritage; you’ll see more of the branding elements that are probably more recognizable in Burt’s Bees original branding translated into our products that we’ll launch in the next year or two.”

Enter growing product categories  

In early conversations with Burt’s Bees, Asker discovered that the company’s loyal consumer base was asking for organic products that touch a baby’s skin. Beyond nontoxic bath and body baby products, which made up the fastest-growing segment of the overall natural and organic personal care category in 2010, according to Mintel, Asker found that this also meant organic clothing.

No longer a tiny category with predictable, strong year-over-year growth, organic fiber, consisting of clothes and linens, will soon contribute the most dollars to natural household product sales, according to preliminary estimates from Nutrition Business Journal. This may be due to organics’ influence and strong recent performance—and that cotton, in particular, is referred to as the world's “dirtiest” crop.

Burt’s Bees Baby is also planning various launches for the nontoxic toys category. Although the nontoxic toy category hasn’t gained much market share between 2007 and 2010, it continues to meet a critical demand that grew when media highlighted potential dangers of toxins in toys. It also presents another opportunity for companies such as Burt’s Bees Baby to snag crossover consumers looking to make their children's environments as clean as possible. 

Use distribution to keep prices down

Burt’s Bees Baby’s large distribution helps make affordable prices a reality, according to Asker.

“One of the things that’s a big differentiator for us is going to a mass retailer like a Target, we have the economy of scale in our benefit. Oftentimes when you find organic baby offerings they’re going to be niche, more boutique brands with limited distribution, and I think that’s the first pretty significant challenge.”

By selling through Target, Target.com, buybuy Baby and BabiesRUs.com, Burt’s Bees Baby’s price points for organic cotton clothing and linens is between 10 dollars and 16 dollars.

Just like Burt’s Bees personal care products, Asker hopes Burt’s Bees Baby makes its way into various channels, from gas stations to natural products stores and Four Seasons resorts—each selling the line at the same affordable prices.

“That’s what’s so beautiful about the brand. It is so accessible and you can find it at so many points of distribution. And it’s not biased or bent towards high end or mass market.”

In addition to wide distribution, the increased global demand for organic cotton also has allowed for lower prices and narrowed the gap between conventional and organic cotton. Asker says a company like Burt’s Bees Baby can source organic cotton at somewhere between 20 percent an 30 percent more than conventional, compared with 50 percent to 100 percent more a mere five years ago.

“The gap between natural and organic and conventional is becoming narrower. I think that’s a wonderful thing for consumers because they should be able to get something that’s better for their child and not have to pay two or three times the price for an organic item.”  

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