Natural Foods Merchandiser

Dear manufacturers

Natural products retailers say personal care manufacturers have made great strides in recent years, ridding their products of potential toxins like phthalates and coming up with stylish, eco-friendly packaging that rivals the sleekest high-end department store offerings.

But with the economy, and the category, still struggling, there is work to be done. NFM asked three retailers to compile a wish list for manufacturers in 2010.

Simplify labels. “Wouldn’t it be nice if all the manufacturers could agree on one standard so that our customers are not so confused,” says Cindy Young, wellness merchandiser for New Seasons Market, in Portland, Ore. Young says the multiple seals now appearing on personal care products (see sidebar), from USDA Organic to OASIS to NPA, leave customers both puzzled and distrusting. While she and others concede it could be years before the federal government steps in to clarify, they say it is critical that industry players stop bickering and come up with one standard.

Be pretty and practical. JoAnn Baker, director of natural living for Sunflower Farmers Market a chain of 30 stores in six Southwestern states, with Purchasing, Marketing and Operations offices in Phoenix, says she appreciates the industry’s evolution from bland hippie packaging to sleek designs that look pretty on a nightstand. But no amount of style can replace functionality. “A bottle that looks pretty but won’t open is very frustrating,” she says.

Susie Montgomery, a buyer for Mustard Seed Market in Akron, Ohio, agrees. She says manufacturers should be sure the packaging isn’t so wide it squeezes out other products on the shelf (if that’s the case, she has to turn it sideways, obscuring the label). And make sure it will stand up on the shelf. “I have gotten shampoo bottles that look cool with a unique, Euro design but when you put them on the shelf, they fall over. It kind of defeats the purpose,” Montgomery says.

Make it affordable. Baker notes that her customers are forgoing multi-product skin-treatment systems for one jar of lotion. “And they are not buying the $25 bottle of lotion; they are buying the $6.99 bottle of lotion.” She suggests manufacturers try to tighten up on packaging expenses, scale down and simplify in order to retain the bargain shopper with better deals. “They need to keep it simple and provide more value products.”

Support your product. Both Baker and Young note they have seen manufacturers supporting their products less in recent years, offering fewer in-store demonstrations and employee-education classes. “Everyone makes a product and figures it is going to sell itself,” says Young. She’d like to see a six- to 12-month promotional schedule for each product, complete with temporary price reductions and in-store demo dates. And if you are trying to get her to stock a new product, get the details right, including the proper UPC codes, the correct price and all the relevant paperwork.

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