Weleda: A natural beauty brand's path to global success

At Weleda North America's headquarters in Irvington, N.Y., the natural beauty company sat down with newhope360 to discuss its long history—and ambitious future. After more than 90 years in the beauty business, this international household name is poised to spread awareness about the natural beauty category and harmonize global personal care standards and preferences.

In the United States, natural beauty pioneer Weleda has made a name for itself with sustainable practices and diverse product offerings. Among them, one product continues to attract American shoppers: Skin Food. The moisturizer that has been a mainstay of natural retailers’ health and beauty departments since the 1990s is still a Weleda North America top seller.

In Europe, however, Skin Food’s popularity pales in comparison to Weleda baby products, a category still relatively small for Weleda North America, yet used by 80 percent of European midwives. In fact, the company’s retail experience overall looks quite a bit different abroad, where consumers expect natural from their beauty products and cosmetics legislation is tighter: As of 2003, the European Union had banned 1,100 ingredients, while the U.S. only 11, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Such differences represent unique opportunities and challenges faced by brands sold in various worldwide markets such as Weleda, which has subsidiaries in 50 countries—from Europe and North America, to South America and Asia Oceania—each with very different consumer purchasing habits, legislation, and merchandising techniques. But it's clear Weleda is navigating thier global market tactfully—the long-time staple brand in the European market experienced double digit growth in North America in both 2011 and 2012, according to Weleda North America Communications Manager Carrie Ruehlman.

As the company looks forward to 90 more years in the business, Ruehlman and Weleda North America Brand Manager Sara Westbrook highlight some of the top initiatives that will strengthen Weleda’s worldwide impact.

Building brand loyalty

One difference beauty companies see in U.S. retail compared to Europe is shelf placement. European retailers often merchandise products by brand rather than by product type. In the U.S., where shelf placement is based on product type, consumers are more likely to shop that way (buying, for example, one brand of face cream and another of baby products), rather than making all purchases from one brand.

Weleda North America utilizes in-store demos and a free consumer lifestyle magazine to develop a stronger connection to American shoppers, along with European-style end-caps that highlight larger chunks of the line when possible.

“Shoppers don’t have tons of time,” said Ruehlman. “There has to be a quick exchange of information.”

These efforts are well suited to natural retailers, which is why Weleda plans to maintain presence in mass retailers such as Target and CVS, along with baby and kids retailers like Buy Buy Baby and Diapers.com, but will continue to focus mainly on the natural channel. “The natural and organic retailer is still growing faster,” said Westbrook.

To build on its successes abroad, in upcoming months Weleda also plans to build out its mommy outreach to educate about its baby products—a category that has exploded in the U.S. in 2012. 

Marrying values and innovation

Introduced in Switzerland in 1921, Weleda’s products have a legacy of safety and efficacy, using biodynamic and organic ingredients such as pomegranate, sea buckthorn, iris and wild rose. Its various skin care lines are broken down based on skin type (sensitive, dry, mature) to clearly help consumers choose a product that’s right for them.

“People want that efficacy, the beautiful texture, easier for body care like oils, harder for facial care,” said Westbrook. 

Weleda also acknowledges that innovation and sustainability start—but definitely don't end—with ingredients.

As Jasper van Brakel, CEO, Weleda North America recently explained to Abe’s Market:

“It all comes down to the details in the end. Every product we consume is made from certain raw materials that were made in a lab or grown somewhere in nature. Then there’s a whole supply chain from the manufacturer or grower of raw materials until it is on the shelf. A lot of things happen in that process—whether you’re talking about food, medicine, or a beauty product.”

The company’s 2012 and 2013 initiatives incorporate new packaging efforts to complete the sustainability chain. Its body lotions, launched at Expo West in March, are packaged in an airless bag-inside-bottle system that protects the formula from environmental damage to prevent spoiling without relying on potent preservatives.

Promoting global beauty harmonization

In addition to merchandising differences, cosmetics legislation varies significantly between the U.S. and Europe. The stricter regulations Europe enforces don’t just affect ingredients used in a product, but also the marketing, merchandising and certifications, Westbrook pointed out.

For example, when it comes to a product being natural, “Europe doesn’t need to address that or put it on the package because consumers already expect it,” she said.  

In the U.S., however, there’s still a strong need for education around natural and organic. Weleda products are certified to the Belgium-based NaTrue natural standard. Widely recognized in Europe, the same certification requires much more explanation in the U.S.  

Ruehlman said that the in-progress NSF/NaTrue, which would be very much aligned with the NaTrue natural standard, could help bridge the gap between global markets. NSF had this global harmonization in mind last year when it announced that its organic personal care standard, NSF/ANSI 305 “Contains Organic” ingredients, would allow certified products to include ingredients certified under E.U. organic standards.

Weleda is also looking at other third-party certifications, unrelated to natural or organic, that can lend value. 

With shopper education programs, certification seals, superior product formulations, and sustainable inititatives, Weleda is certainly poised to gain even more momentum in the U.S. market in 2013.

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