Natural Foods Merchandiser

HABA shoppers favor function over fun

You might think that luxury products like bubble bath and scented lotions would hit the favorites list of natural health and beauty aids shoppers. Guess again. Instead, practical items get the most votes: Hair care, joint health supplements and dental care were the winners in this year's research.

The survey asked consumers which HABA products please them the most, which they would miss the most if they were discontinued and what types of products they would most like to see. The research shows that even when it comes to ranking their favorite HABA products, naturals consumers do so with their health, and that of their families', in mind.

That the majority of those polled cited supplements, and not personal care items, as their HABA favorites, did not surprise Tara Estabrook, president of Indigo Natural Marketing in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. "If people have a limited amount of money, they are going to spend it on something they feel will make a difference in their health; if you have $50 to spend, you are probably going to spend it on a supplement," she says.

Consumer Nancy Quatse eschews personal care products at her natural products store's HABA section in favor of a chondroiton/glucosamine supplement. "If it eases my joint pain and allows me to play tennis, I'm going to buy it instead of fancy creams," says Quatse, who lives in Los Angeles.

When consumers did favor personal care products, it was often because they were perceived as healthier than their conventional counterparts. Paula German in Osceola, Wis., says she likes Kiss My Face's Whenever Shampoo because it doesn't contain sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate, which makes her scalp itch.

Dental care is also on consumers' minds, according to our data. It hit the Need to Have list of those polled and was cited as one of the top five products consumers want available in natural form. "Traditionally, oral care has not been a strong performer in naturals, but now products are becoming available that are really efficacious, and consumers are willing to pay quite a bit, just like for their skin, to be able to hang on to their teeth their whole lives," Estabrook says.

One way retailers can cash in on this consumer interest is to devote more shelf space to oral care, says Lynea Schultz-Ela, owner of A Natural Resource, a consulting firm in Hotchkiss, Colo. "I see 12-foot aisles in [conventional] grocery stores dedicated to oral care, and I see half of a four-foot shelf in naturals. We need to learn from the conventional retailers and dedicate more space to [oral care], and have a couple of products in the category priced so that consumers feel they can afford them."

At Shirlyn's Natural Foods, a four-store Wyoming chain, manager Dustin Tagert sees many people are also gaining confidence in herbs. "We are seeing a lot more people looking to self-treat with herbs and going for more herbal combinations," he says. Rising costs for conventional medical treatments may be driving this trend, Schultz-Ela says.

Although consumers did not report great satisfaction when using homeopathy after trying it for the first time, Tagert says it does well at his stores because a local physician sends his clients there for homeopathic remedies. Schultz-Ela says homeopathy traditionally requires the assistance of a very well-trained physician to be effective, so it may never be a huge growth item, but sales will still increase as the cost of health care rises. Arnica, infant remedies and Boiron's flu remedy Oscillococcinum buck the trend with consistently strong growth.

Breaking down barriers
Most consumers (86 percent of dedicated naturals shoppers and 90 percent of conventional shoppers) say price matters, and that natural products are more expensive than conventional ones.

Schultz-Ela says she believes many consumers feel this way about personal care items because of their frame of reference. "Even if they are going to an expensively priced grocery store, they expect to pick up accessibly priced facial care because they are in a grocery store. They are not ready to pay spa or department store prices," she says.

Schultz-Ela suggests that retailers look for everyday-use items—shampoo, lotions and toothpaste—and make sure there is a well-priced, high-quality item available that's highlighted by end caps or signage to draw customers into the personal care section. "This gives them a much better chance of getting [shoppers] to try other, possibly more expensive, personal care items," she says.

Another barrier to ringing up more sales is consumer confusion, according to the poll. Twenty percent to 30 percent of consumers reported not knowing what to do with natural and organic personal care products. "I don't think it's the retailers' fault [consumers are confused]. Shoppers are in a rush, and they don't stop to learn about products even when that's offered," Schultz-Ela says. "In the conventional industry, the typical approach is to batter people with information and education through all media outlets, but that is just not typical in the natural stores."

Estabrook says that particularly with personal care items, ingredient confusion can result in lost sales. Chemical and sometimes Latin names on ingredient labels may keep shoppers from understanding the differences between natural and conventional personal care products, so the perceived value is not there.

Estabrook suggests putting together a glossary of common ingredients and what sets them apart from conventional ones, as well as a list of manufacturers the store supports.

Consumers' HABA confusion also extends to supplements. In the survey, consumers reported they would like to see more condition-specific products along the lines of Pedcid, used for indigestion, and Adderall, an amphetamine used to treat attention-deficit disorder and narcolepsy. These responses indicate the public is confused about what dietary supplements do, Estabrook says. "There are lots of digestive supplements out there that really do work, but consumers don't know what they are since they aren't condition-labeled," she says. "Products are now coming out with actual branded names that say what they do like ArthriFix and Osteo-Build. This is going to get rid of a lot of that confusion and help conventional shoppers step over to naturals and know how to buy there," she says.

More people said they were most satisfied with supplements than with any other natural, organic or health product they tried in the last six months.

Anna Soref is a Lafayette, Colo.-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 38, 40

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