Is Seventh Generation a threat to Johnson & Johnson?

Natural giant Seventh Generation could become a household name that rivals the likes of Johnson & Johnson. See why with its new natural product launches and sustainability initiatives.

A series of product launches and sustainability initiatives from Seventh Generation make this brand a threat in—and beyond—the natural products industry.

We look at Seventh Generation’s recent strategies that include two new personal care lines and efforts to reshape the petroleum-based cleaning industry. The initiatives could position the manufacturer to be competitive with leading personal care and household products corporations such as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble.

Seventh Generation's foray into personal care

Once only known for its cleaning products, Seventh Generation entered the kids’ body care space last March at Natural Products Expo West, less than six months after J&J announced it would reformulate its baby products, but that J&J would take another two years to ditch formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.  

The timing couldn’t be better for a company such as Seventh Generation.

As reported in the NEXT Forecast, consumers started to lose faith in conventional brands after the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics nabbed J&J and various other kids’ lines for selling baby products containing 1,4-dioxane or formaldehyde in 2009.

Not surprisingly, overall sales of kids’ personal care products—most of which are still sold through conventional retailers—plummeted following the 1,4-dioxane discovery. The numbers continued to decline through 2010, rebounding only slightly last year.

Meanwhile, nontoxic baby products made up the fastest-growing segment of the overall natural and organic personal care category in 2010. This encouraged many new companies, such as Dolphin Organics, Episencial and Baby Mantra to enter the space, and existing, larger lifestyle brands such as Seventh Generation to introduce kids’ lines over the past two years.

While this move by J&J was a major stride in the right direction, it also puts the company in a difficult position. J&J must convince consumers it’s okay to use its products in the two years leading up to the reformulation, reported the New York Times

Getting moms on board with natural

This time of uncertainty and skepticism lends opportunity for recent launches in the natural space, especially from a widely recognized brand such as Seventh Generation, to appeal to moms who are new to the natural personal care category. These are consumers who want to purchase safer products for their children now (not two years from now).

While all of Seventh Generation’s baby products rank as low hazard on the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, J&J’s will continue to raise red flags with ingredients such as parabens, mineral oil, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and more. The company will phase out some, but not all, concerning ingredients.

In a recent blog post, Seventh Generation addresses J&J’s reformulation as a way to gain a competitive advantage for its baby care line.

"Johnson & Johnson's announcement represents a start, but it's clear that the need for sweeping systemic change that would remove all hazards from all products remains. We urge Johnson & Johnson, and all personal care and cosmetic companies, to follow the Precautionary Principle and do just that. There's no reason they can't—we've been providing parents and others with products that supply peace of mind for 25 years, and our new baby care line  represents just that—a non-toxic alternative that we've made available for families to use today.
Eliminating a handful of the harmful ingredients from a formula while allowing others to remain and taking years to fully implement this is a half measure and ultimately accomplishes little.  It compels the question:  is this about protecting public relations or public health? Indeed, the launch of the company's own Natural line and the healthier formulations it offers overseas to meet stricter European regulations show that much stronger and far more comprehensive steps could be quickly and easily taken to more effectively safeguard the wellbeing of tens of millions of children and adults."

The next generation for Seventh Generation

Last month, Seventh Generation announced another launch, this time nearly coinciding with J&J’s latest announcement to also clean up its adult personal care products by 2015. Seventh Generation’s beauty launches include a Body Wash, Body Lotion, Bar Soap, Hand Wash and Facial Cloths.

Though the company didn’t opt for organic or natural certifications for either its kids or adult lines, its adult and baby products are the first complete personal care lines to sport the USDA BioPreferred certification, showing the company’s dedication to cleaner supply chains and plant-based ingredients. Companies may apply for the USDA Certified Biobased Product label only if the product or package contains a minimum of 25 percent biobased content.

On its blog, Seventh Generation once again reinforced this launch as a testament to its legacy of safety and sustainability.

"Creating a line of natural beauty care products seemed, well, like the most natural thing in the world for us. After all, Seventh Generation has spent nearly 25 years developing products that help protect your health and the health of the planet."

Sustainability initiatives

This message of health and safety is one that J&J also is attempting to put forth with the launch of its new site, SafetyandCareCommitment.com and its recent sustainability initiatives. Along with other corporations such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, L’Oreal, and Colgate-Palmolive, J&J has in fact rolled out sustainability goals for the next 10 years, including reducing packaging, chemicals and energy use.

However, assessing environmental footprints is difficult for large corporations that lack supply-chain traceability for their multi-ingredient formulas, many of which were not developed with safety or sustainability in mind, reported Organic Monitor in “The Greening of the Cosmetic & Personal Care Industry Gathers Pace.”

Seventh Generation’s core business values are based on health and sustainability for more than two decades, making it easier for the company to execute and to communicate this message.

A leader in green chemistry

Seventh Generation's R&D efforts are measurably green and reflect the brand’s mission to restructure the largely petroleum-based cleaning industry by using green chemistry to eliminate harmful chemicals and reduce environmental impacts in supply chains. Its website includes a Sustainability Report, which tracks things such as barrels of petroleum saved. The site also strives to be a complete lifestyle resource, highlighting healthy recipes and other tips.

The company may be leading the way in sustainability and green chemistry, but it also acknowledges that there’s room to improvement. By 2014, Seventh Generation hopes to identify all chemicals it uses or produces in any portion of its manufacturing processes. When it finds a culprit, it develops an alternative process using green chemistry.

What may be most important to the consumer, however, is that Seventh Generation also understands that sustainability efforts go hand-in-hand with the convenience and high-performance that companies such as J&J have been delivering for years.

With yet another recent launch, Seventh Generation touts its Natural Laundry Detergent Packs as “The Newest Idea in Laundry Care Goes Natural!” Launches such as these help to convey the message that natural products can deliver in the same ways that conventional can.

Various companies in the natural space are excelling in innovation, sustainability and authenticity, but Seventh Generation displays a unique combination of all three and is building enough momentum to seriously impact supply chains and become a household name that rivals some of the leading conventional lifestyle contenders.

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