Can offering safer alternatives be disingenuous

Can offering safer alternatives be disingenuous?

A few months back I had the opportunity to spend some time at an awesome retailer in San Francisco called Bi-Rite Market. Though the store is small, I easily spent a half hour perusing its many carefully curated food products, each one bursting with fresh ingredients and eye-catching labels. But what struck me the most during my meandering: Bi-Rite’s “Public Label” brand.

Private-label transparency. Ah, I love me a good thought-provoking oxymoron. And it came up again as I was covering the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ latest effort, which targeted Walgreens for containing potential carcinogens in some of its private-label baby bath products.

The power of retailers—often serving as the middleman between consumers and manufacturers—is tremendous, as is the significance of these retailers cleaning up their own products before requesting the same of the manufacturers they stock.

At the same time, I wondered why the Campaign’s first retail-focused effort targeted Walgreens, which has made fairly significant steps to come out with a safer private label line, Ology.

Our lives are filled with choices, and, increasingly, companies are realizing that we are choosing the ones that aren’t covered with pink slime, filled with potential carcinogens or laden with genetically modified somethings. That’s not to say all of us make all of the “right” or “healthier” choices all of the time, but it does mean that both brands and retailers are being more conscientious of these diversified purchasing habits.

So, that’s what Walgreens did. It realized that more of its shoppers would be seeking natural personal care and cleaning products, it launched another private label line, put some marketing dollars behind it and touted a new sustainable ideology wrapped up in its shiny new Ology brand.

But what didn’t Walgreens do? Well, it didn’t reformulate its original, cheaper private label brand that went under the radar during the new launch and that the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics ultimately revealed contained potential carcinogens.

The question, then, remains:

Is it disingenuous to offer safer alternatives, when you still offer “the other” ones?

Change is incremental, gradual; you can’t expect a conventional company to become all natural right away... or even ever. At the same time, should any baby products contain chemicals linked to cancer? No (obviously). Maybe, if it comes down to it, adjusting your current practices, making your existing products safer should take precedent over introducing a new, more expensive line that’s used to mask those practices.

Until you can truly feel good about going public with your current private label, authenticity may always be out of your reach. 


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