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Q&A with Burt's Bees' Mike Indursky

October 30, 2008

4 Min Read
Q&A with Burt's Bees' Mike Indursky

In May, the Natural Products Association introduced the first U.S. natural standard and seal for personal care products. To qualify for the seal, manufacturers must follow strict guidelines established by the NPA and its advisory board, which includes Burt's Bees, Aubrey Organics, Weleda, Badger Balm, California Baby, Farmaesthetics and Trilogy Fragrances.

Natural Foods Merchandiser recently spoke about the new seal with Mike Indursky, chief marketing and strategic officer for Durham, N.C.-based Burt's Bees. Indursky was one of the leaders in developing the criteria for the seal, which requires that at least 95 percent of a product's ingredients come from a renewable or plentiful natural source with no suspected human health risks, that manufacturers avoid processes that alter the purity or effect of those ingredients and that safe synthetic ingredients are used only when no natural equivalents are available.

Q: How will another eco label affect consumer perceptions? Is there any way to abate some of the consumer confusion about all the different labels?

A: The NPA Natural Standard for personal care products is the only national standard in the U.S. that covers all products across all classes of trade. While there are several organic standards, this is the only natural standard. It's the goal of the NPA to eventually harmonize with international natural standards to further eliminate consumer confusion as natural brands grow and globalize.

Q: You've mentioned that the current standard is a jumping-off place and that the NPA is open to having it evolve over time. Do you see the standard going in a stricter direction, by decreasing the amount of synthetic ingredients, or in the opposite direction?

A: The standards will only continue to be raised. As new technologies and innovations come out to better formulate natural, a review process will be set up with a subcommittee of the NPA to review the allowances for synthetic ingredients.

Q: Roughly how many natural personal care products on the market will meet the standard's criteria without formula changes?

A: It's hard to say without evaluating the full market, but there are plenty of brands and products that will meet the standard. Several brands, like Aubrey Organics and J.R. Watkins, have already submitted for certification and many others are working to submit and/or reformulate to meet the standard.

Q: Critics argue that the industry should be gathering momentum behind an organic standard for personal care, and that the NPA standard is detraction from this and merely serves manufacturers. Can you comment on this?

A: It's estimated that of the natural and organic personal care market, 95 percent is natural and 5 percent is organic. So while there may be some momentum behind organic standards, they aren't necessarily reflective of the market size. To date, none of the organic standards require a minimum level of natural ingredients, which we believe should be a priority. Also, the standards put forth for organic in many cases allow non-natural ingredients that may contain a potential human health risk, which we believe should not be in any product labeled natural, much less one labeled organic.

Q: There is a lot of controversy surrounding personal care labels. How far apart are key players on this issue and what specific actions can be or will be taken in the near term to reconcile philosophical differences and reach consensus?

A: The natural products industry is largely composed of entrepreneurial purists who have created and nurtured their brands with the highest standards for natural and organic. Like Burt's Bees' founders, they are passionate in both their beliefs about natural as well as the purity of products and standards. As such, we find that we tend to split hairs over what is really only a slight difference. By setting a high standard that's also at an achievable level, we hope to improve and better the industry as a whole. At the end of the day, this industry is about enhancing consumer well-being, so a vibrant dialogue among companies is important in forging the greatest good for consumers.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 8/p. 9

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