Q: In 2008, natural and organic personal care products had double-digit sales growth, but sales were flat in 2009. What happened?
A: Even going into 2009, sales were strong despite the tanking of the economy. That growth trajectory slowly went flat and then south for many established companies. Why? I think people were slow to give up their personal treats.
The other thing that happened is that manufacturers of both established and immature brands didn’t have the finances to bring out new products [later in the year]. New products are financed by the sales of strong, mature products, and by outside investment dollars. These resources were not providing the necessary base of capital, and consequently, manufacturers were slow to develop new products.
Q: Were there positive developments in the industry in 2009?
A: Manufacturers were able to put value sizes on the shelf without a lot of capital investment. Another positive driving force that staunched the bloodletting in sales was increasing publicity in conventional media venues in regard to ingredients. For example, National Public Radio interviewed the authors of Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things. The authors would, for example, use a shampoo with paraben preservatives every day and measure how much of the residual paraben chemicals were in their bloodstreams. They drew correlations to the impact of the shampoo on babies and children. It was fascinating, and that’s just an example of the kind of free publicity that’s so supportive to the natural and organic personal care industry.
Q: What’s new and exciting in personal care?
A: There is continuing growth and interest in facial care, men’s care and baby care. Within those categories, fruits and flowers continue to show efficacy in natural personal care products. In some cases, they’re added as scents; in other cases, they’re added as healing properties. I’m seeing a merging of new superfruits and a revitalization of well-known flowers and essential oils. Some of the [popular] fruits are cherry, goji, pomegranate and melon, which are fun. Beyond that, there’s açai, which hasn’t died back at all.
Q: What’s likely to change in the category in the future?
A: In the past two years—and it’s not over—manufacturers have been making the packaging of natural products sexy. But with supersexy, wonderful, beautiful packaging for personal care, you get the question, “Is it quality ingredients, or am I paying $20 for the package?” Instead [of slick packaging], everyone is looking beyond recyclable plastic to a renewable resource as the basis for packaging.
Q: Where do you see the industry going in the near and far future?
A: There will be continued focus and money spent on education about what separates natural and organic products from conventional products. We’ll also see the early adopters of natural ingredients in the conventional world. You’ll see some more merging of natural brands underneath bigger umbrellas, like Clorox’s 2007 acquisition of Burt’s Bees.
Q: Will we see progress on organic personal care?
A: I think this process has just barely started. It’s going to take time, and it will be difficult. But we have to get through this; otherwise, the importance of the organic seal is lost, which will damage the food industry, damage the natural products industry, damage the growers out there who have put everything behind the National Organic Program. There’s more at stake than personal care. This industry as a whole can’t afford to undermine that label.
–Interview by Pamela Bond