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Customers give natural deodorants another whiff

Experts offer key ingredients, trends and demographics to tune into to help boost sales in your natural deodorant section, from products with subtler aromas, more variety in brands and choices, unique delivery forms and reaching male shoppers.

Joel Warner

April 27, 2011

4 Min Read
Customers give natural deodorants another whiff

Natural deodorants have long been a tough sell, even among committed natural personal care consumers. Although conventional antiperspirants contain aluminum compounds—which studies have linked to neurotoxicity in high doses—the potential health hazards often aren’t enough to get people to switch to aluminum-free natural deodorants. Why? Quite a few shoppers feel natural products don’t tame underarm odor or block perspiration as effectively as conventional options.

“Many naturals consumers want both an antiperspirant and a deodorant,” says David Browne, senior analyst at Chicago-based market research firm Mintel. “But the naturals industry doesn’t have an ingredient that truly works for everybody as an antiperspirant.” Still, regardless of efficacy, there are other naturals consumers who don’t want to hinder the body’s perspiration process and instead prefer products that absorb or mask odor.

These shoppers, backed by manufacturers working to formulate better deodorants, are creating more demand for natural stench-squelching products. According to Mintel, sales of natural and organic deodorants in the combined natural and conventional channels grew by 16.3 percent in 2008 before slowing to 2.1 percent in 2009, when overall natural personal care sales plateaued for the first time in years. Mintel hasn’t yet tallied the 2010 numbers, but the firm predicts sales of natural and organic deodorants will surpass $34 million in 2011, up 17 percent from 2009.

To spark natural deodorant sales in your store, tune into these key ingredients, trends and demographics.

Stock more variety to meet different customer needs

Subtler aromas
For years, natural deodorant manufacturers tried to overcompensate for the lack of sweat-blocking and odor-masking ingredients in their products by using heavy scents. But this trend is changing. “There has been real concern at the customer level about the multitude of strong aromas,” says Lynea Schultz-Ela, owner of Hotchkiss, Colo.-based consulting firm A Natural Resource. “A lot of manufacturers are responding by lightening up scents significantly.”

Besides, natural deodorants shouldn’t merely overpower body odors—they should absorb them, Schultz-Ela says. “For absorption, tea tree oil has the best reputation and is the strongest performer, ingredient-wise,” she adds.

Room for upstart brands
Kennebunk, Maine-based Tom’s of Maine dominates the natural deodorant category, with an 85 percent market share overall and a 26 percent share at natural products stores, according to Mintel. But despite Tom’s’ stronghold, since natural deodorant is such a personalized—and personal—choice, there’s room for more brands and products to emerge, especially in the natural channel, Browne says.

A person’s unique physiology, biology and lifestyle habits can greatly impact how well a particular deodorant will work, says Darrin Duber-Smith, president of Green Marketing in Denver. “Natural deodorants are just like supplements: You have to find the one that works for you and the way you sweat,” he says. Browne notes that natural deodorants sometimes stop working for people after about a year of use, prompting shoppers to seek and switch to different products. Therefore, “the retailer should stock several different brands—two or three won’t cut it,” Duber-Smith says.

Unique delivery forms
Deodorants don’t have to take the form of conventional roll-ons or sticks. For instance, some consumers find deodorant stones, made from potassium alum mineral salts and rubbed onto the skin, to be effective, Browne says. Underarm liners are another recent innovation. The adhesive paper patches, which are attached to clothing to absorb sweat and odors, are becoming increasingly popular in Europe and are likely to catch on in the United States soon, Schultz-Ela says.

Male shoppers
According to Mintel, men are paying more attention to personal care than ever before, which could bode well for the natural deodorant category. In fact, a 2009 Mintel study found that 48 percent of men use a mixture of natural and conventional deodorants (on top of the 11 percent who use only natural), while just 33 percent of women use both types and 11 percent use natural exclusively.

Some natural companies, such as Durham, N.C.-based Burt’s Bees, have already rolled out men’s deodorant lines, but Browne predicts the success of these new products will be tied to how they look on store shelves and whether the packaging appeals to men. “The mainstream male consumer who’s been flirting with natural personal care may be reluctant to buy a unisex product that doesn’t seem masculine,” he says. “To target that crossover male consumer, you have to make a product that looks and feels traditional.”

Deodorant ingredients to avoid

Steer customers away from these common antiperspirant and deodorant ingredients.

  • Aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum zirconium and other aluminum compounds: Aluminum based ingredients plug sweat pores, and studies suggest they could be tied to Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Parabens: These chemical preservatives mimic estrogen and may trigger cancer-cell growth.

  • Propylene glycol: This organic compound used as a moisturizer is a neurotoxin and may lead to organ damage.

Natural deodorants to stock

Tom’s of Maine Natural Confidence Deodorant
Tom’s uses potassium alum mineral salts and propanediol, a corn-based glycol humectant, to curb odor-causing bacteria.

Burt’s Bees Natural Skin Care for Men Deodorant
This guy-specific stick features citrus oils and cypress aromas, and comes in a masculine-looking black container.

Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil Deodorant with Lavender
This deodorant stick mixes tea tree oil, which absorbs body odor, with essences of antibacterial neem oil, lavender and chamomile.

Sweax Underarm Liners
A disposable under-arm liner popular in Europe, Sweax protects your clothes from sweat stains throughout the day.

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