Trust: Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.
Trust is powerful. It guides our decisions, builds brand loyalty and—in my opinion—will determine the fate of the natural products industry. When trust is broken, people resort to old habits, like crossover consumers using their old conventional products again. That’s why it’s not enough for a natural brand to just establish trust based on being “natural” (after all, can’t anyone do that with the right marketing budget?) but to fulfill promises for long-term customer loyalty and brand success.
Trust is relevant with food (like the current conversation around organic) and supplements (take P & J’s recent acquisition of New Chapter) but I’m focused on the personal care category, which I believe is at its—cue bold statement—most important point ever. Science, legislation and education are peaking, not to mention natural and organic personal care is profitable (seeing $$$ yet?). It’s about to reach a tipping point, but what does this really mean for natural brands?
The natural-beauty tipping point
For the first time in more than 30 years, Congress met on cosmetics safety this week after various recent incidences shed light on the dire state of cosmetics regulations, including formaldehyde in hair products, lead in lipstick and mercury in skin creams.
These recent issues sparked government action, but over the past ten years, awareness about the flaws of conventional and boons of natural has gradually increased and shifted the industry. The result: Mass companies began to reformulate or offer “natural” lines (the start of a lot of legit greenwashing vs. the nit picking we saw with the recent Silent Spring study). Johnson & Johnson (will I ever let this go?), which earned parents’ trust based on its “No more tears” tagline, finally made critical changes to a potentially toxic formulation last year, but trust was already broken. At the root of it all, the cosmetics regulatory system, was broken too (or, um, never really built?) and for many years, no one realized. Now, well, we do.
You might say all of this equals one big victory for the natural personal care industry. But I say, not so fast. To me, this all shows that natural is the new mass. Being natural, therefore, simply isn’t enough; companies really have to prove themselves to be better than the “natural inspired.”
Being truly natural over natural inspired
These terms came up in a conversation with Derma e founder Linda Miles during one of many interviews I’m doing with CEOs, safe cosmetics advocates, retailers and formulators about what this category will look like in the future. I’m not sure we can ever truly differentiate, as there will always be some amount of controversy surrounding natural's definition. But you can raise the bar to meet the demand—and earn the trust—of an increasingly educated consumer.
“The consumer is not going to settle for less,” said Stacey Egide, CEO of Andalou Naturals. You'll never reach a new customer if your product doesn’t work as well as conventional. Maybe it will feel or look slightly different (shorter shelf life, less sudsy lather … it’s inevitable) but it should still accomplish the same results. Soap, body wash, fine. High-performance skin, nail, and hair care? They’re still challenging, but new resources are making these products better then ever.
“I saw developments in bioactive and functional ingredients at Sephora and department stores for years, but I wasn’t finding them in the natural category. As a consumer, I didn’t want to compromise my natural standards in order to try out these exciting new ingredients,” Egide said. In developing the line, she kept the foundation of natural and organic ingredients but also incorporated the latest innovation that fit with these standards.
Beyond formulations, brands must work with retailers on educating customers about these products. “We’re up against mass market brands that are demonstrating via million dollar ad campaigns that a good shampoo is one that lathers a lot.”
Live up to claims
Claims can be about everything from safety and performance to certifications. In my recent piece covering the cosmetics Congressional hearing, I focused on the importance of both ingredient and finished-product safety testing. Safety testing should go without saying in our industry. But finished-product clinical testing for performance is new to naturals and will really help skin care products compete with mass.
“The industry is maturing and the consumers are far more educated about ingredients and formulations,” Miles said. “That has prompted the companies offering products to clean up their act and not be so vague with their claims. They have to be more credible and there has to be more clinical research on the ingredients for the consumer to actually consider the products.”
Now, finished-product research is becoming more important as mass companies that do have that research try to present themselves as natural. “One of the challenges the industry is facing is that many of the mass companies are trying to use natural ingredients in their formulations and capitalize on the market.”
As for natural or organic, there’s still a lot of confusion here, but you can help clear it up my getting a legitimate certification if you’re making either claim. Otherwise, avoid these claims entirely in marketing and branding (that’s OK! Some of my favorite brands do this).
Be a person not just a brand
Across categories, medical practitioners or experts are used to improve a brand’s legitimacy. In the kids’ personal care category—which is now the best way to snag crossover consumers--it’s all about Mom. Simply put, moms trust other moms. Ayo Hart from Dolphin Organics, Jessica Iclisoy from California Baby, Lynda Fassa from Green Babies.
“Kids and baby personal care in particular is based on trust. You can’t just jump into the category,” Iclisoy said. These entrepreneurs have developed their lines not only based on science and safety but on maternal instinct and because of that are able to work with other parents and effectively communicate the benefits of naturals to this demographic.
“We wanted to involve other parents from a very early stage and make sure what was suitable for us would also be suitable for others as well,” Hart said.
Raise awareness & build community
When you're so focused on formulations, it’s easy to lose sight of what else has defined the natural products community, from conscious sourcing—fair trade and organic ingredients—to philanthropic efforts. But don’t just do it; do it.
It’s pretty easy to tell who’s truly connected to the cause. I always come back to Aura Cacia, a company that is out in the field, not just purchasing fair-trade ingredients but directly sourcing them and improving education and communities internationally. Through its work, it has even introduced new fair trade ingredients to the category. Dr. Bronners and Alaffia are two more standouts.