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Personal care products that stake a claim on being natural are multiplying. Consumer demand for natural and organic health and beauty care items is growing, and manufacturers are answering with everything from pomegranate lip balm to eucalyptus soap. Both Food Lion and Bloom supermarkets are carrying more HBC products that use natural ingredients, said Karen Peterson, spokeswoman for Food Lion, Salisbury,

Personal care products that stake a claim on being natural are multiplying.

Consumer demand for natural and organic health and beauty care items is growing, and manufacturers are answering with everything from pomegranate lip balm to eucalyptus soap.

“Both Food Lion and Bloom supermarkets are carrying more HBC products that use natural ingredients,” said Karen Peterson, spokeswoman for Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C.

Compared with other product categories, when it comes to personal care products, the average person is likely to use a wide array of items and may be more open to trying new ones, said David Lockwood, director, U.S. research, Mintel Reports, Chicago. “This may make it easier to introduce new products in this category, but manufacturers will need to produce appealing, effective, high-quality green products if they want to create regular customers.”

With that, retailers are finding new ways to merchandise such products, and many industry leaders are working to solve natural HBC's most vexing question: What defines natural?

In a study commissioned by Burt's Bees, Morrisville, N.C., last year, TSC, a division of Yankelovich Partners, Chapel Hill, N.C., found that 78% of American women think natural personal care is currently regulated or don't know if it is, while 97% think it should be.

A number of industry experts assured SN that there are no national governmental industry standards for natural body care products, yet HBC products using the term “natural” in packaging and marketing materials continue to pour into stores, often confusing customers. “Our customers would certainly appreciate a standard on natural HBC items,” said Robin Bonnett, a supervisor at Day's Marketplace in Heber City, Utah.

Making matters all the more urgent, the Organic Consumers Association, Anaheim, Calif., released a study late last month that found nearly half of 100 tested “natural” and “organic” brand shampoos, body washes, lotions and other HBC products contained a carcinogenic contaminant that occurs as a by-product of petrochemicals used in manufacturing.

Ethoxylation, a process that imparts mild characteristics to harsh formulations, requires the use of a petrochemical called ethlene oxide, which generates the contaminant — dioxane — found in the study, according to OCA.

Many of the products that tested positive for the contaminant were from leading brands, including Jason Natural Products, Boulder, Colo.; Giovanni Cosmetics, Beverly Hills, Calif.; Kiss My Face, Gardiner, N.Y.; and Nature's Gate, Chatsworth, Calif.

“We need to get to a point where there is one agreed-upon industry standard for natural products and another for organic products,” said Stacy Malkan, spokeswoman for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, San Francisco, and author of the book “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.”

“These words need to be reclaimed and allowed only on products that meet standards that set the highest bar for products that are non-toxic, environmentally friendly and use only authentically natural and/or organic ingredients,” she said.

As for the word “organic,” said Malkan, “the gold standard for organic products is the USDA organic seal, but many products that don't meet that standard use the word ‘organic’ on their packaging or in their name with no repercussions.”

This is causing consumer confusion and generating a lot of controversy in the industry, Malkan added. “It's a problem, because organic integrity is vital to the success of this industry. Consumers must be able to trust that organic body care products are truly organic, not synthetic chemicals with a few organic ingredients on top.”

Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards, Milpitas, Calif., is an association that has recently developed the first organic standard for the U.S. beauty and personal care market. At the end of 2007, U.S. sales of organic personal care products approached $9 billion, representing approximately 15% of the personal care market, according to the website for OASIS.

With the support of 30 founding members — including Aveda, New York; Nature's Baby, Woodland Hills, Calif.; and Perfect Organics, Merrifield, Va. — OASIS developed a standard that certifies products to two levels: “organic” and “made with organic.”

The “made with organic” products will start and remain at a 70% minimum organic content, with additional criteria for the remaining 30% of ingredients.

The “organic” label claim will start at 85% until January 2010, then it will shift to 90% and to 95% two years later. “It will take at least two years for surfactant and emulsifier manufacturers to get enough products into the commercial stream to supply us with ‘organic’ versions of functional ingredients. Products that would never be able to achieve the 95% level, like soap, must use the “made with organic” claim,” the website says.

Meanwhile, the Natural Products Association, Washington, has formed a working group with manufacturers such as Burt's Bees; Aubrey Organics, Tampa, Fla.; and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Escondido, Calif., to determine an industrywide definition for the term “natural” as it applies to personal care products; however, this work is not yet complete.

On the retailer end, Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, introduced a “Premium Body Care” seal last month, which is a private standard for personal care products created by the retailer. Products that receive the seal will be free of synthetic fragrance and can't contain any of some 250 synthetic chemicals that are commonly used in personal care products, including parabens, polypropylene and polyethylene glycols, and sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates.

The standard is based on a two-year review of public safety and environmental data performed by Whole Foods and chemists and body care experts, according to a release.

“The seal represents the best of the best,” a Whole Foods' Whole Body store associate in Manhattan told SN. “While everything in the store is very clean and free of harsh chemicals, these represent the purest products on the market.”

To promote its new standard, the Manhattan store had a rack holding educational pamphlets prominently displayed near the store's entrance.

“What Whole Foods is doing is great, but there are thousands of other retailers out there who need to get that information to the consumer,” said Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Natural Products Association. “We want to educate the consumer so they are savvy not just in stores specializing in natural products, but also supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers.”

Outside of keeping an eye out for products that adopt the yet-to-come Natural Products Association's standards, retailers are concentrating on simply making consumers aware of the products that incorporate natural ingredients, sources told SN.

“Natural products are being merchandised both separately and mixed in with other items,” Food Lion's Peterson said. “Currently, we do not use signage to specifically point out HBC items with natural ingredients. We do have a keen interest in educating our key store associates about our Nature's Place offerings, which include HBC products,” she added.

Food Lion's Nature's Place is a store-within-a-store that carries mainly food items but also includes HBC products that use some natural ingredients and have not been tested on animals, according to Food Lion's website.

At Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., items made with natural ingredients are displayed in-line with their respective categories, Maria Brous, spokeswoman for the retailer, told SN.

“In some of our store locations, we have a Publix GreenWise section, where we carry the majority of, if not all of, our health, natural and organic products. The signage would be the entire Publix GreenWise section. Consumer packaged goods manufacturers are also are marketing their products and providing signage that would make the consumer aware.”

As consumers better understand the health impacts of products that they put not just in their bodies but on their bodies, many are drawn to natural personal care products, Gwynne Rogers, Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability business director, Natural Marketing Institute, Harleysville, Pa., told SN.

For example, the institute's LOHAS Consumer Trends Database, which samples the general population of American adults, has for several years asked about the importance of attributes such as “no artificial colors,” “no artificial ingredients” and “no artificial preservatives” in deciding which personal care products to buy. “Each of these attributes has grown in importance significantly over the past year — up 21%, 32% and 34%, respectively. Manufacturers and retailers both will need to respond to this interest to keep on-trend,” Rogers said.

TAGS: Marketing