As green movement grows, organic product standards emerge

The green movement shows little signs of slowing as consumer demand for natural and organic personal care products continues to drive the shift from niche distribution channels to mass-market retail. However, along with the increased sales comes increased consumer confusion, given the lack of regulation in the category.

Recognizing a need to set the record straight on what natural and organic means for the industry, at least three groups have recently stepped forward armed with standards that could spell big changes for beauty.

After growing more than $2 billion to $6.1 billion between 2002 and 2006, the natural and organic personal care products market is expected to post another impressive increase by 2012 with projected sales of nearly $10.2 billion, according to a Natural and Organic Personal Care Products in the U.S. report from market research publisher Packaged Facts.

Propelling the market’s growth, according to Packaged Facts: Sales from aging consumers trying to diminish wrinkles, save hair, maintain tooth and gum health and use makeup with cosmeceutical benefits; growing retail dynamics, including a stronger natural/organic products infrastructure, crossover into mass and prestige markets and direct sales via the Internet, catalogs and infomercials. Also driving growth is public concern over environmental crises, the sustainability of resources, fair trade practices and consumer fear of cancer-causing chemicals.

This trend has not gone unnoticed in the mass market, and manufacturers increasingly are jumping aboard the natural and organic bandwagon in hopes of sinking their teeth into the multibillion dollar pie. At the same time, however, some industry observers have expressed concern and have argued that some brands are not quite as natural as one may be led to believe.

North American beauty companies who wanted to certify their products as organic could only resort to U.S. and Canadian regulations that are intended for agricultural products or to legislation created for the European market.

Looking to bring clarity to the segment and set a U.S. organic standard for beauty and personal care, several groups have come forward with standards to define natural and organic personal care and end consumer confusion.

One such group is OASIS (Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards), a recently established trade association that will create a workable and “living” set of standards for organic and sustainable manufacturing—starting with the beauty and personal care industry.

OASIS was incorporated in August 2007. It has 30 founding members, including trade professionals from such companies as Hain Celestial Group, Juice Beauty, L’Oréal, Perfect Organics and Aveda.

“Along with many of the founding members of OASIS, I have been working for the past 10 years to certify organic products in this fragmented market,” stated Tim Kapsner, founding member of OASIS and senior research scientist for Aveda. “Until today, the U.S. has not had a dedicated organic standard for the beauty and personal care industry. In absence of a true industry standard, companies applied the USDA Organic food standard for beauty and personal care products. But the USDA’s food standards were never designed for this industry, and its strict guidelines limit even certain types of ‘green chemistry’ and pose significant challenges for those seeking to create certified organic products.”

According to OASIS, its organic production standard will have two levels: “made with organic” and “organic.”

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

The “organic” label claim will start at 85 percent until January 2010, then it will shift to 90 percent and to 95 percent two years later. According to OASIS, it will take at least two years for surfactant and emulsifier manufacturers to get enough products into the commercial stream to supply “organic” versions of functional ingredients.

Not only will the standard ease consumer confusion but it will also benefit retailers by providing the marketplace with a tool to ensure verifiable claims for organic manufacturing and label information, the group stated.

Just days before OASIS’ announcement, Canada’s Certech Registration, an accredited certifying body, stated that it was bringing natural and organic certification standards to the North American beauty market.

Through its IOS Cosmetics Standard, Certech brings producers a tool that it says guarantees that the claims made by certified cosmetics are proven and supported by facts “verified through a rigorous and unbiased process.”

In order to be certified as natural under the IOS Cosmetics Standard, a minimum of 95 percent of the product must be of natural origin. In addition, products that obtain certification as organic also must use certified organic ingredients that have been grown, cultivated and stored without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fumigants or other toxins.

The standard also addresses the manufacturing process, which must not use or produce toxins or other harmful substances, and the packaging of the product, which must be recyclable. The products themselves, as well as their individual ingredients, must not have been tested on animals, must be virtually free of synthetic ingredients and must not contain pesticides, harmful preservatives, artificial colors or fragrances.

Meanwhile, natural and organic foods grocer Whole Foods has developed its own seal of approval.

Again, citing consumer confusion as a main catalyst, Whole Food has developed a new premium body care standard and labeling seal of approval.

“Personal care products are not regulated like food in this country so there are currently no consistent standards for them laid forth by any governing body. Customers have been bombarded with brands and products claiming to be natural, which can be confusing,” stated Jeremiah McElwee, senior global Whole Body coordinator.

The new seal of approval can be found on nearly 1,200 products in the retailer’s Whole Body departments, which offers a selection of personal care items, nutritional supplements and vitamins. The seal identifies products that meet the premium body care standard, meaning they do not contain ingredients such as parabens, polypropylene and polyethylene glycols, sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates.

To develop the standard, Whole Foods worked with chemists and body care experts for more than two years, reviewing body care ingredients and labeling information.

A variety of the products in the Whole Body department already met the standard and now will include the new seal on its packaging.

About a year ago, Burt’s Bees, a manufacturer of all-natural personal care products, initiated the development of “The Natural Standard” to educate consumers on what makes a product natural by establishing a list of guidelines.

Burt’s Bees is working with the Natural Products Association and other companies to finalize the standard and a corresponding seal, which will launch this year. The idea is to identify all natural products that meet the following criteria:

Made with at least 95 percent truly natural ingredients.

Contain no ingredients with any potential suspected human health risks.

Use no processes that significantly or adversely alter the purity or effect of the natural ingredients.

In yet another move to educate consumers, Burt’s Bees launched earlier this year an ad campaign, “Natural Vs.” Created to address confusion among consumers, the campaign featured two print ads. The Burt’s Bees Replenishing Lip Balm and Burt’s Bees Naturally Nourishing Body Lotion ad each depict the difference between natural ingredients versus ingredients found in non-natural personal-care products. These two ads are the first of six that will run throughout 2008.

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