The Natural Products Marketplace

November 9, 2005

More herbals are appearing on shelves as botanical research expands in teh personal care industry

Natural-based personal care products have become more popular in recent years as marketers and consumers discover the benefits of natural ingredients such as vitamins, herbs and materials derived from the sea. At the same time, however, as natural products gain widespread acceptance, a true definition for the term “natural” becomes more obscure.

“The word natural is easily twisted,” noted Warren Raysor, president and founder of Abra Therapeutics, Forrestville, CA. “The meaning depends on who is trying to define natural. Is petroleum natural? Are all things that exist in the world natural? It depends on who is defining it.”

Natural ingredients are seasonal with limited quantities. Smaller companies relying solely on natural ingredients must target smaller audiences. And larger companies often use the word ‘natural’ as a marketing tool, but their products are 99% synthetic, according to Mr. Raysor.

Of course, there are benefits to using synthetic materials. For example, synthetics are uniform from batch to batch. With natural ingredients, each batch is unique, taking more time to perfect the outcome. And despite recent reports, the safety of synthetics versus natural ingredients is not a black and white issue, said Mr. Raysor. He noted that the company uses Parsol 1789, a synthetic sunscreen, in several products.

“There are a lot of natural things you don’t want to get next to, such as poison ivy, while many preservatives are not harmful. But natural often suggests nutritional,” Mr. Raysor said.

Using natural ingredients is also beneficial because customers are often more familiar with herbal names than other naturally-derived ingredients.

“Vitamin fractions are generally so difficult to pronounce, customers don’t understand their value,” said Mr. Raysor. “Herbals, on the other hand, are easier to understand and read.”

Abra has had long associations with herbal formulators, organic farmers and producers. The newest Abra product is Adaptagen Phytoserum which contains green tea, sage leaf, Siberian ginseng, schizandra berry and grape seed to protect “environmentally threatened” skin. Green tea, a natural photo-resistant and anti-carcinogenic leaf, has been used for thousands of years in eastern tea ceremonies.

Back to the Basics
The green wave has been a major factor in the boom of naturals. And it is not just die-hard environmentalists riding the wave.

“The natural products category exploded with a heightened awareness of the environment in the early nineties,” said Larry Lucas, senior product manager of Clairol Herbal Essences. “This was primarily due to global warming news coverage.”

This led to increased consumer interest in natural resources that are safe and plentiful and manufacturers scrambled to secure plant-derived ingredients in the personal care market.

“Consumers are looking for natural-based products because they care about and appreciate the value of utilizing our planet’s many plentiful resources while also conserving those that are endangered,” said Mr. Lucas.

Clairol Herbal Essences is well known for its award winning fragrance, and company executives constantly re-evaluate the line, keeping a close eye on market demand with sources such as teen trends, street trends, professional salon activity and surveys, especially focusing on women ages 13 to 35.

Last month, Clairol Herbal Essences introduced the Natural Volume line formulated specifically for women with dull, flat hair. The three products include Texturizing Sham- poo, Weightless Conditioner and Root Volumizer. Natural Volume infuses chrysanthemum, violet, mallow, orange blossom, caraway, guar, morning glory and daisy to increase body and hair thickness. Bottles retail for $3.29.

Clairol also introduced a two-product line of hair sprays called Clairol Herbal Essences Flexible Hold. The spray are said to create fuller, more voluminous hair without a noticeable texture of hair spray. The aerosol and non-aerosol sprays contain periwinkle, sage, mountain spring water, lily of the valley, jojoba and clover. Flexible Hold sprays retail for $2.99.

“Lots of companies are going back to nature with their concern for the environment; they are going back to the basics,” said Kara Green, Clarins’ public relations manager. “This nesting craze has led to neutral colored clothing and cosmetic companies have endorsed the trend.”

Clarins’ most popular item, Double Serum 38, infuses a lipid-based serum and waterbased serum when pumped from the bottle. It contains 38 natural anti-aging ingredients including kiwi, apricot, wild rose, St. John’s Wort, micro-algae, St. Mary’s thistle, soya, shea butter, wheatgerm and Hawaiian candlenut. The serum is a two-in-one formulation that boosts the skin’s five essential functions—hydration, revitalization, nutrition, oxygenation and protection.

Many manufacturers in today’s market have added SPF protection to their products, teaching consumers not to neglect their skin and to preserve a youthful glow.

“Consumers used to be concerned with products that give immediate results, not always long-lasting results,” said Ms. Green. “Now preventative and protective measures are as important as long-time use.”

An Organic Need
Not only is the naturals market booming, but organic ingredients are also rising in the category.

“There is a need for an organic natural products market,” said Olga Goldberger, owner of Arboretum Natural Cosmetics. “People believe in natural products, especially those whose skin reacts to chemicals. There have been many reports on the side effects of chemicals, and just look at the chains of health food stores that have opened recently.”

Arboretum Natural Cosmetics, Chestnut Hill, MA, provides organic skin and hair products. Facial products contain liposomes, soy phospholipids that form spherical cellular structures and deliver active antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E) directly to skin cells.

Originally from Russia, Ms. Goldberger has brought her knowledge of herbs and traditions to the U.S. Arboretum products contain few preservatives; most of them are natural such as grapefruit seed extract, vitamin E and oil extracts.

One of Arboretum’s most popular products, Herbal Celandine Cream, contains celandine leaf, which was used by ancient Greeks to lighten skin. Ms. Goldberg said this herb, which is popular in Russia, is ideal for very sensitive, irritated skin.

Arboretum Herbal Anti-Aging cream contains grapeseed extract, a popular ingredient in fighting the signs of aging. The line’s Vitamin C lotion infuses several herbs such as rose hips, red clover and almond oil, vitamin C and buckthorn oil, another oil that is also popular in Russia.

Lancôme’s Vinéfit, a moisturizer that is chock full of polyphenols that hydrate, energize and balance the skin, also uses Lancôme plans to launch Vinéfit containing SPF 15 this September. A 1.7-oz. bottle. will retail for $37.50.

Babying Skin
Bambini Soul, a company for babies and older consumers who want to “baby” their skin, is less than a year old, but has already been nominated for a Fifi award as the best new bath product introduction in 1999. Bambini Soul, New York City, uses natural ingredients and follows strict Italian pharmaceutical conditions, according to company executives.

Jeanne Winer, co-owner of Bambini Soul, lives part time in Italy where she discovered baby lotions soothed her sensitive skin. “In Italy, they take a very serious approach to baby products; they can only be found in pharmacies behind the counter, not in supermarkets.”

Ms. Winer said consumers often associate purity with natural products. Bambini’s most popular product, All Washed Alto, is a gentle, soothing body wash that relies on chamomile, lavender and vitamin B5 to calm the skin. It retails for $13.50. Other products include Ciao Night Cap moisturizing oil, Crema Suprema face and body cream, O Sole Mio water-resistant sunscreen, Scent of Angelo sweet freshener and Rub e Dub baby lotion.

Bambini Soul is available at Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman. Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Ad Hoc, Anthropologie, Bigelow, Zitomer, beauty.com, beautyjungle.com, ibeauty.com, babystyle.com and Ian Schrager hotel boutiques.

Surfing the Web
With more data on botanicals available, companies are more likely to incorporate natural ingredients into their products, say industry experts. This has expanded from mass retailers to the internet. But as with all new things, the natural market needs some fine-tuning.

“We saw a problem on the internet,” said Anthony Quaiyum, president and chief executive officer of smallflower.com, a portal specializing in natural-based products. “There are places to buy health items in a GNC-type model or beauty products in a department store-type model. The barrier between them is misleading. There is no reason for beauty and health to be separate.”

The site, launched last November, is a modern expansion of the original 125-year old Merz Apothecary in Chicago. The products have no harsh chemicals and are not testing on animals and are hypoallergenic, according to company executives.

Mr. Qaiyum noted everything from the use of vitamins in health care to questionable personal care products as the instigators of the natural-based market. “But many seemingly ‘natural’ products are not natural-based,”said Mr. Qaiyum. “It is now a question of educating people to discern which products have the benefits of being truly natural.”

The site can be searched by product-type, manufacturer, country of origin, scent and ailment.

“Beauty products are about benefit or perceived benefit,” said Mr. Qaiyum. “Getting these ingredients naturally sends a powerful message to consumers, especially when they read about questionable products in personal care items.”

Specific Results
Consumers are familiar with herbals and the benefits they provide, seeking particular products to meet all of their needs.

“The growth in the natural products industry reflects a shift to natural ingredients with specific benefits,” said Anne E. Robinson, president and chief executive officer, Caswell-Massey Co. Ltd.

This newfound consumer perception that natural is better is currently being tapped by personal care product companies. But many natural ingredient stories have a marketing life span of just two years, according to Ms. Robinson.

“It is the challenge of all personal care marketers in the new millennium to meet the consumer need for increasingly effective products addressing very personalized needs,” said Ms. Robinson.

Caswell-Massey’s newest line is the Lilac Bath & Body collection. Popular favorites include the Almond and Aloe, Cucumber & Elderflower and Elixir of Love lines. Lilac has been the most frequently requested fragrance by female customers for the past three years, so the company developed the scent.

Cultural References
Many companies, such as Epoch and The Body Shop, rely on other cultures to identify natural personal care ingredients and remedies. Epoch, founded in 1996 as a division of Nu Skin, is dedicated to exploring the past and present to find timeless recipes for everyday products. At the company’s heart is ethnobotany, the study of how indigenous people use plants.

“We have a different niche,” said Dale Kern, senior scientist, Nu Skin Personal Care Inc., a division of Nu Skin Enterprises. “Epoch uses natural products the way indigenous people really use it.”

For example, although some companies market banana hair putty which contains natural conditioning oils, Epoch found no culture on earth uses banana for hair. “It does not meet our criteria,” explained Mr. Kern.

For every product sold, Nu Skin donates 25 cents to the Force for Good Campaign, a program that pays indigenous people for their knowledge. So far, a solar-electric well was installed in Haiti and medical assistance was given to Guatemala.

The Force for Good Campaign also funds research at Stanford University to study Epider- malisis bollosa (EB), a fatal genetic disease among children, and the Nu Skin Center for Dermatological Research at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.

“It is interesting how we have come full circle,” said Mr. Kern. “We are now going back to cotton slacks and natural products that we neglected 30 years ago in favor of new technology. Now the most state-of-the-art technology confirms what indigenous people and our grandmothers always knew.”

Epoch holds a patent on Ava puhi moni, a plant found in Polynesia that has been used to condition hair for thousands of years. It is safe and non-irritating, according to the company. A 6.8-oz. shampoo and light conditioner and a same-size conditioner retail for $11.95.

Epoch’s Firewalker moisturizing foot cream contains Polynesian Hawaiian ti (Cordyline terminalis), and Bab-assu oil (Orbignya phaleata), a natural moisturizer from South America. A 3.4-oz. tube retails for $12. Epoch’s Polish Bar infuses British Columbian glacial marine mud discovered by Native Americans and the bark of the Hemlock fir tree (Sisky’pas or Tsuga heterophylla) used by Pacific Northwest Native Americans to scrub and soothe skin. A 3.4-oz. tube retails for $12.85.

Epoch Deodorant with Citrisomes fights odor-causing bacteria with Haitian bitter orange extract and reduces irritation with chamomile and grapefruit seed extracts. A 1.7-oz. deodorant retails for $10.75.

“I think natural products have become a part of main stream, partially due to the internet, with more freedom to start up,” said Mr. Kern. “And doctors are reading up on alternative medicine and customers are looking for quality of life products for the long-term by looking back to the natural world.”

Founders of The Body Shop predicted that there would be a convergence of past traditions, heritage, knowledge and future technology in the new millennium, according to the company.

“Natural product industry growth in recent years has been all about consumers’ need to balance out,” said Carla Gervasio, vice president of product development. “It has been driven by people who are leading busier, more stressful lives and are searching for a lifestyle change.”

Many of the ingredients found in Body Shop products are sourced from different parts of the world to support community trade. Each ingredient has a unique story behind it. Body Shop experts take painstaking steps to ensure that ingredients and raw materials have not been tested on animals in the past 10 years, said Ms. Gervasio.

The Body Shop targets customers with health-oriented and open-minded attitudes. New ideas originate in consumer needs and hot market trends.

“The number of people taking vitamins and herbs has grown by double digits every year,” said Ms. Gervasio. “The trend will absolutely continue. That is our whole philosophy.”

Last January, The Body Shop launched two new lines, Vitamin C and Super Charged Sea Minerals. The Vitamin C range offers SPF 15 protection, which reduces the appearance of fine lines, improves skin tone and elasticity and scavenges free radicals. The line includes Super-Charged serum for $18, Protective Daywear moisturizer with SPF15 for $12, body lotion for $12, Hydrating Facial Cleanser for $12, Energizing Face Spritz for $8, Stimulating Mask for $15, Intensive Night Repair for $18 and Skin Care Kit for $18.

The Super Charged Sea Mineral line contains British Columbian oceanic clay to detoxify the skin with a rare combination of more than 60 elements and minerals. The minerals are negatively charged to attract positively charged dirt and dead skin cells. Unlike other clay treatments, its mild pH level cleanses and tones the skin without stripping it of vital moisture, according to the company.

The Deep Sea Cleansing Mousse retails for $16, Herbal Tone for $14, Tonic Clay Mask for $16, Intense moisture cream for $16 and a skin care kit for $18.

Here to Stay
Most of the companies Happi spoke to agreed the natural products category is not just a trend; it is a permanent philosophy that has permeated American life. One of the main pulls behind the category is the attention most consumers pay to their health.

“When I think of nature, I think of it as a phenomenon of life,” said Abra’s Mr. Raysor. “A plant is a chemical factory set up in a check and balance system that becomes bio-available to another life form, such as humans. Some intelligence factor in our bodies selects specific ingredients, so it is only logical to provide the body with the full spectrum of nutrients so this auto-intelligence can make the choices to build a healthy body.”

Considering all the research focused on botanicals, small-flower. com’s Mr. Quaiyum looked at the bigger picture. “Nature is an endless source of inspiration. This is only the tip of the iceberg.”

But economic pressures play a major role in U.S. naturals research. “Large U.S. companies invest money to prove their benefits, allowing everyone to use that data,” said Mr. Raysor. “But smaller companies or pharmacies won’t research standard herbal ingredients because they cannot accrue the funds. It holds back the advancement of the industry.”

Due to this setback, European countries stay ahead of the U.S. in the botanical market. But as both gain ground, the naturals market will only become more popular.

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