Naturals: Innovation Helps but Lack of Labeling May Hurt

The natural personal care market is more than a passing fad, according to Nancy Mills, industry manager for the consumer products division of Kline & Co. In her market report, "Market Research, Naturals Market Resists Recession Posts Strong Global Growth," Mills notes that the natural beauty market survived the recession due to better raw materials, consumer awareness and more affordable natural products. However, she finds that many manufacturers are formulating with more nature-inspired products than truly natural products.

Kline & Co. conducted a product ingredient analysis and found that 75% of natural personal care products do not live up to their natural claims. According to Mills, "The overwhelming majority are considered natural-inspired, comprised mostly of synthetics with just enough natural ingredients thrown in to take advantage of low consumer differentiation. Unfortunately, the lack of explicit standards that define the degree of naturalness in most markets makes it possible for manufacturers in some countries to call their products natural just by adding a flowery label to the package."

Brazil is the second largest market for naturals, according to Kline’s Natural Personal Care 2009, a report conducted on the natural industries in the United States, Europe, Asia and Brazil. As Mills notes, a single supplier controls nearly two-thirds of the Brazilian market; in addition, the Asian naturals market remains strong with a 40% share of the market. Although ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine contribute to the growth of the natural markets in India and China, respectively, Mills finds that the lack of labeling standards in these countries may hurt their naturals market. In Europe, less than one-third of natural products are truly natural, according to Mills. That number, however, is growing as manufacturers reformulate products to meet demands of certifying bodies. In the European natural personal care market, mineral makeup is seeing large growth.

In the United States, manufacturers also are reformulating products for natural positioning. In this market, hair care is the fastest growing category. Manufacturers reportedly are still struggling with the availability of raw materials for cleaning, lathering and imparting shine in hair care. Recent raw material innovations, however, are said to be meeting this challenge.

Mills reports that overall growth in the naturals industry is expected to average just over 12% through 2014. She notes that understanding individual natural markets can lead to successful natural personal care products, but only if the manufacturer delivers truly natural products.

While this market segment is challenged to define what natural means for personal care, some manufacturers have taken the stance that it is less about the naturalness of products themselves and more about being transparent regarding a product's contents, i.e., indicating clearly that a product contains some synthetic materials and some natural materials. Admittedly, this approach may turn away those consumers commited to only truly natural products; however, it makes an honest claim about a product and enables formulators of such products to design them to be as natural as possible without sacrificing performance or safety.

This approach is not about labeling natural products as good or synthetic products as bad; it's about being honest with the consumer. In the end, perhaps it is the consumer's perception of natural products and not the manufacturers' incorrect or confusing labeling of them that remains the ultimate challenge.

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