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Organic Beauty: Hip ... or Just for Hippies?

By: Rick Ruffolo
Posted: October 26, 2012, from the November 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.
  • Organic beauty is fast becoming the hot growth segment in the industry.
  • The supply chain for organic materials has improved dramatically, making the segment worth another look for those who have dismissed it in the past.
  • There is an increasing consumer preference for certified organic products across nearly all beauty categories, but that also requires distinct work and investment on the part of beauty brands.

We’ve all heard—or maybe even raised—objections before about organics: “Organic products aren’t as good as the normal stuff,” “Organic products cost too much,” “Organic products aren’t really any better for you,” or “Organics are for ‘hippies.’” Some retail buyers might even say, “I tried organics in the past, and they just don’t sell.” To be honest, most of these comments, at one time or another, probably were valid. However, a closer look reveals it’s a new day in the world of organic beauty, and progressive brands and retail merchants are starting to innovate and differentiate their product offerings by featuring certified organic beauty products in their assortments.

Historically, it took great sacrifice in terms of cost, taste, aesthetics and convenience for people to go organic. As a result, the vast majority of Americans and even consumers around the world would not choose to integrate healthier organic, eco-conscious choices into their everyday lives. Thus, these more green-friendly behaviors often were associated with eco-conscious people who were passionately committed to the world around them, even if it caused them to make some less-than-desirable trade-offs. And quite often, these types of people were seen as “hippies.”

Looking to the food industry for insights, we can see consumer demands for lower fat, no MSG, no trans fat, gluten-free, individual serving sizes and countless other concerns served as the basis for food suppliers, manufacturers and brands to respond by providing consumers credible choices from which to choose—and these demands fueled rapid growth in the market. Key success factors in this were:

  1. The industry recognized these new trends were pent-up, unmet consumer demands.
  2. The supplier members of the industry established and communicated clear and understandable standards in regard to these demands.
  3. The industry members then met the demands with products and services that offered convenient, effective and affordable options.

In each of these examples, consumers demonstrated a willingness to meet in the middle by often paying a slight premium for the products in exchange for the enhanced benefits.

A Desire to Choose Right

More and more people are making organic demands. Actresses such as Christine Taylor, the brand ambassador for the Nourish certified organic beauty brand, are speaking about the benefits of organic beauty products, and organic products and brands are being touted in fashion magazines, on talk shows and beyond. It’s evident the organic trend is moving beyond the hippies and is on its way to becoming hip—and embraced by the mainstream. It now appears to be at the much sought-after tipping point where underserved and unmet consumer demand for organic beauty is aligning with new emerging industry innovations to achieve rapid growth and acceptance. And the change is part of a bigger picture.

The consumer call-to-action to be more eco-conscious has been one of the single biggest consumer behavioral changes in recent history, along with the equally prevalent consumer trend toward all things virtual and wireless. And although these two trends appear very different on the surface, they are both major changes that are related to the same underlying consumer dynamic and have both happened at a rapid pace.

Overwhelmingly, when given a clear choice, most people want to “choose right.” With accessible wireless technology to support them, that motivation to “do right” helps drive eco-conscious behaviors such as telecommuting/carpooling/walking to work, shopping online, Internet banking/paperless billing, and printing fewer hard copy documents. While one could argue these behaviors are driven by achieving cost savings or being efficient time-savers, they also reduce an individual’s carbon footprint. This combination of factors has enabled people to view being smart while also being green as something not only attainable, but also hip to do.

Moving from technology to organic beauty, the current key market factors there also are making conditions ripe for more consumers to embrace organics in the same manner as they’ve embraced technology and other related sustainability behaviors. Think about it—these activities would have had minimal adoption success just a decade ago, so what changed to make them so widely accepted?

“Just Give Me a K.I.S.S.”: A Case Study

Who knew a line from Aerosmith’s Walk This Way classic rock anthem would ever make it into an article about organic beauty, but Steven Tyler and the boys had it right (although I may be taking them a bit out of context). It’s about K.I.S.S.—Keeping It Simple, Silly. Convenient, affordable, effective, desirable and distinctive options—the five key factors—are critical prerequisites to affecting meaningful behavioral change. Simply put, if it isn’t a clear and easy choice for the consumer to make, then the adoption rate of any behavior change will be slow and the potential emerging trend likely will stall or even fail.