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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.

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Nourish–“Organic Food for Healthy Skin,” launched in early 2012—followed the K.I.S.S. development concept in its debut. While leading the Nourish team, I spent a considerable amount of time speaking to and working with consumers, retailers and other industry experts in the organic beauty segment in order to develop a line that delivers on the K.I.S.S. principle, and, although certainly not perfect, it’s a case study worth noting as it can demonstrate the opportunity to address the  five key factors in a simple and straightforward manner.

Convenient, affordable, effective, desirable and distinctive—five factors that can have a direct correlation to how quickly the emerging organic beauty trend becomes a bona fide phenomenon—or a bust.

Convenient. First and foremost, it needs to be available where consumers shop, both online and in stores. Organic beauty’s growth will be directly correlated to retail availability. Fortunately, retailers such as Whole Foods Market and Ulta have seen this potential and rolled out the Nourish line (in addition to many other organic beauty brands) to all their stores. Several other retailers also recently have expanded their organic beauty assortments to include authentic USDA-certified organic brands such as Aubrey Organics, Dr. Bronners, EO, Juice Beauty and Dr. Mercola.

It is notable that the leading retailer in this space, Whole Foods, is actively encouraging its vendor partners to address this market segment. Jeremiah McElwee, executive whole body coordinator for Whole Foods, commented about the Nourish line, saying “[It] represents a major step forward in the category and is consistent with our efforts to provide more body care options with increased organic content. Nourish is offering 100% USDA-certified organic beauty products that are affordable, effective and luxurious. We hope more brands follow this lead.”

Affordable. Unfortunately, many of the certified organic products on the market are too costly for the majority of consumers. In political terms, to drive a major trend, you need to be attractive to the 99%, not just the 1%. That is why price points that are under $10, or at least under $20, are going to be critical to driving organic beauty’s growth. The Nourish bath and body care line is strategically priced to be under $10, and this has been a critical driver in securing early adoption and trial for the brand.

Effective. Nourish partnered with a variety of actual organic food vendors to find certified organic materials such as shea butter, coconut oil, aloe vera juice, sweet almond oil and olive oil to use in the product formulas. These ingredients helped the products to deliver a statistically significant “nourishing” effect on the skin in designated clinical studies. Equally important and challenging, Nourish made sure all its formulas utilized USDA organic-acceptable preservative systems, and then tested them to confirm the products would be safe in the market. (For more information on organic beauty ingredients, see “The Lure of Organic Ingredients.”)

When brand ambassador Christine Taylor and I met with top women’s magazines and online beauty blogs, nearly everyone probed about whether or not the products actually work, and many requested samples so they could conduct their own in-house tests and studies. The key lesson here is that verifiable efficacy is critical to credibility for any long-term business proposition.

Desirable. This is an easy one to understand, but a critically important one to actually execute in-market, especially for organic beauty products. Why? It’s simple—past experiences with the category have been mixed. Consumers who tried organic beauty in the past likely encountered products that were expensive, had poor aesthetics and many times didn’t work as well as their conventional counterparts.

To overcome this view, it was—and is—critical to make organic products that are desirable—not just tolerable. Doug Bowman of fragrance house J.E. Sozio shared, “The availability of certified organic materials has continued to expand with the demand, and while it is far easier and less costly to create fragrances from non-certified organic materials, the authenticity of the scent experience can be a great differentiator. With Nourish, the Sozio perfumers were able to deliver on Rick’s vision of distinctive scents [which he challenged the team to deliver on] that were not readily available as organic choices in the market including Almond Vanilla, Lavender Mint and Fresh Fig.”

Distinctive. This last point comes down to a consumer awareness and communication issue. Again, if you look at the historical consumer feedback, you see there is significant confusion about what “organic” truly means. And that shouldn’t be surprising if you attended any of the industry events in just the last year (including the GCI-sponsored Natural Beauty Summit America in New York), where this very issue is an ongoing debate.