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Source of Innovation

By: Sara Mason
Posted: April 28, 2014, from the May 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Beauty brands and industry ingredient suppliers must have the courage to innovate if they are to survive. And to do so boldly. The processes of and search for innovation is continually evolving. It not only inspires new product development but also is driven by new product development. It takes time, energy and resources to do it right, but for those that want to fill a niche in the market no one has previously been able fill with new or more effective solutions, it’s worth it.

Out in the Field

As innovators often know, sometimes the information comes to you and other times you have to go out and get it. Naturex’s head office is in Avignon, France, but the company invests continually in the research and development of new products from around the globe via an extensive worldwide sourcing program.

Chris Kilham, sustainability ambassador for Naturex, travels the world to find new botanicals that have good properties for beauty products. He helped Naturex source ungurahui oil, which was part of the company’s botanical range that launched in the fall of 2013 and is already being expanded.

On a regular basis, Kilham is in the Amazon, primarily the Peruvian Amazon. “In my work, I am always looking for what’s out there, what’s new, what am I missing,” he explains.

Specifically, Kilham notes that he is constantly on the lookout for bioactive ingredients or plants that have oils whose physical properties are at least consistent with those required by beauty companies for their development. “There is a constant and seemingly unceasing appetite in the cosmetic industry for oils,” he says. “[It is] even better that, if in addition to having the basic physical qualities, [the oil] also demonstrates some sort of activity above and beyond what is required for a good cream or lotion base.”

In his travels, Kilham observed many fruit trees, with the ungurahui being one of them, and he was once given a drink made from the fruit. It was very rich, really creamy, he says, due to the presence of oils. “The aroma was pleasant, and the question occurred to me, ‘Why are these oils not in the market?’” So, he brought some back to Naturex, which did research to find out potential uses. The company discovered ungurahui oil is useful from a functional standpoint in terms of basic physical properties, and ungurahui oil from the fruit pulp also has a nice composition of omega oils and lipid content and anti-inflammatory activity, so it’s good for sensitive skin.

“It basically came about from my knocking around in the Peruvian Amazon,” Kilham shares, and Naturex allows him to go all over the world and investigate what he wants because looking around is part of the job. “Sometimes we don’t actually act on it for years,” Kilham says. “But for us, it is essential for now and for the future.”

A companion oil with biologically active functional properties, buriti is from the same region. Kilham was first exposed to buriti fruit in 1997 when he lived in the Amazon for about a month. “In the markets of Peru and Brazil, you see buriti everywhere, it is very common—but at the time, nobody was doing anything with it,” he says. Now, it’s part of the company’s Nat Oleis botanical range.

Being out in the field, Kilham can evaluate certain parameters of sourcing, from the environment to the native people, to ensure the exchange is benefitting both. In terms of informed consent, the indigenous populace want to sell the fruit because they are plants of commerce anyway, according to Kilham, and, by selling the fruit to a supplier, they also get a better price than if they were just selling them at an open market. In addition, women participate greatly in the activities around the harvesting and perpetrating of these plants. “This is good news because there are cultures where women are cut out of the income stream, and that puts them in a tremendous economic and cultural social disadvantage,” Kilham says. There also is no damage to the environment because the fruit is abundant, and if they aren’t picked, they would just fall to the ground and rot.

These are important issues in the market today because many beauty companies want the assurance of sustainably sourced ingredients. “They want the warmth of knowing they are obtaining sustainable ingredients, and they want the opportunity, should they choose to do so, to market sustainability to the distributors or the consuming public,” Kilham notes.

Naturex has eight sourcing offices around the world, each responsible for a different geographic territory, and Kilham will travel with representatives from those offices to check out sourcing and work toward improvements in that sourcing. “We maintain contact with existing suppliers, and constantly are searching for new ones because it may be possible to make improvements in the chain,” he notes. He meets the people and sees the harvesting and how things are handled, as well as where the oil is pressed. “Controlling the growing and processing of raw materials is crucial in meeting quality requirement. There is no way to shortcut that and actually know in any meaningful way what you are getting and, therefore, what you are selling.”