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Breaking Barriers: Retail’s Natural (R)evolution

By: Sara Mason
Posted: February 27, 2009, from the March 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

Aveda’s spa retail environment strives to create added value at multiple stages of the customer journey.

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While sales are stagnating at natural and organic retailers, there’s a continual increase from mainstream retailers: supermarkets, drugstores and department stores. “We expect to see higher sales growth from mass-market retailers in the U.S. and Europe, as product penetration increases in supermarkets, drugstores and beauty retailers,” said Organic Monitor’s Sahota. These retailers have the opportunity to educate the masses about the benefits of, the unique differences of and the ingredients used in natural/organic beauty products.

Noah’s Naturals chose to launch its line at Wal-Mart. “Wal-Mart has an exciting vision for servicing the consumer and we believed that we could add real value,” said Noah Bremen, creator and CEO. “We continue to be very excited about what they are doing and the opportunity that they provide our brand—via millions of consumers.” The brand is now available at other big box mass retailers and will continue to expand distribution of its best-performing items.

Unfortunately for some brands in mass retail environments, green is not often a first priority; it’s a tie-breaker. Especially as more private label products infiltrate the marketplace, it is difficult for niche brands to stand out. Therefore, a growing number of brands—such as Bare Escentuals, Korres and Jurlique—open concept stores. And most niche brands succeed by focusing not on mass outlets, but on specialist retailers or niche channels such as direct marketing or spas instead. Offering a true difference, a solid reputation and credibility are strategies for opening those markets.

Eco Claims

Consumers are learning to read product labels to avoid greenwashing words such as “natural” and “planet friendly” that aren’t backed up by standards or third-party organizations. As like-minded groups come together, there is an attempt to cut through the confusion, and the focus of the mass media on greenwashing has forced the brands to become more open in their claims. “We expect to see more certified products coming out this year,” said Sahota. But as a variety of organizations vie for the right to be the “official seal” of natural beauty, things could get worse instead of better. Each organization has its own standard and accompanying seal, and this, it could be argued, may actually be pushing the industry farther from a harmonized position and causing more consumer confusion than before the tremendous growth of the standards and seals. The recent suit brought by Dr. Bronner and the Organic Consumers Association in regard to seal usage and disparaging standards is indicative of the chasms that exist. Although there is disagreement on many issues, the need to create a clear and consistent message for consumers while bolstering product credibility and positioning is clear.

Without official regulation or an industry-wide definition of “natural” that is clear and unwavering, consumers may look to the retailer as the gatekeeper.