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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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“We have been engaging with key partners to attempt to create merchandising environments that enhance the natural positioning and serve to truly educate and create a natural beauty oasis at the mass market level,” said Noah’s Naturals’ Bremen. As more mass-market retailers embrace natural beauty in a significant way, there may be a consolidation of brands and a focus on those that meet a select standard of natural. Retailers are also seeing a benefit to establishing a natural set, and want to maintain credibility with green shoppers. Committed brands are working with organizations such as the Natural Product Association to help retailers educate consumers. “Retailers want to put a stake in the ground for what the standards should be,” said Burt’s Bees’ Alexander. But to add to the confusion, some retailers are also developing their own standards, such as Whole Foods, which has the Premium Body Care Standard to differentiate its products.

Future

Retailers have a tough road ahead of them as the recovery from the economic slowdown begins. Unfortunately, many stores will not survive to the end of 2009. Yet, new brands continue to emerge, some large and others still stirring formulations in their kitchens, and looking to retail their products. “The hope is that the efficient will survive,” said Duber-Smith. “It will be good for the consumer, eventually.”

As efforts toward natural’s more encompassing cousin, sustainability, grow, products deemed natural are increasingly more aligned with these efforts. Sustainability is a way of doing business, and natural products, therefore, have some surprising and powerful allies. With its packaging scorecard commitment to reducing packaging across its global supply chain by 5% by 2013, Wal-Mart has emerged as one of the most eco-friendly companies in the U.S., according to Duber-Smith, with huge influence in forcing suppliers to consider resources.

In addition, the market is driven by a perfect storm of consumers, nonprofits, industry, media and government demanding more natural and environmentally sustainable products. And while the industry can’t anticipate a continuation of the dramatic growth rates of recent years, opportunities still remain.

The retailers that educate and provide strong assortment will come out on top. Strong assortment does not mean aisles and aisles of product—it’s a selection of the best-performing, authentic brands.