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Naturals in Europe

By: Marie Alice Dibon
Posted: April 19, 2010, from the April 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

Attending the Natural Beauty Summit (NBS), put together by Beyond Beauty, and the Les Journées Jean-Paul Marty: Actualités et futur/Phytomolécules actives de l’origine à l’usage, organized by the Société Française de Cosmétologie (SFC), both taking place in December 2009 in Paris, I looked further into the convergence and notoriously different treatments done to naturals in the U.S. and the EU. There was much information on the regulatory area, and it appeared the supply side was getting more fine-tuned to the increasing consumer demand for traceability, ethical trade, sustainability and quality.


The regulatory differences between the EU and the U.S. were striking. There has always been a gap between the U.S. market and the European one in the way each approaches naturals, and this is mostly due to very deep-rooted cultural differences, both at the trade level and the consumer level. But, beyond basic differences, the EU lately has taken extensive steps to try and regulate naturals. It has also initiated REACH which, though it was intended for chemicals, affects all new ingredients of non-polymeric nature, including naturals. Consumers and NGOs have driven a lot of the regulatory shifts instituted these last few years, with suppliers and brands following suit.

Though not yet unified at the European level, a forest of norms, quality labels and certifications has been adopted by European suppliers, brands and consumers. The “bio” certification, which equates to an “organic” certification, actually exists in its own right for cosmetics and skin care products in a way that makes it not necessarily easy to comply with, but feasible.

Driving the development

From a distribution and marketing standpoint, those who have really driven the European naturals market have been the distributors themselves, coming up with their own “organics” lines long before mainstream brands actually decided to follow. For the most part, however, larger brands didn’t take notice when the market started getting more demanding in terms of naturals.

Michel Gutsatz, a consultant specializing in branding who is based in Paris but with a good knowledge of the U.S. market and who also spoke at NBS, points out the differences, saying, ”The distributors in Europe have really set the pace in term of organics. The brands have followed and definitely missed a beat on this one. They only took notice when the distributors’ brands started to experience a growth that was scary for them. In the U.S., because there is no organic label truly designed for beauty, there have been a lot of more or less serious natural brands, with a number of lawsuits pertaining to the claims they were making. Then they were a couple of major players, such as Aveda and Origins, and finally a myriad of niche brands, none of which really grows in a significant manner.”