Natural Selection: Opportunities for International Brands in Fast-developing Markets

  • The natural beauty market continues to grow around the globe, but distinct challenges exist for international brands trying to cross into emerging markets, such as the BRIC nations.
  • With the various certifications and labels in the natural market, consumers in emerging markets have a general mistrust of natural/organic claims and typically default to products they are more familiar with, which are often domestic brands.
  • Pricing is one opportunity for international natural brands to infiltrate emerging markets, as the domestic natural beauty products are significantly higher priced.
  • Consumers in emerging markets also still find international brands attractive, marking another opportunity for international beauty brands to play up their heritage in order to gain a foothold in fast-growing marketplaces.

Natural beauty has evolved immensely in recent years, and is now no longer just the domain of niche players, as clear by the many high-profile brand launches—such as L’Oréal’s Garnier Fructis Pure Clean, Beiersdorf's Nivea Pure and Natural, and Unilever’s Timotei Organic Delight—in the past few years.

In terms of distribution as well, natural beauty brands have also gone more mainstream, and are now stocked in a variety of retailers such as Walmart and Target, as well as in department stores around the globe. Many natural beauty brands also have launched their own stand-alone stores, with Melvita opening locations in the U.K. and Lavera sites opening in the U.S.

Direct sellers such as Mary Kay and Oriflame have also jumped on the natural bandwagon, with Mary Kay Botanical Effects and Ecobeauty, respectively, both hitting shelves in 2011. However, despite increasing demand for natural beauty in fast-developing countries like China, India and Russia, there are many challenges for such products—above and beyond the inherent challenges for non-niche international natural brands looking to enter these markets.

A Challenge for the Brave?

Among the first challenges, there is the issue of how one defines and perceives “natural.” While the COSMOS standard has been established in Europe since mid-2010—with by five certification organizations (Ecocert, the Soil Organization, ICEA, Cosmebio and BDIH) involved in its development—and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers its USDA Organic certification to beauty products, as well as the various other natural/organic certifications available, many beauty brands are still questioning whether these criteria are defining enough, and consumers are still not very familiar with the labels.

(For more on the natural beauty marketplace and various natural and organic beauty certifications, see “Illuminating Natural Beauty,” “Organic Beauty: Hip ... or Just for Hippies?” and “The Process of Going Organic.”)

While natural beauty has been in increasing demand in fast-developing markets—in countries like Russia, for example—consumers are not very aware of the various labels, as well as what the differences between the labels are, and are also not that deeply concerned about the proportion of natural or organic materials in their products. Furthermore, in Russia, India and China, local organic and natural brands are normally preferred, with many consumers not trusting foreign brands’ natural or organic claims, which in turn have given rise to stronger popularity and sales of domestic natural brands in their particular countries or regions.

In China, for instance, where consumers have always been concerned with chemicals in their daily-use products, domestic natural beauty players dominate, and are now expanding internationally using the country’s roots in herbal medicine to promote their offerings. For example, Shanghai Jahwa United’s Herborist is being sold in Sephora stores around the world, notably in France and Italy.

Thus, international brands not only have to compete with domestic brands in emerging markets but with such brands in their home markets too. With many beauty trends inspired by the East lately, Asian brands are having a wider impact and penetrating Western markets more easily now, with natural beauty brands looking to be no exception.

Pricing Opportunities

Pricing strategy is one area of opportunity for international beauty brands. Natural and organic domestic beauty brands in countries such as India have been pricing their products up to 10 times higher than standard offerings. An example is Forest Essentials in India, which is only focused on natural products but charges a high premium for them.

Despite disposable incomes rising in India and the rapid acceptance of such products, natural consumers are still primarily in the high-income group, leaving a large untapped consumer base behind. Thus, international brands could place their own natural beauty offerings at lower and more affordable price points than the leading natural domestic players to increase their penetration in these markets.

However, wider pricing issues for any natural or organic brand should not be ignored. Brands have to use a high percentage of organic-certified ingredients to gain organic certification, which come at a higher cost. (See “The Lure of Organic Ingredients” for more information on this topic.)

Taking Lessons From the Wise

Another effective way for international beauty companies to penetrate the natural market in fast-developing regions could be through acquisition. This strategy, for example, was undertaken by Coty, which acquired the Chinese herbal brand Tjoy in 2011, and increased its exposure to the skin care market in China through the transaction. And although niche natural beauty brands may not always have the capital to buy the competition, there are still other ways to increase their competitive advantage, including mergers, distribution deals and more.

Further educating consumers in emerging markets of beauty brands’ natural credentials and heritage, projecting a stronger image over domestic brands, is another viable method for market penetration and growth. Consumers in emerging markets tend to want to buy international brands in general, as they are considered more fashionable. L’Occitane is one example, with its strong presence in skin care in both Russia and China (L’Occitane grew by 22% in China in 2011), two of its best-performing country markets. L’Occitane’s success can be mainly attributed to the following factors: a strong presence though stand-alone stores and a Chinese website; a relatively affordable and wide variety of products; attractive packaging; and strong natural credibility.

Thus, despite the challenges, there are distinct opportunities for international natural beauty brands in these fast-developing countries.

Nicole Tyrimou is a Euromonitor International beauty and personal care analyst.

More in Skin Care