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Reformulations reflect higher natural, organic personal care standards

Long-standing natural personal care companies are raising the bar on their ingredients and investing in consumer trust. Nowhere is this more evident than at Expo West 2012.

Classic natural companies are investing major money in reformulating their products to stay in the game—and live up to their trusted names.

Earlier this week, I moderated a session on the California Organic Product Act’s impact on the personal care industry. If you’ve followed the act—or if you understand anything about human nature—you know opinions are split. Personal care’s history with organic is a tumultuous one, with years of contention about the meaning, interpretation and future of organic as it relates to cosmetics. Is it good or bad for the industry to enforce legally binding organic labeling requirements?

Regardless of where you stand on the act, which requires 70 percent organic content for any “organic” cosmetic labeling or marketing, the session made one thing clear: The cosmetics industry is actually talking about this stuff. Not just organic, of course, but about being honest, transparent, responsible.

Issues that were once only those of food policy made their way into personal care several years ago—and now we’re seeing how they manifest in both mass-market cosmetics and our own industry. This was reinforced just moments after the session, as I shuffled, trotted and levered my way through the show floor: Companies—even ones already acting responsibly—are really raising the bar, regardless of the investment. Listening to customers and investing in gaining or retaining their trust: That’s worth it, no?  

Dozens of young companies have impressed me by launching their cool products rooted in core business values. But this year, classic natural companies are really stepping up, too.

Avalon Organics 

One such standout was Avalon Organics. I knew the company, which has always boasted the big O in its name despite not meeting the NOP or NSF organic requirements, was reformulating. But it wasn’t until I saw rows of new (old) products in their booth that I realized the true significance.

Rather than changing their branding to better reflect what was inside the bottle (as many companies have done to meet Whole Foods’ organic requirements) Avalon changed what was inside the bottle to live up to the name—each product meeting the NSF/ANSI 305 "Contains Organic" Ingredients certification and getting new packaging to show the seal. And the company’s brand recognition and industry longevity is helping to educate customers about the NSF label, hopefully increasing awareness about the organic personal care category.

Nature's Gate

Another classic line, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, Nature’s Gate has long been a go-to for its first product: rainwater shampoo. But up until two years ago, its signature hair care used SLS. While the company isn’t claiming to be “organic” or seeking natural certification, it did cut out any questionable ingredients, while keeping prices the same. May seem like a no brainer, but for customers used to a very specific lather and feel, it’s a risky move.

Ultimately, though, investing in this change was critical to the future of the brand. “We don’t want people to be afraid to buy our product because there’s potential of there being certain ingredients,” Jennifer Schweitzer, brand manager, told me. And these values are at the core of any launches moving forward. At the show, the company introduced a new affordable facial skin care line focused on pure botanicals. Products that are very different from the facial skin care line you may not remember from several years back; it used some sketchy ingredients and went extinct shortly after its genesis.

Maybe it’s the consumers who ask the hard questions, or the entrepreneurs raising the bar, or maybe it’s just intelligent business. Regardless, reformulation is what will keep these brands fresh and influential.  The list doesn’t stop there, but for now it must. Why? Well, I’m tired. But, I’m going to sleep feeling like I do every night at Expo West: very inspired. 

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