Natural beauty: more authenticity and efficacy needed

Provide more authenticity and efficacy, and guard against sacrificing performance for certification symbols and logos.

These were two of the key messages to emerge from the fourth edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit which took place in New York City on 12-14 May 2011.

The summit, organised by Organic Monitor, brought together over 180 executives from right across the beauty industry.

Several speakers and delegates called for greater authenticity from brand owners, in response to the high level of consumer confusion about natural claims and green marketing. Although many brand owners have taken the certification route to authenticate their products, the major agreement was that certification should be no substitute for product efficacy. A number of summit participants highlighted the challenges of adopting natural and organic standards, with product performance sometimes being sacrificed for certification logos and symbols.

One of the highlights of the three-day summit was the CEO Roundtable at which CEOs of leading natural personal care companies discussed key industry challenges. On the question of standards, the consensus was that certification was secondary to product efficacy. As one speaker stated: “A poor certified product lets everyone down, as we have to try twice as hard to convince consumers to try an organic product again”. Another CEO stressed the importance of positive marketing: “It is better to accentuate the positive elements” rather than undertake ‘fear-based marketing’ that focuses on negative messaging — paraben-free, SLS-free, etc. Another boss re-affirmed that the major challenge for natural and organic brands was to provide greater authenticity to consumers amidst continuing confusion among consumers about what is ‘natural’.

In video interviews filmed at the Summit David Bronner of pioneer natural beauty brand Dr Bronner described the industry as being “in a big mess insofar as natural and organic claims are concerned”. He predicted  “a shakeout (in the sector) in about 24 months”. But IFOAM  president Katherine DiMatteo said that significant progress was being made: “What we’re seeing is the sector move along the continuum from light green to dark green.”