Event report: Can the world sustain our desire for natural?

Consumer demand means that the modern natural beauty industry is driven to source greater amounts of ever more exotic ingredients.

But what is shoppers’ addiction to raw materials like ylang ylang and rosewood doing to the environment – and can the world sustain our desire for naturals?

That was the question at the heart of Cosmetic Executive Women UK’s latest breakfast event, held in London on 9 June.

Two distinct parts of the industry were represented onstage – Simon Ford, from well-respected natural beauty brand Melvita – and Stephane Zwaans, global head of raw materials purchasing for global giant Givaudan.

Journalist Josephine Fairley chaired the debate for a room packed with women representing both mainstream and natural beauty brands.

Sustainable scents

The session kicked off with a short video introducing Givaudan’s Innovative Naturals programme. Through the programme it has forged partnerships with producers in Venezuela, Australia and Laos designed to ensure the sustainability of fragile supply chains while supporting local communities.

Both Ford and Zwaans agreed that responsible sourcing was of paramount importance to the industry, as well as to the environment.

“We work very closely with suppliers and can work not just to avoid chemicals, but to support the environment on a local level,” said Ford.

“By going direct to farmers for our ingredients there’s no middle man, and so the farmers get a regular outlet, and a fair price for their products.”

Perfume partnerships

Gaining the organic accreditation companies like Melvita demand for its  ingredients costs money, and Ford spoke about how the brand supports farmers through the process.

“It’s about putting economic incentives in place,” he said.

“We say ‘work towards Ecocert accreditation and we’ll guarantee a certain price’”.

Zwaans spoke about how ensuring a sustainable supply chain of products was essential for the future of beauty – but also about how it responded to a genuine need in wider society.

“There’s a business reason for sustainable sourcing – but also other reasons – fairtrade and ethical reasons. More and more it’s part of our own journey. I have kids, and they’re very interested in ethical issues – it’s a no-brainer.”

“I heard Colin Firth on the radio explaining how shopping is now a political act. Every time we spend money we can support farmers in the Third World or support the oil industry. I know where I’d rather put my money,” Jo Fairley

Paying the price of natural?

The panel established that natural and organic ingredients were becoming increasingly popular with consumers. So would Givaudan be interested in sourcing the world’s first all-natural perfume?

“There is ample space to make a 100 per cent natural fragrance – if customers ask for it. We’d certainly be able to do that,” said Zwaans.

While acknowledging that natural ingredients were central to developing new products, Zwaans talked about how synethic fragrances were often complementary to natural ones – and ultimately brought down the price of the final product.

“We’ve tried to mimic natural ingredients in the lab, but we’re not quite there. But we need to cater for the £5 consumer as well as the £50 consumer,” he said.

“Now organic is less niche and more mainstream, there’s a wide range of price points available,” added Simon.

“We’re an everyday brand – not luxury. We tend to get customers who come in wanting to replace synthetic products and finding out that ours are sometimes cheaper.”

Towards the end of the debate, Fairley pointed out that she believed the future of natural beauty lies not with first generation products like organic balms, but with “the growth of high-performance naturals.”

Ford added that to maintain the reputation of his brand, products had to meet growing expectations.

“For us it’s a continual challenge, and we’re innovating to meet the expectation of modern consumers,” he said. “This means investing in clinical trials to prove efficacy. We have a responsibility to move things forward.”