The Natural Revolution

When Burt's Bees toothpaste hit the market late last year, its simple and folksy graphics looked like any other natural toothpaste from a mom-and-pop shop. But it's actually made by Procter & Gamble Co. under license from Clorox Co., which owns Burt's Bees. Who knew? You'd be surprised to find that many of the "natural" choices in stores are actually operated by the guys who make the big name products loaded with chemicals. It goes to show that a market segment started years ago by small timers is now slowly being bought out by the retail giants.

Over the past few years, this parallel product industry has exploded alongside the traditional one; "Clean" beauty, "natural" toothpaste, "organic" cotton balls, etc. Many new brands and retailers are coming to light saying, "Your regular products contain all sorts of dangerous stuff. Use these safer ones instead." It's a complicated claim and pretty hard to prove conclusively, but it's a message that has caused quite a radical change in the personal and home-care products industry. Picture this; you're shopping for a new face cream and two different types are next to each other on the shelf, one claimed as "organic" or "natural" and the other, a generic cream. You'd probably feel slightly better purchasing the self-claimed "natural" option considering it's going onto your skin. This is a realization a lot of consumers are coming to lately.

When Gwyneth Paltrow launched her lifestyle brand Goop in 2016, she expressed how vital it was that her line of beauty products —including a face cleanser, eye cream, and moisturizer — was all-natural. "The idea that you're exercising and trying to eat well and then slathering yourself with chemicals, parabens, and silicones — it's not great." A few months later, she went on The Tonight Show to promote the line. She and host Jimmy Fallon dipped McDonald's french fries into a pot of her moisturizer and ate it! I guess to show how pure it was? Either way, what we clean with and the products we put on our bodies matter to people. As consumers, especially of the millennial generation, we're aligning more with eco-friendly and natural alternatives to our purchases.

Millennial and Gen Z shoppers care about avoiding synthetic ingredients and chemicals that are seen as hazardous to the environment and our health. Simply put, we want to support brands with a purpose, and it's completely changed the game in market strategies.

In addition to launching Burt's Bees toothpaste, P&G recently bought Native natural deodorant and has slowly been building Zevo, a direct-to-consumer brand of bug traps and bug sprays made from essential oils (an alternative to insecticides with synthetic chemicals). A P&G rival, Unilever, bought the natural-products titan, Seventh Generation, named for a concept that urges the current generation of humans to live and work for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. And just a little more than a year ago, Unilever launched the new natural brand Love Beauty and Planet, which is free from Parabens, has "ethically sourced" ingredients, is made of 100% recycled plastic and is 100% recyclable. What's there not to love?

These big players now occupy A LOT of shelf space, almost secretly though, as many of them don't explicitly plaster their name anywhere on the packaging. It's making it pretty tough for startups to compete, but not impossible. My impression is that more trust lies in reviews from complete strangers and the number of likes on an Instagram feed than in the name of a big brand… and those brands probably know that.

Aside from Gwenyth Paltrow's beauty/lifestyle route, other celebrities are using their platform to get in on the action too. Co-founded by actress Jessica Alba, The Honest Co. is a consumer goods brand that emphasizes household products "to supply the marketplace for ethical consumerism". She was inspired by the 2008 birth of her first child, Honor, and her own history of childhood illnesses to create a company that provided an alternative to the prevalent baby products with ingredients such as petrochemicals and synthetic fragrances. Along with building her company, Alba has personally lobbied the United States Congress to make testing of consumer products in the marketplace for chemical inputs more stringent.

Actors Kristen Bell and Dax Sheppard came out with a plant based baby brand as well, named Hello Bello, similar to The Honest Co. products. However, their products are being sold at a more reasonable price as part of their partnership with Walmart which allows them to mass produce. They certainly had affordability in mind when working on the range, but didn't compromise on the ingredients. It's great to see that people with a platform are advocating for the health of our future.

Although Unilever and big names are moving to occupy every niche of the market, CEO of Seventh Generation, Joey Bergstein, says the impact of new players at the recent "Natural Products Expo West" show tells him that there's plenty of room for startups and the smaller guys to make a difference. Overall, there's certainly many more alternative options out there than there has ever been before, which at the end of the day, is beneficial to everyone. Big or small, brands getting involved in healthier and environmentally friendly business ventures is such a positive move in the right direction. Who knows, maybe in the future, these types of products will consist of the majority rather than the minority on retail shelves...

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