Summer 2008
Clean, Green Profits By Emily Lambert

Projected U.S. Retail Dollar Sales of Natural Personal Care Products

Year | Total, millions | % Change

2012 | $10,216 | 8%
2011 | $9,463 | 8.2%
2010 | $8,742 | 8.6%
2009 | $8,052 | 8.9%
2008 | $7,395 | 10.1%
2007 | $6,716 | 10.7%
2006 | $6,069 | 11.3%

Source: Packaged Facts

Decoding the lingo

Lucas Heldfond sees it every day. The owner of Spring, a store in San Francisco that specializes in “green” products, says that green has increasingly become a buzzword in consumers’ consciousness.

Ruby Gonzalez agrees. “People in stores are reading ingredients more and more. Overall, there is more awareness,” says Gonzalez, director of sales and marketing for Erbaviva, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified manufacturer and wholesaler of organic bath and body products in Los Angeles.

If, as Gonzalez says, customers are reading ingredients “more and more,” they will surely have questions to ask you. The explosion in this market has lead to terms that many find confusing. There’s organic, there’s natural, there’s certified organic. What do all these mean?

Certified organic

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues organic certification to make buying organics easy. Only two types of products can carry the USDA Organic seal:

  • Products made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods, which can be labeled “100 percent organic.”
  • Products with at least 95 percent organic ingredients, which can be labeled “organic.”


A third category of products, containing a minimum 70 percent organic ingredients, can be labeled “made with organic ingredients.” Products in this category cannot carry the USDA seal. Anything made with less than 70 percent organic ingredients cannot carry an organic label, although the manufacturer can list the ingredients that are organic.

Craig Minowa, environmental scientist for the Organic Consumers Association, in Finland, MN, refers to the confusion as labeling anarchy. “The USDA label is the only way to tell if it’s truly organic,” he says.

To add to the confusion, the USDA labels apply to food. So if a bath and body product has to carry the USDA label or meet organic certifications, it has to be made with organic food ingredients. Such is the case with Erbaviva, says Gonzalez. The company’s products carry the coveted USDA Organic label because they are made from organic food ingredients.

Natural products

“Natural” products are those made with ingredients derived from nature. Some products, such as soap, can be “nearly natural,” made with many natural ingredients but using chemical stabilizers.

Trending up

The market for organic bath and body products is especially hot. Barbara Haumann, press secretary for the Organic Trade Association, says sales of imageorganic personal care products (including those made with organic ingredients) totaled $282 million in the United States in 2005, and $350 million in 2006. “Based on survey respondents, we project it will grow by 27 percent on average from 2007 to 2010,” she says. “It is a very healthy market with a lot of growth.” The Greenfield, MA-based association aims to encourage global sustainability by promoting diverse organic trade.

If you include natural products, the market becomes even bigger. Packaged Facts, a division of, estimates the U.S. natural/organic personal care market was valued at $6.1 billion at retail in 2006, an 11 percent increase from the prior year. In its 2007 report, “Natural and Organic Personal Care Products in the U.S.” Packaged Facts forecasts the market to have a retail value of more than $10.2 billion by the end of 2012, with skin care leading the way, with a projected value exceeding $5.6 billion.

Reasons for growth

Minowa says there are a number of reasons for the rise in organic bath and body products. Topping the list: concerns about health. Having children is a big motivator for buying organic, Minowa says. Customers buy organic for their children first, then they buy for themselves.

imageBridget Gray, owner of the children’s and maternity clothing store Wiggle Room, in Bethesda, MD, agrees with Minowa’s assessment. She says more and more of her customers are looking for organic products for babies. “People who don’t necessarily think of themselves as green, when they get pregnant, that’s when they start thinking of these things,” she says. So much so that Gray recently offered a workshop on protecting baby from environmental toxins.

Gonzalez, of Erbaviva, also says health concerns are a big reason consumers seek organic products. Whether proven or not, there is a strong connection in consumers’ minds between chemicals and cancer. Packaged Facts reports: “Americans are so afraid of getting cancer that a small amount of publicity connecting a product or ingredient with the disease is enough to embed that connection in the collective consciousness for decades.” Many Americans perceive natural and organic products to be less harmful to health.*

Tom Garlick, vice president of the brand division at Simply Be Well Organics, in Fall River, MA, says an increase in overall “green” consciousness also helps drive sales. “People who buy our products are looking for them because they are organic, they’re not harmful for the environment and there is no animal testing,” says Garlick.

People also buy the products because it makes them feel good, says Bettijo B. Hirschi, owner of Bath by Bettijo, a wholesaler of natural and organic bath and body products in Tolleson, AZ.

The product range

Bath by Bettijo started with a desire to bring healthy products to the market, as evidenced by its slogan, “Healthy is In, Here’s What’s Out.” The ingredients on the company’s “What’s Out” list include dyes, fragrances, sulfates and parabens­—all chemicals commonly used in the manufacture of bath and body products. “What’s In” are ingredients such as whipped shea butter, beeswax, Dead Sea salts and grapefruit.

imageAnna Cirronis, the founder of Erbaviva, started out wanting the best for her baby. The company still focuses on babies and mothers-to-be, with products such as Organic Baby Lip and Cheek Balm, made with organic shea butter; and Quease-Ease Lip Balm, made with peppermint and ginger.

Paula Lindsay, owner of The Pass Christian Soap Company in Daphne, AL, manufactures and wholesales nearly natural bath and body products—the soaps use synthetic fragrances, but the rest of their ingredients are natural. Lindsay says the company’s customers are looking for handmade quality. Its popular handmade products include Fresh Lemongrass Hand Soap, designed to naturally remove cooking smells from hands; and the Oatmeal, Milk and Honey line, especially suited for those with sensitive skin.

A touch of the exotic

Exotic ingredients, delivered from worlds away, can also be appealing in this category. Florestas Organic Botanical, a maker and marketer of organic bath and body products in Long Island, NY, was founded in 2002 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and uses ingredients from the Amazon. These include acai, an Amazonian palm berry that has a high concentration of antioxidants; and murumuru, from a tree rich in oleic acid, which hydrates skin and hair. Top sellers are hand and foot cream, containing murumuru butter and certified organic babassu nut oil. Florestas products bear the “Eco-cert” seal, a European organic certification.

Inara Organic Body Care, in Englewood, CO, is another company that brings a touch of the exotic to the American bath and body market. Babassu, a Brazilian fruit in which oil is extracted from the kernels, has a high fat content. “When you put it on the skin, it actually starts melting,” says Inara founder Anne M. Dolbeau. It’s in every single product that they sell, she says. Babassu body creme and sugar rub are some of Inara’s bestselling products.

Green products; green companies

Consumers often expect companies to be green not only in what they offer, but also in their business practices. For that reason, all packaging at Erbaviva is recyclable or made from recycled glass, according to Gonzalez. Erbaviva ships in biodegradable peanuts, reuses as much cardboard as possible, and runs trucks on bio-diesel.

Larger social good also comes into play. For example, Inara Organic Body Care supports a women’s cooperative in Maranhao, Brazil, through fair trade practices.

“Green-mindedness definitely plays into things. Marketers are tying in their positioning to green consciousness,” says Timothy Dowd, senior analyst at Packaged Facts. Practices like fair trade appeal to the same kind of consumer, he says.

Sell the product and the package

imageRetailers can capitalize on the innovative packaging offered by many wholesalers. Take Danielle & Company’s award-winning All-in-One Organic Soap Garden. It features organic shea butter bar soaps and shea body washes in a biodegradable planter, made from rice and grain byproducts. The lid is a biodegradable saucer. Soaps are wrapped in lotka paper (a handmade, acid-free paper) and embedded with wildflower seeds. A bag of organic soil is also provided. “The concept is to unwrap your soap, and instead of throwing the wrapper in the garbage, throw it into your planter with the soil provided and grow yourself a garden,” says Danielle Fleming, founder and president of the company, in Clarks Summit, PA. “All components are recyclable, reusable and sustainable.”

Hirschi, of Bath by Bettijo, says there used to be a time when organic and natural products had more of a “granola appeal,” and their packaging was not high-end. Not anymore. For example, Tub Tea, the company’s number-one seller, comes in a glass bottle with a reusable, antique-style tea infuser. It contains herbs and botanicals, such as spearmint, eucalyptus, lavender and chamomile.

Another way to entice gift buys is through color. Simply Be Well’s line comes in four different flavors: fragrance free, rosemary mint, lavender vanilla and pomegranate. Each flavor has a distinct color. The retail trick of grouping colors together to create a strong impact works well here, Garlick says.

Work nature into your displays

In addition to great packaging, display know-how is important. In this market, it’s all about capturing nature. “People love to see raw ingredients. At our shows, we take big jars and fill them with lavender. The whole idea is to connect with nature,” says Hirschi.

Of course, the appearance of a store’s display also depends upon the customers. Because Wiggle Room focuses on maternity wear and children’s clothes, it can relate products directly to the baby. “We have a lot of baby photographs in our displays. One is a close-up of baby’s different body parts,” says Gray.

Individuality, a store in Eastland, TX, frames ads, instead. “Bath by Bettijo is in the press a lot and they email us to let us know. I frame these [press mentions] and it draws attention,” says Jacey Storm, owner.

An important selling tip for bath and body products is having testers. These can help customers feel and smell the product. The scent is a big part of what people look for in soaps at The Crazy Pineapple in Scranton, PA, says Kathy Guse, co-owner. She carries many different soaps, all available for smelling. Because some are glycerin-based, she has the ability to “light them up,” or display them on top of a frosted glass with a spotlight underneath.

Look before you leap

Retailers in the organic bath and body business need to look at a variety of factors to choose the best products. “The most important thing for the retailer is not just to listen to the vendor when they say they are green; they need to look into the ingredients and learn about them,” says San Francisco retailer Heldfond.

Timothy Dowd, senior analyst for Packaged Facts, agrees. “Retailers need to check out the companies and log onto the Organic Trade Association website just for perspective, to keep up with what’s happening,” he says. He also advises sampling the products before buying them. “If retailers don’t have much space to devote to this category, try the products. Make sure they’re efficacious,” he says.

Emily Lambert

Lambert, a regular writer for GIFT SHOP, resides in Philadelphia. She can be reached at

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