By  on August 10, 2007

NEW YORK — Last May, Mike Indursky, chief marketing and strategic officer of Burt's Bees, announced a plan to establish a natural standard. The term natural is being used in more and more products, but without testing to ensure promises are delivered.

In just three months, his vision is rapidly coming into focus. "It is really heating up," said Indursky, who is working in conjunction with the Natural Products Association, Aubrey Organics and Dr. Bronner's. "We are developing the organization and goals." The effort got its biggest boost in the last few months thanks to Burt's Bill, an online consumer petition in support of developing an industry standard for the use of the word "natural" in personal care. Recently, Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) signed the "bill." He joined 25,000 others who have used the online poll, which can also be physically signed and sent in.

Indursky and NPA hope the full descriptions of what makes a natural product and a seal will be established by the end of the year. The goal will be that companies will achieve that important label if most of their product lineup meets the requirements. Plans call for a major consumer launch. "Arriving at a clear definition of the word natural is something both our industry and consumers want," explained NPA's Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D. and vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.

The timing is right, according to industry consultant Allan Mottus, who believes the natural movement is "really here this time." Natural personal care is growing at a rate five times that of other businesses, said retailers. Brands are popping up left and right promising "natural" benefits. Indursky, and others, don't want consumers to lose confidence if they are disillusioned with an item that is termed natural. "What will kill the natural business is if companies are marketing products that really aren't natural," he said.

One of the key reasons Indursky set out to establish a standard is simply because many consumers already think there is one. Seventy-eight percent of natural personal care products are regulated and 97 percent of consumers think they should be, plus 86 percent believe there should be a label or symbol to signify something is deemed natural. Ideally, natural items will be made with at least 95 percent natural ingredients and contain no ingredients with any potential suspected human health risks. Ingredients that should never be used include parabens, sulfates, petrochemicals, glycols, phthalates, diethanolamine or DEA and formaldehyde.However, Indursky said there are personal care categories where totally natural is not an option, such as hair care. Hair care requires certain ingredients to be effective and the natural alternatives don't deliver desired results, explained Rite Aid Corp.'s category manager Kathy Horton, who believes there are categories where shoppers won't give up performance. Indursky said synthetic is a last resort if there are no viable natural options and if the synthetic has no human health risks.

In addition to manufacturers who are in favor of standards, retailers are embracing the concept, too. "Consumers are asking for it and it is not a different consumer than the ones already in the store," Indursky said.

After ingredients are tackled, Indursky and others hope to target excess packaging and other non-environmentally friendly aspects of personal care.

When Indursky isn't piloting natural qualifications or helping Burt's Bees' rapid expansion, he can be found as a lead singer in The Beemones, a group of Burt's Bees representatives who croon songs such as "I Want Pollination" and "You're Going to Sting That Girl." The group took first place at the second annual Triangle Corporate Battle of the Bands charitable competition, held in Durham, N.C., in May.

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