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Avalon Organics Aims to Raise Bar for Naturals

Industry sources estimate the line could do $60 million in retail sales in its first year on counter.

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NEW YORK — Three years ago, Avalon Organics set out to transition its line of personal care products from one that loosely followed natural and organic guidelines to one that offered products that were made as natural and organic as a company could provide. In doing so, Avalon turned to the NSF/ANSI 305 standard, the American National Standard specific to personal care products that contain organic ingredients, one that closely mirrors the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines for natural and organic food.

The shift makes Avalon the first to change its entire lineup, upgrading more than 90 formulas for 100 stockkeeping units, according to the company. “I think we’ll be the only one that offers everything from shampoo to body lotion, and be in all the major categories [with the standard],” said Emma Froelich-Shea, senior vice president, marketing and R&D of Hain Celestial Personal Care. The new products began shipping in the fourth quarter to Whole Foods, Target, Wal-Mart and drugstores across the country.

The company declined to break out sales projections. But industry sources estimate the line could do $60 million in retail sales in its first year on counter.

Unlike the food industry, the USDA has not created specific organic standards for personal care products. NSF/ANSI 305, however, has established the materials, processes, production criteria and conditions that must be met in order for a brand to call itself organic. Under this standard, all personal care products with “contains organic ingredients” claims (other than in ingredient lists) must contain a minimum organic content of 70 percent. Additionally, formulas must contain only ingredients that have gone through rigorous evaluation by a scientific panel and have been approved by NSF.

“This standard is so important to personal care. It is just as stringent as food, but for the personal care industry it means we can make efficacious personal care products,” said Froelich-Shea.

Whole Foods, the first national certified organic retailer, has said that beginning in 2012, it was going to remove from shelves items that make organic claims in their name or label that weren’t truly organic. Joe Dickson, quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods, who is responsible for developing and maintaining standards for natural food, body care and food policy issues, said, “I just want organic to be as straightforward in personal care as it is in the rest of the store.”

In March, Whole Foods will begin implementing in-store communications with endcaps announcing the NSF standard.

“We know our customer won’t adjust to the multiple definitions of the term ‘organic,’ ” Dickson said. “So that void is where we were coming from when we worked with NSF to help develop the standard [which began in 2005]. It was to fill a void and come up with a standard that honors the basic contours of food but works for personal care products. What is significant now is that we are seeing for the first the time the NSF symbol on-shelf.”

For the past year, Whole Foods has reviewed all of its body care vendors to see what will ultimately disappear from shelves beginning in January. While Dickson didn’t want to reveal any brand names, he said some will be removing the word “organic” from their labels, while others have been working to upgrade formulas to comply with the retailer’s new rules. “I am delighted over this,” he said. “You don’t expect the worst, but I was blown away by the number of manufacturers that took the high road.”

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