By  on March 19, 2010

Since the recession dammed the flood of upstart natural beauty brands, Jeremiah McElwee, senior global coordinator of Whole Foods’ Whole Body section, said newness in the segment is being driven by older brands ridding their products of objectionable ingredients and polishing up their looks.

And the brands exhibiting at Natural Products Expo West, held March 11 to 14 at the Anaheim Convention Center with a record attendance of more than 56,000 people, proved his point. Many have transformed their products inside and out. Even Whole Foods has gotten into the act, further clarifying expectations for its private-label organic personal care.

“We have really zeroed in on organics,” said McElwee. “There has been a lot of confusion in organic personal care. There’s been no standard. We finally agreed that we have to draw a line in the sand. This year, organic personal care standards will be in line with [organic] food.”

Whole Foods anticipates its in-house organic protocol will set the bar for organic personal care across the industry. Indeed, the industry continues to adapt to the retailer’s Premium Body Care standard instituted in 2008 that identified some 300 ingredients not fit for products bearing Whole Foods’ Premium Body Care logo.

Nature’s Gate is updating its classics line by removing butylene glycol and sulfates, among other offensive ingredients, from lotions, shampoos and conditioners. The Chatsworth, Calif.-based brand is also sprucing up bottles with sharper images of product ingredients and symbols indicating blends of seven botanicals. “We have big changes in the works,” said Jennifer Schweitzer, a Nature’s Gate brand manager, who revealed the redone lotions, and shampoos and conditioners, which won’t meet Whole Foods’ Premium Body Care standard, are set for a late summer release.

Desert Essence, a division of Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Country Life Vitamins, is rolling out renovated packaging in June with magnified illustrations of tea tree, jojoba and aloe vera for oil-combination, normal and dry-sensitive skin, respectively. Along with the repackaging, the brand is building upon its dominance in facial care as the brand makes the top three selling natural facial skin care products, according to SPINS data shared by vice president of marketing Wendy Lucas. New items include a $9.99 Blemish Touch Stick Concealer and a $13.99 Gentle Nourishing Organic Cleanser.

Other product launches of note at Expo West were Noah’s Natural’s Anti-Aging Beauty Elixir, at $19.99 for a 14-day supply and $29.99 for a 30-day supply, and Alba Botanica’s five-item ACNEdote line priced from $9.95 to $14.95. Emma Froelich, who joined Alba’s parent The Hain Celestial Group as vice president of personal care about a year ago from L’Oréal USA, called ACNEdote the “first full-on max strength acne launch in the natural market.” She added that Hain Celestial will feature clinical claims on its products like mainstream beauty brands, which she believes will separate ACNEdote from the natural acne remedy field.

Like Borba and Glowelle have done with beauty drinks in conventional beauty, Noah’s Naturals is hoping to lead the natural beauty drink wave starting with its acai berry and goji berry elixir that began spreading across food, drug and mass retailers, such as Wal-Mart, last month. Later this month, the Los Angeles-based brand’s first TV ads will hit airwaves to tout the elixir with 30-second, one-minute and two-minute spots. “If you don’t have the advertising and marketing to support it, consumers don’t understand it,” said Noah’s Naturals chief executive officer Noah Breman of the beauty drink category. The ads cost an estimated $2 million to $5 million.

But Noah’s Naturals will face competition in natural beauty drinks from Sibu Beauty, a young brand that, despite McElwee’s nod to older brands spurring innovation, is making headway in the natural personal care sector. Seabuckthorn berry-driven Sibu Beauty launched about a year ago and has since entered around 1,000 doors, where its top two products are Repair and Protect Facial Cream ($19.95) and Cleanse and Detox Facial Soap ($5.95). The Midvale, Utah-based brand’s beauty drink Revitalize and Renew Sea Buckthorn Liquid Supplement ($29.95), and product introductions next month are Eye Cream ($24.95), Body Cream ($13.95) and Seed Oil ($14.95).

It was not only natural brands that made news at Expo West. During a press conference March 12 put on by members of the Organic Consumers Association and the Green Patriot Working Group, it was disclosed that Procter & Gamble Co. plans to reduce the concentration of 1, 4-dioxane, a manufacturing by-product and probable carcinogenic, in 17 of 18 different Herbal Essences formulations by July this year and in the 18th product by the end of January next year.

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