By  on March 13, 2009

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Those in the mainstream beauty industry could use a dose of whatever natural beauty brands are taking.

At Natural Products Expo West, which took place March 5 to 8 in the convention center here, some 53,000 attendees scoured the booths of 1,900 vendors of food, health, pet, alcohol and beauty merchandise. The group of beauty products vendors, dwarfed by the others in the 300,000-square-foot trade show space, was among the most upbeat about business prospects, and the progress being made by companies toward transparency and healthy formulations.

The Organic Consumers Association helped generate the positive vibe by releasing updated product screening results for 1,4-Dioxane, a known carcinogen and manufacturing by-product. Twenty-three products from 16 brands containing potentially dangerous levels last year made strides toward eliminating the petrochemical. Products with the USDA Organic seal, such as Dr. Bronner’s, Intelligent Nutrients and Terressentials, had no 1,4-Dioxane, and Alba, Citrus Magic and Nutribiotic, targets of a lawsuit by the California Attorney General filed in June, reformulated to net products free or nearly free of 1,4-Dioxane.

“This is a huge improvement for the natural products industry,” said David Steinman, who oversaw the tests for the OCA, an organization with more than 500,000 members. “It differentiates what it means to be natural now from mainstream.”

What also differentiates the natural beauty and personal care industry from the mainstream is that it is not careening off the economic cliff. Many natural beauty brands at Expo West, although expressing the requisite uncertainty about sales for the remainder of this year, recently experienced strong growth and were sanguine about their long-term potential because various product categories continue to be promising.

Kid and baby products, for instance, are a focus. Julie D’Angelo, a sales coordinator for Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Little Twig, said the brand’s sales increased 70 percent last year, and it is now carried in roughly 1,300 doors, including Whole Foods and Wegmans. Next month, Little Twig will introduce an unscented 2.9-oz. SPF 15 Mineral Sunscreen for $20.99.

Oakland, Calif.-based brand 100% Pure has soft launched a kids line on Bath & Body Works’ Web site, but will officially launch ice cream-themed products priced around $5 to $25 in late summer. Kiss My Face introduced the line Obsessively Natural Kids with nine products ranging from $5.99 to $10.99 about six months ago and, in the first three months, exceeded the annual sales of the brand’s previous children’s products, according to Kiss My Face vice president of marketing Lewis Goldstein.

Besides kids, makeup has been a solid performer for select natural beauty brands. Woodstock, N.Y.-based Primitive, already in 200 doors, is expecting to enter Sprouts Farmers Market and Sunflower Farmers Market soon and quadruple its sales this year, according to founding partner Nancy Caigan. Mirran Raphaely, chief executive officer of Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, said makeup is the brand’s second-largest category and was the fastest-growing category last year with a 34 percent gain. For fall, the brand is releasing a new eye shadow palette, a Rouge Powder Duo and Volume Mascara in pearl anthracite, all priced from $30 to $55.

Building on the success of its Hawaiian Islands-oriented products, Hain Celestial Group-owned Alba Botanica is launching a rainforest line in June with 19 skin, hair and body stockkeeping units priced from $9.95 to $25.95. Featured ingredients are tiger nut to boost collagen production, açai to combat free radicals, andiroba oil to help repair skin, cupuaçu butter for hydration, brazil nut oil to slow skin aging, copaiba to make hair shine, passion fruit oil to soothe skin and the antioxidant buriti. “By creating an idea of a place and a location, that idea becomes more powerful,” said Mac Tillman, Alba’s vice president of marketing.

Befitting the maturation of the natural beauty products industry, brands have been reviewing their packaging and formulas, and a slew of product revamps is hitting the market. Kiss My Face has replaced its Obsessively Organic line with a 13-item Potent & Pure facial care system priced from $15 to $21. Additional brands in the process of or wrapping up a repackaging or reformulation are EO, ShiKai, Nature’s Gate and Whole Foods’ 365 private label.

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