By  on March 9, 2007

BOCA RATON, Fla. — In just two short years, Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, and Marc Pritchard, CTFA's chairman and president of global strategic planning at Procter & Gamble, have turned the focus of CTFA's annual meeting around by 180 degrees from a preoccupation mostly with Beltway regulatory politics to a clear-eyed focus on consumers and their concerns about product safety.

"Over the last year, CTFA has been building a much more robust and proactive global strategies program to better support the important global market opportunities for CTFA members and their consumers," said Bailey, addressing the audience at the meeting's opening session. The conference was held Feb. 28 to March 2 at the Boca Raton Resort and Club here. "We seek to be the force that an industry of our size and importance to the global economy should be."

And the results are showing. This year's conference boasted a 25 percent increase in attendance — 183 active members, compared with last year's 146, and 346 associate members, mostly from the publishing industry — and buzz about its speakers, including a rousing Q&A session with William Lauder, president and chief executive officer of the Estée Lauder Cos.; a panel on High-Touch Marketing moderated by Professor Stephan Kanlian of the Fashion Institute of Technology, and speakers on challenges to international trade, including REACH and the European Union's Seventh Amendment. The active member spike is particularly noteworthy, said Bailey, because active membership is open to only manufacturers and suppliers, not the gaggle of publishers and beauty editors who also attend the meeting.

The organization has also formulated the Consumer Commitment Code, formalizing and documenting the many product safety practices already in place at most companies. "The Code also contains new practices, such as the Safety Information Summary Program, which gives the [Food and Drug Administration] access to safety information beyond the requirements of the law." Pritchard noted that 100 percent of beauty companies with a member on CTFA's board have already signed the Code, and challenged each of the companies in attendance to do the same. "We ask that each of you sign the code to demonstrate your company's commitment to safe and effective products for consumers," he said.The industry has an impressive track record in this respect, noted Bailey: "With less than 150 adverse reactions reported to the FDA each year out of the 11 billion personal care products sold annually, that is a safety record any industry could be proud of," she said.

For the first time in CTFA history, breakout committee meetings were open to all attendees, not just the members of each respective panel. The International Fragrance Association and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials held a meeting independently, discussing facets of the European REACH legislation.

CTFA is also considering changing its name to one more relevant to the industry. "When's the last time you heard someone say, 'toiletry'?" joked Pritchard, noting that no new name has yet been chosen. But he turned serious when he began discussing the need for accurate consumer information —and to that end, CTFA is now developing a consumer information Web site, expected to go live in July.

"Clearly, consumers are hearing and sharing distorted stories about our products," said Pritchard. "We need to make sure that customers know about our long and unmatched track record of product safety. The reality is, groups are out there voicing uninformed and sometimes inflammatory statements about our brands and products. These groups are raising concerns and gaining credibility, while our voice is often not even heard. We need to become the source of information for consumers."

Added Bailey, "This site will give consumers unprecedented, easy access to current, factual, scientifically based information on cosmetic and ingredient safety, so that when that unfounded rumor goes around the Internet again that there is deadly lead in lipstick, or when consumers hear they are at risk for Alzheimer's or breast cancer from their antiperspirant, they will have a place to go to quickly get the facts themselves about the products they use, and to be reassured. This site will also go a step further. It will provide links to other authoritative bodies and scientific research so that consumers can confidently make the purchase decisions that are right for them. It will also help consumers understand how our companies go about the safety assessment process, how cosmetics are regulated and even how to read a cosmetics or personal care product label. The site will be a wonderful new way in which to demonstrate our industry's commitment to consumers. But alone, it is not enough. We know that our own commitment to safety must be backed up by a strong, legal framework that has teeth and which effectively protects consumers from those who don't live by the rules."Pritchard noted that the site's design work was well under way, and said that CTFA was testing content extensively at present.

CTFA is also taking large steps toward global initiatives (see sidebar). "We negotiated an agreement among the industry associations in the U.S., EU, Japan and Canada to launch in 2007 a process to align global regulation of cosmetics," continued Bailey. "This process has enormous potential to advance consumer protection, trade and industry growth globally."

"Our harmonization efforts are important to enable all companies to innovate freely and better serve consumers around the world," added Pritchard. Last month, he said, CTFA met with 30 members of Congress and asked that the FDA's cosmetics division be funded at a minimum threshold of $6 million to strengthen enforcement capabilities. Other efforts include work with lawmakers in California and Massachusetts to draft workable disclosure and banned-ingredient legislation.

What's next? To further strengthen the organization, there were still four things CTFA must do, said Pritchard. "We must change our mission statement, implement the Consumer Commitment Code, step up consumer communications and make bold and, in some cases, unprecedented changes in the area of consumer protection."

"Our focus as an association has turned 180 degrees in the last few years, from dealing with issues below the radar through regulatory actions to focusing more on direct consumer advocacy," said Dan Brestle, chief operating officer of the Estée Lauder Cos. and a CTFA board member.

"CTFA has been a wonderful way to connect with suppliers and editors," said Gina Drosos, president of Global Cosmetics and Hair Colorants at Procter & Gamble. "It's created some great opportunities for us."

"The meeting has been great," said Carol Bernick, chairman of the board of Alberto-Culver and a CTFA board member. "The quality of people [at the meeting] was terrific, and CTFA is partnering more with its members on issues now more than ever. The commitment code will be a good thing for the industry, as well."

Bailey issued a challenge to all the companies present at the meeting: "Help us to put the facts out and to accurately inform consumers. Our new consumer information Web site, our Consumer Commitment Code, an even stronger [Cosmetics Ingredient Review], a well-funded FDA and consistent and predictable global regulation all demonstrate evidence of our renewed commitment to consumers. This is our work agenda for 2007.""Our vision," concluded Pritchard, "is that the beauty and personal care industry is known as the consumer's greatest resource."

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