By  on June 8, 2007

Nature's Gate is launching for national distribution the first organic lotion range to bear the USDA Organic seal. The stamp is usually reserved for beauty products such as lip balm and body oils — items that don't require many of the prohibited synthetic ingredients needed to hold water and oil together.

For a lotion to earn the organic seal — which is the same seal awarded to organic foods — is a big deal for the beauty industry, seeing that the four-item range, called Rainwater Organics, had to be 95 percent organic, excluding water and salt. The remaining 5 percent of ingredients must meet strict USDA regulations.

What also earned the line the coveted seal by the USDA's National Organic Program is that it was manufactured in a facility that operates in accordance with USDA Organic rules, which include how materials are received, warehoused, mixed, filled, cleaned and sanitized.

"Every aspect of handling is very specifically defined," said Paddy Spence, chief executive officer of Nature's Gate, which makes natural and organic personal care items. The facility is located in a 500,000-square-foot plant owned by Nature's Gate's parent, Levlad, based in Chatsworth, Calif. The lotion would not have earned the seal had it been processed like other Levlad beauty items, such as those under the Arbonne brand.

Choosing to first produce lotions — as opposed to other beauty items — was strategic since "body lotion is the biggest category in personal care, it was unisex, has broad appeal and, most importantly, doesn't need a surfactant." For now, Spence said, there is no efficacious organic surfactant he would want to use in a shampoo or soap formula.

Dr. Bronner's, a Menomonee Falls, Wis., beauty manufacturer, also makes lotions, lip balms and soaps bearing the USDA organic seal. However, these items are in small distribution and production.

Since word of Levlad's organic manufacturing capability hit the beauty street — the company can process 100 million units of organic items a year — its third-party beauty partners, including Sally Beauty, Victoria's Secret and ProActive, as well as some "major beauty companies" have been inquiring about the organic process, Spence said.

While the cost of raw organic materials and creating an organic section in the plant was costly, Spence learned from watching the highs and lows of the organic milk category that competitive pricing was key."When organic milk first came out, it was twice the price of regular milk," he said, and consumers were slow to accept it. "But when private label organic milk came out [at a lower price], the category accelerated."

Rainwater Organics body lotions are $7.99 each and are available in four flavors: Lemongrass Spice, Bergamot Patchouli, Citrus Ginger and Orange Zest Mint. Each features Açaí oil, which grows in the Amazon rainforest and is likened to grapeseed oil. Items ship this week to 1,000 supermarkets and natural food stores. In-shelf merchandising units will promote the USDA Organic seal. More than 500,000 samples of the products are being distributed, too. Packaging is made of 25 percent post-consumer regrind (recycled plastic), and labels are printed with soy ink.

Spence said he found that supermarkets, rather than mass outlets and drugstores, seemed more receptive to organic beauty items. He attributed this to the fact that supermarket buyers were already familiar with the popularity and profitability of organic items.

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