By  on May 18, 2007

MARINA DEL REY, Calif. — The Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability Conference here this week was a vivid example of the green movement crossing the tipping point: It was sold out for the first time and nearly 80 percent of the 650 attendees were newcomers.

The burgeoning interest has natural personal care brands coping with an onslaught of mainstream companies courting its consumers and crowding the market with products containing a variety of ingredients — natural, organic or otherwise. As the market booms, longtime natural personal care players are asking: How do consumers distinguish truly natural products from those masquerading as such?

Last week, Michael Indursky, chief marketing and strategy officer of $250 million natural personal care company Burt's Bees, told WWD that he would present to LOHAS attendees an initiative to regulate the $1.8 billion U.S. industry. At the conference, he was busy explaining to competitors and retailers the initial regulatory step would be defining the term "natural."

"Consumers are confused. The trend in naturals is growing at a positively alarming rate, competitors are coming out with products they say are natural that aren't," said Indursky. "We really felt that Burt's Bees, as a leader in natural personal care, has a responsibility to say, 'Just stop.' We need to help inform people, educate them and then solve the problem for them by setting the standard of what natural is and what natural isn't."

To meet the standard, products labeled as natural would have to be made with at least 95 percent natural ingredients, none suspected of posing risks to human health, and be manufactured in a manner that doesn't contaminate natural compounds. Indursky is meeting today with the Natural Products Association, a Washington-based organization to discuss natural manufacturing processes.

Reaction at LOHAS to Indursky's proposal was mixed. Kathi Lentzsch, chief executive officer and president of Elephant Pharm, a three-unit pharmacy based in Berkeley, Calif., applauded efforts to bring clarity to a natural personal care industry that can confound even the most educated shopper.

"Our challenge right now is that 'natural' is used on a lot of different products and how much of a product is natural varies greatly from product to product. It is difficult to represent that well to a customer," she said. "We want to be credible, so it would benefit everybody if there was a consistent definition."

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