By  on June 22, 2007

The Origins division of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. is trying to give "organic" a new meaning this fall with Origins Organics, its first prestige-market organic collection of U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified body, skin and hair care products.

The brand has been known for its green positioning, providing naturally based beauty products for 17 years. However, Origins waited to launch a fully certified and complete line until it could comply with U.S. regulations. "We wanted to be able to meet the highest level of requirements recognized by the federal government," said Daria Myers, global president and co-founder of Origins. "Until now, there has been no unified organization with the same requirements for all companies. "

Six of the collection's nine products will carry the USDA organic seal: the lip balm, purifying tonic, face lotion, body spritz, massage oil and hair oil. While not USDA-certified, the face wash, body bar and lotion will each contain between 73 and 90 percent organic ingredients. All items in the collection were manufactured by the following places: Cosmetic Essence, Inc., Active Organics, Vermont Soaps and Jason Naturals.

Origins Organics will make its U.S. debut in October in 550 department store doors and 130 freestanding Origins stores. Then in January, the collection will roll out internationally in 25 markets.

Although executives wouldn't comment, industry sources estimate that Origins Organics will bring in $40 million in first-year retail sales worldwide. Myers predicts the launch could generate as much as 10 percent of Origins' overall business.

The company hopes to educate consumers on the distinction between products containing organic ingredients and those with the USDA seal. Origins hopes its new line also receives certifications by year's end from Ecocert, a private European organization offering certification for organic and natural personal care products in more than 80 countries, and the Soil Association, a privately run certification company in the U.K.

"We wanted to clear up the confusion among consumers about brands that are supposedly organic and those that are authentic organic brands," said Lynn Mazzella, Origins vice president of product development.

However, Origins executives point out that applying for USDA organic certification is still voluntary. With the absence of a mandatory set of federal requirements, many personal care companies are still able to label their products "organic."According to Myers, the Organics launch is part of a company-wide sustainability initiative "to perpetuate the greenness of brand."

"Everything is becoming purer in terms of ingredients, formulations, packaging and energy use," said Myers. "We want everything we do to meet certain sustainability standards."

As part of the effort, the company is reformulating all of its core products to be paraben-free and converting its retail stores and manufacturing plants from conventionally derived electric power to wind-generated energy by July. In addition, Origins packaging material will soon be made up of half managed forest and post-consumer recycled fiber.

In order to receive the USDA Certified Organic seal, Origins Organics products were required to meet the same stringent standards the USDA requires for food. Put in place less than two years ago, the personal care regulations demand a product contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients — substances grown naturally with only approved fertilizers and pest controls — for it to be labeled "organic" or "certified organic." Under the guidelines, the remaining percentage must be composed of nonagricultural product ingredients found on the National Organic Program list.

According to Mazzella, the company's biggest challenge was creating aesthetically pleasing products with broad appeal, using only a list of raw ingredients originally developed for food products.

"The challenge comes when you have only one option for certain extraction processes, specific plant actives or essential oil blends. It limits the types of preservatives you can use," said Mazzella.

Adding to the confusion are multiple certifying organizations around the world. For instance, Stella McCartney's Care collection, which was unveiled in November, has received organic certification from Ecocert. Myers noted that the Ecocert and USDA guidelines are different. While the USDA has maintained its strict "95 percent organic" food standards, an Ecocert certification requires only 95 percent "natural" ingredients — with a minimum of 10 percent organic ingredients.

"Personal care brands need to follow the same rules as food, so it's incredibly strict," said Joe Smillie, senior vice president of Quality Assurance International, one of the primary certifying bodies for the USDA. "To expect personal care brands to meet the food standard is a high expectation. Origins has come up with amazing, cutting-edge ways to preserve and emulsify products, which allowed them to stay within the rules and deliver incredible products."

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