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Ulta Gets Serious About Clean Beauty With Credo Partnership

A Credo Beauty endcap is rolling out to 100 Ulta doors in the fall.

Ulta Beauty and Credo Beauty have teamed up.

The beauty retailers have entered a partnership in which brands carried by Credo will be sold at Ulta, beginning with a Credo endcap featuring eight brands that will roll out to 100 Ulta doors in the fall.

For Ulta, the move marks its first meaningful foray into clean beauty, a growing category the retailer has yet to enter in a significant way. For Credo, which operates nine boutiques in the U.S., selling products in one of the country’s biggest beauty retailers is an opportunity to scale.

Credo brands entering Ulta include Innersense Organic Beauty, One Love Organics and EleVen by Venus Williams x Credo, an SPF brand that is a collaboration between the tennis legend and the retailer.

“[Credo] is a trailblazer,” said Monica Arnaudo, chief merchandising officer at Ulta. “This is a great partnership for both of us to elevate clean beauty efforts across the industry.”

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“The original intention was to find neighborhoods where people are already living a healthy lifestyle, and the concept [of clean beauty] could be easily adopted,” added Annie Jackson, cofounder and chief operating officer at Credo. “The dream was not to keep it really selective, but to widen the reach.” 

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In 2015, Credo opened its first store in San Francisco. Founded by two Sephora veterans — Shashi Batra, who died in 2017, and Jackson — the idea was to create a beauty emporium for customers seeking natural brands. Credo has expanded across the country with locations in New York, Illinois, California, Texas and Massachusetts, and has issued a lengthy protocol on ingredients that has become somewhat of an unofficial industry standard for retailers looking to expand into clean beauty.

Mainstream beauty retailers, including Sephora, Bluemercury and Nordstrom, have all launched clean beauty initiatives in the past few years. While Sephora launched its Clean at Sephora program in 2018 — as of last year, 3,000 products across 68 brands were deemed clean by the retailer — Ulta has yet to launch its own clean beauty initiative. It has taken some steps, including the launch of Boston-based clean beauty retailer Follain’s house brand in about 400 of its doors in early March.

Meanwhile, the clean beauty category is small but growing. In March, before the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold in the U.S., numbers from NPD revealed that clean skin care represented 13 percent of total prestige skin-care sales, and clean beauty brands sold in limited distribution — small boutiques, for instance — were up 10 percent. By April, total prestige beauty sales were down 14 percent due to coronavirus-induced store closures, but clean beauty was up 11 percent, one of the industry’s only bright spots.

“The timing is right because there’s so much awareness of clean beauty products and sustainable packaging,” Jackson said. “It’s more important now than ever given everything we’re experiencing as a planet.”

Credo stores are located mainly in busy retail corridors in large cities, such as SoHo in New York and Fillmore Street in San Francisco. Ulta’s nearly 1,200 stores are mostly located in suburban strip malls. There is not much crossover expected between the retailers’ respective consumer sets.

“There might not be a lot of awareness for Credo in an Ulta store, but it’s an awesome opportunity to educate,” Jackson said. “We know the interest is there.”

Neither Ulta nor Credo would comment on the financial aspects of the partnership, though it does seem that Ulta considers the relationship to be significant — chief executive officer Mary Dillon hinted at it on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call in March. 

With many stores still closed or in the process of reopening, it is yet to be seen if consumers will flock back to beauty retailers to shop in person. Also launching in the fall is a landing page on Ulta’s web site, where the Credo products will be available for sale online.