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Study highlights confusion in US organics market

By Louise Prance , 31-May-2007

The US organic cosmetics industry is in a state of confusion due to the lack of auditing and regulatory controls for products sold under the naturals umbrella, according to a new study.

The Kline & Company study outlines the mounting confusion among consumers and industry insiders relating to the many ways companies define their products as "natural". The market assessment report looks in detail at raw materials that are being marketed to consumers as 'green', 'renewable' and 'natural' and examines the companies that are forging ahead in the unclear market.


The report found that many brands are not being sold through audited certification channels, leaving consumers confused over what is and what isn't natural. Primarily sold through health food stores, spas, direct sales and specialty stores, "natural" products can be enticing to consumers, when in fact only a small minority of ingredients actually fit the bill.


"The perception is that non-chemical products are better for you, and consumers are consciously choosing more products that have botanicals, plant extracts, and essential oils listed on the label," said Carrie Mellage, director of the consumer products practice for Kline's research division. However, as the US currently has no official regulation for natural or organic personal care products, consumers are vulnerable to misinformation. The industry as a whole is being left wide open to dubious claims concerning the authenticity of the products, he said.


Burt's Bees, a key player in the natural and organic personal care market, recently launched an attack on the lack of regulation and is aiming to establish a new industry standard for the US market. The company said it wants to establish 'a definition about what is and isn't natural' by working with both competitors and the industry as a whole in an effort to make things easier for the consumer, and to clear up confusion.


The company aims to establish a definition that holds 'natural to the highest possible standards'. Burt's Bees said that its actions have been supported by a recent consumer study, conducted by TSC that highlighted consumer confusion in the naturals market.


The TSC survey questioned in detail the general perception of natural personal care products across a wide range of US females. About 78 per cent of American women either thought that natural personal care products were regulated or were not sure if they were regulated, the TSC survey found.


Other countries have implemented regulations that require manufacturers to comply to comprehensive guidelines before they can advertise the 'natural' branding. In 1996, Germany's association for the pharmaceuticals, health care products, food supplements and personal hygiene products sectors (BDIH) implemented a scheme for testing natural product ranges.


Since then over 2,000 products have been tested on the basis of their content and production methods.


US naturals company Alima Cosmetics has become the second US company to gain approval from the BDIH and is now able to use the certified natural cosmetics seal on its products line.

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