Consumers still struggle with the difference between 'natural' and 'organic'

By Michelle Yeomans

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers still struggle with the difference between 'natural' and 'organic'

Related tags Organic cosmetics European union European parliament

At the European Parliament in Brussels, NATRUE revealed that while 75% of women are aware that there is a difference between natural and organic ingredients, only a third feel that they really understand what the difference is. 

According to the international natural and organic association, the aim of the study was to explore what consumers expect from natural and organic cosmetics (NOC), to better understand public perception, as it currently stands, in order to address consumer confusion and best meet consumer expectations, amidst a sea of greenwashing.

The research flagged up considerable confusion that exists among consumers about what makes a product genuinely natural or organic. For example, interviewees were asked if water should be certified when considering whether a formulation is genuinely natural or organic.

Initially consumers thought this was a good idea, but when further questions were asked it became apparent that they had not initially thought about the quality of the water, whether it would need to be spring water, filtered water, tap water and so forth.

When given the options, further information and time to consider the issue, consumer opinion faltered. No added value was perceived in labelling water as natural or organic.

"In the European Parliament we deal with a number of issues in the abstract sense, so the exhibition was an excellent opportunity to not only inform MEPs and their staff about the regulatory issues concerning the natural and organic cosmetics sector, but also to allow them to experience the cosmetics for themselves​", explained Ms Julie Girling, UK Member of the European Parliament.

Purchasing Drivers

Key drivers behind purchasing decisions were whether ingredients are harmful (89% consider this of importance). Other things influencing purchasing include allergies (87%), fragrance (86%) and recyclable packaging (51%).

"79% expect that the products contain uniquely natural ingredients. The need for 'only organic' is slightly less important than only natural."

The findings also shone a new light on the EU mindset of the segment, where there was some regional variation in public perception, between Northern European and Mediterranean countries.

The research revealed that the Northern European group perceived NOCs as being more gentle, pure, fresh or closer to 'home made' and were more focused on ingredients, composition, smell and colour.

The Mediterranean group had broader concerns, for example about packaging, shelf-life and safety, and marketing.

"As the terms 'natural' and 'organic' for cosmetics remain without a regulatory definition to date, private standards exist. Also the conventional cosmetics industry recently tabled a draft standard with the International Standardisation Organisation, which is expected to be weaker than the NATRUE standard"​, stated Julie Tyrrell, Director at NATRUE.

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