Getting ethical claims right is crucial as trend heads for mainstream

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Amarjit Sahota, founder, Organic Monitor
Amarjit Sahota, founder, Organic Monitor

Related tags Organic food

Ethical claims are one of the hottest topics in the industry as brands rush to meet the demands of an increasingly socially conscious consumer. But where is this trend going?

As the trend continues to grow in importance with consumers, this is making it all the more important for brands to get ethical claims for their products bang on, as the wrong move can cause significant damage.

We spoke to Amarjit Sahota, founder of market research company Organic Monitor, to find out more about the ethical movement, how it is affecting the cosmetics and personal care arena, what are the typical barriers brands are facing, and where the movement is likely to go in the future.

Why has ethical jumped so high up on the wish list of beauty consumers?

It is not just in the beauty industry, this is a general trend for consumer products: rise in ethical consumerism. Consumers are asking greater questions about the products they buy, whether it is food, cosmetics, cleaning products, garments, etc. Consumers are increasingly looking at ethical options when shopping.

Which type of beauty consumer is particularly driving this trend? Younger, older, male, female?

From research we did a couple of years ago, the ethical beauty consumer is typically female, aged 24-44 and highly educated. Such consumers look to make informed decisions when buying cosmetic & personal care products.

We also found that the Internet is now the primary source of information on natural & organic beauty products, stated by 35% of all respondents. The internet has overtaken word of mouth, which was stated as the number one reason in the previous study in 2008.

Is there still a significant variance between the type of ethical beauty products consumers say they want to buy, and what they actually end up buying?

Yes, and this is also true for other consumer goods as well. What consumers say they will purchase and what they actually purchase do not always correspond. We have seen that in the organic food industry where some surveys show that up to 90% of consumers say they would buy organic foods, but the actual percentage is much lower.

In the beauty industry, our survey showed that 88% of natural & organic product buyers said they would be willing to pay up to 40% more for certified products. However, the same survey showed that just 43% actually look for certified products. Many consumer research studies show this big difference between ‘buying intent’ and actual purchases.

What are examples of clever and innovative ways that beauty brands have introduced ethical elements to their brands and marketing campaigns?

This is a complex question, as many brands are trying to do this but few have managed to be successful. If they ‘oversell’ their green credentials, then they are accused of greenwashing. In general, natural & organic beauty brands tend to ‘underplay’ the green card.

A good example is the UK brand Neal’s Yard Remedies. In its marketing efforts, it places emphasis on its organic ingredients. The company was the first high street retailer in the UK to become carbon neutral; it has also set up a number of ethical sourcing projects for its ingredients. The same is true for many other ‘dark green’ brands, such as Weleda and Melvita. They tend to understate their green / ethical credentials.

What is the most important type of ethical attribute that beauty consumers look for?

This is a good question. Although most natural & organic beauty brands highlight their organic / natural ingredients, we find that health reasons is the number one reason why consumers buy such products.

The study we did showed that health reasons topped environmental and ethical reasons when consumers looked to buy these beauty products. In the same survey, we asked how important was it for them to avoid contentious chemicals when buying beauty products. Ninety percent stated it was important or very important to them, with just 10% saying it was not important or they were indifferent.

Where do you predict this ethical trend will go in the future?

 We expect ethical consumerism to continue to rise, and the trend to become mainstream In the beauty industry, we are already starting to see this happen. L’Oréal has made a pledge (Sharing Beauty For All) that all of its new products will have a lower environmental impact and / or positive social impact.

Unilever is currently undertaking a TV advertising campaign called ‘Bright Future’ which highlights the social impact of its brands; this is part of its Sustainable Living Plan.

As we shall show at our Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, we expect more beauty companies to embrace sustainability as they realise ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option. 

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