Mar18 Why Naturalis The New Normal Schmidts 1

Photo courtesy of Schmidt's Naturals

As I walked the aisles of Natural Products Expo West earlier this month, I felt the excitement and energy of an industry coming into its own. While “natural” has long been relegated into its own category, brands like Schmidt’s and others are paving the way for a new consumer consciousness around ingredient quality and performance that redefines traditional thinking. While Natural Products Expo isn’t new by any means, I was inspired to stand among other brands and strategics who are making commitment to natural. This alone speaks volumes to the attention brands formerly thought of as “natural” are now commanding industry-wide. Lo and behold, natural is the new normal. 

Economies of scale and supply chain demands mean that mass personal care formulas have traditionally prioritized ingredients that achieved the most effective result, at the lowest cost. SLS (sodium laureth sulfate), popular in foaming formulas like shampoo and body wash, is an effective surfactant, but it’s also a known skin irritant. Triclosan, developed in the 1960s and formerly common in toothpaste formulas, is a cheap and effective antibacterial, but is also an EPA-classified pesticide. Product formulation and reformulation based on cost savings analysis is no longer an acceptable way of doing business in an increasingly educated consumer climate. Costs aside, as industry leaders, we’re all implicated in needing to do better by both consumers and our planet. If we have the ability to produce better products using naturally-derived ingredients, it’s incumbent upon the industry to collectively acknowledge the categorical imperative of what can no longer be considered a trend. We must serve the people first, not profits.

When Racked reported on a 2017 consumer behavior study of people who buy natural products, they found that more than half of adults surveyed (about 56 percent) think it’s important for their personal care products be “natural or organic.” And even the 16 percent of consumers who reported they still buy only mainstream brands noted they “express ingredient safety concerns.” The interest in natural, safer, healthier products is not just a trend, it’s changing the way people shop entirely. 

Of course, consumers are the drivers. We’re an information-driven society: we want to know the details about what we ingest, apply, and use—and have the tools at our disposal to make informed purchase decisions independently of the confines of assortment at our local retailer. A growing percentage of shoppers are taking a step back and dialing into what goes into and onto their bodies. Global market research firm, Mintel, reported earlier this year that 25 percent of U.S. consumers have purchased natural deodorant, and that an additional 40 percent of adults is interested in healthier options. And you must wonder about the remaining 35 percent. Something, whether it be access, education, or economic means, is precluding them from feeling included in the conversation around demanding safe, quality products for themselves and their families. 

This is the crux of our mission at Schmidt’s, and my commitment as CEO. Access to quality products should not be restricted to anyone, geography, demographics, income level, and proximity to retail aside. Ability to choose personal care products without controversial, potentially biologically harmful ingredients is as much of a right as having an uncontaminated, nutritionally viable food and water supply. I’d ask retailers to consider the extent of their responsibility to their customers. Slotting in naturally-leaning products in stores that index high against a “natural” audience is a start, but how are you supporting the consumers who’ve yet to receive sufficient resources to demand better options? More dangerous still, accepting products marketed as affordable “naturals” but still formulated with cheap filler ingredients, duping the very customer making their first, critical step toward choosing a healthier option. This is an all too common, profoundly troubling deception that does everything to support an established retail profit model, with zero value—and I’d argue significant detriment—to the consumer. The days of thinking in binary must be over if we’re hoping to maintain the trust—and purchasing power—of a new generation of consumers to whom transparency is everything.  

And transparency is just the beginning. This new generation of consumers, digital pioneering Millennials and digitally native Gen Zers, is asking for more than their right to knowing about ingredient safety: they want shopping experiences catered to their mobile lifestyle. We need to not only reach them with availability of our product, but deliverability as well. If mobile grocers can provide same-day delivery, we should be more than apt to deliver same day, same hour delivery of personal care goods from any retailer. Consumers are busier than ever and want on-demand shopping experiences. But the brand-customer mobile relationship leaves something to be desired. The mobile shopping experience is less immersive and still has more barriers than other more engaging categories (think: music, fitness, etc.). We are committed to bringing access to quality products swiftly and with care. 

Schmidt’s was built on an understanding of the profound importance of offering quality, trustworthy options to young consumers. And admittedly, we still have a significant amount of work to do to realize our full vision of access respective to our own product offerings and retail portfolio. But I’m encouraged to see brands, retailers, and corporations joining together to write the future of “natural”, prioritizing technology-led formulations with quality ingredients and modern sensibilities, at affordable price points. Staying nimble to embrace emerging technologies and maintaining social responsibility is inherent to our collective future, and consumers won’t wait for a process-bound industry that fails to anticipate their evolving demands.