Sales of Organic Personal Care Products Falling

In the UK last year sales of certified organic personal care products fell by 27% according to a report just issued by the Soil Association. This is a huge reversal on a sector that has seen astonishing growth in recent years.  Have consumers fallen out of love with organic products?

One possible explanation is that organic products are seen as a luxury and with a recession in full swing people are switching from expensive brands to cheaper ones.  That certainly makes sense, and someone who sells organic products was making that point to me on Twitter shortly after I tweeted the report.   But if I have learned anything about the way the market works it is that logic is rarely a good explanation.  Yes if you are short of money or worried that you might soon be short of money it makes sense to avoid expensive items if there is a lower cost alternative.  But does this mean that people rationally scale back their expenditure across the board?  Hardly.

In fact when it come to high end personal care the so-called ‘lipstick effect’ often comes into play.  People can no longer afford a holiday, a new car or a fridge.   But a lipstick is not a big ticket purchase.  You can console yourself for not having the stuff you really wanted by splashing out on a small affordable treat.   And some sectors are simply recession proof.  When it comes to health people carry on spending regardless, for obvious reasons.  Surely organic personal care products ought to benefit from both of these effects.  They are both affordable and healthy after all.

The other reaction I got on Twitter was a certain amount of schadenfreude from people who aren’t great fans of the organic sector.  One went so far as to say ‘brilliant’.  Its not hard to see why some people in the business might find the misfortunes of the brown rice and sandals brigades satisfying.   There is a tendency for some people in the organic movement to be a bit sanctimonious, which is annoying at the best of times and doubly so when they seem to be trading successfully on it.

But leaving aside the views of people who have skin in the game, what is really going on here.  I have already blogged about the feeling I am getting that the natural products market is changing.  (   I have a feeling that a lot of people have tried natural and organic products and have decided that they don’t really do anything that justifies the price premium.  People certainly like the idea of natural.  Natural sounds good.  It sounds safe.  Why not give it a try?  But what actually do natural products do that mass market consumer products don’t?  Not a lot really.  My feeling is that people aren’t looking at the organic products and thinking, I’d really like that but I just can’t afford it.   I think they are simply not motivated to repurchase.

I don’t think that many organic consumers had a road to Damascus conversion, threw out all the contents of their bathroom cabinets and switched to organic brands.  And equally I don’t think that the natural is good story has lost its appeal either.  I still think that all other things being equal most people would select something they think is natural over something they perceive as synthetic.  In my opinion the real problem is the products.  They just aren’t really all that good.

Here is the original report.

7 thoughts on “Sales of Organic Personal Care Products Falling

  1. Lise

    Interesting viewpoint, but I’m not quite sure I agree with you about the natural products not being ‘all that good’. Of course it depends on the brand, but I think the brown rice and sandals crowd may be seeing a dip in sales because it is (in general) offering pricier, ‘long-distance’ products in a marketplace saturated with bargain-seekers expecting immediate results. There is an entire generation of consumers that have been weaned on this fast-track attitude that purveyors of natural products must learn how to develop a relationship with. I think we need to look a bit more long term before filing natural products under the ‘tried-it-but-it-didn’t-work’ label.

  2. Annabella Freeman

    I’ve noticed more bloggers talking about SLS and paraben free products rather than organic. I guess organic beauty is like organic food you try it and if you don’t taste (or feel) the difference then you won’t buy it again.

    I also think with the VAT increase, and lots of people losing their jobs does make people think about what they buy. If you’ve got a small family and one of you loses their job, it’s really hard to justify spending £15 on organic shampoo when you also need nappies. Food/grain prices has also gone up too and some of the ingredients in these organic products will have caused their prices to go up further as well.

    There will always be people who buy organic whatever and whenever as they will adjust their lifestyles accordingly to fit it in. But for those who dip in and out I would say it’s probably one of the first thing that gets culled from the shopping list.

  3. North Wood Clinic

    We thought long and hard about which brands to sell (All / Natural / Organic) when creating a large retail space in our clinic.

    We ended up going for “natural” and sell REN, Dr Hauschka, MOP and other natural skincare brands, and sales are great, but they are not all equal.

    The brands with great product PLUS great packaging and product placement PR sell. Those that are missing one of those don’t.

    Very few organic / natural brands can compete on these with the bigger brands and I think this is an important factor.

    If you’re going to spend £20 on a cream / what it looks like as well as what it does, or has not got in it matters. Or appears to.

  4. Colin Post author

    @Lise – most of the organic formulations on the market have been formulated by people who usually formulate mainstream products. Not surprisingly, they can do a better job when they have more freedom in what they can use.

    @Annabella – a lot of people are only bothered by parabens and are not buying into any of the other health scares. I think I know why but I’ll have probably do a whole blog post on it.

    @Northwood Clinic – if I were a brand manager I would really love to be stocked somewhere like your place. All those brands benefit from being associated with specialist/professional outlets. (Feel free to print this out if you are trying to negotiate a good deal from your rep.)

  5. Carolyn

    Ha, I was just suggesting ‘natural’ as the way to go to my friend, but maybe not…. I wanted to mention that I have a different attitude toward organic, natural, local, etc. products than what I usually see written about; I have no idea how common it is. I buy these things not (entirely) because I think they’re better but because I care about the supply chain. I’m happy to pay more for things if the money is going to local farmers and fairly-paid producers, and if making and selling the products is reducing the amount of petroleum-based fertilisers and pesticides in the biosphere or CO2 to the atmosphere–even if I don’t personally see an appreciable difference in the product that’s worth the extra money to me.

  6. Tinni

    My personal experience with the organic products is exactly the “Tried, didn’t do anything special, abandoned”-level. At times I felt they worked even worse than the normal market version of the product.

    A rather fanatic organic product blogger noted that most of the natural products she’d tried were crap and did nothing. This enhanced my experience. Another point really is money issues. So me and my blogger find they do nothing, and then they cost me more. Sorry, that just won’t do. I get Carolyn’s view, it’s honorable, but I myself would not support production of items I find useless.

    This is, ofcourse, just my experience.

  7. Sade

    Organic personal care products are definitely worth buying if we consider their primary purposes;

    -protecting our bodies from further bio-accumulation of harmful chemicals common in the cheaper brands
    -and supporting a sustainable healthy environment

    We need to have the long term view in mind and a basic love for ourselves and what goes on into our bodies. Let’s face it, we may pay for our carelessness further on, years to come.

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