The theme of the last Scandinavian Society of Cosmetic Chemists’ annual meeting was labelling of cosmetic and personal care products with various accreditations, of which the biggest example is the various organic accreditation schemes out there. These are certainly talked about a lot in the industry – indeed there were some pretty heated discussions about them at this meeting. And there are plenty of schemes to choose from, well over thirty in fact. But just how popular are they with the general public?
I don’t think there is much doubt that people like the idea of natural products, and that some people conflate the idea of natural with that of organic. So on paper you might suppose that an organic accreditation is bound to make a product more appealing and to therefore sell better. If an external body has given you its seal of approval that has to be a good thing you might have thought. However the actual performance of these products doesn’t seem to match this.
This came up in a number of ways over the conference, but there were two particularly striking examples. Alban Muller, who is definitely a sympathiser for this kind of thing, noted that there were numerous examples of accredited products failing to make a hit on the market and being withdrawn. And he also, even more tellingly, came up with some products that had launched with accreditations and subsequently dropped them.
Even more surprising was the presentation from Amarjit Sahota of Organic Monitor. Organic Monitor as the name suggests monitors the organic market and provides intelligence on it to the people who play in that game. So you would expect him to put a positive spin on the news from the sector, which indeed he did. But he had to report declining sales into and falling interest from the supermarkets. He pointed out that accredited organic products were doing well in other distribution channels – as well they might be. But you don’t have to be a market expert to be aware of just how big a proportion of the grocery market the supermarkets represent.
This isn’t necessarily all bad news. One of the problems with a niche offering is that if it goes mainstream it is no longer niche. So small specialist manufacturers might breathe a sigh of relief that their unique selling point is no longer looking so attractive to the big boys. But anyone who thinks that slapping a green accreditation on a product is going to earn them great riches probably needs to get back to the drawing board.
The biggest losers are the cosmetic chemists who have wasted huge amounts of time trying to comprehend the incomprehensible standards themselves in a soul destroying attempt to give the marketers what they thought they wanted. In the event accredited organic personal care products are not going to be something that looks good on the CV. Sorry guys, we won’t be getting that time back again.