Ethical and eco consumerism now integral to personal care – expert

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Personal care Cosmetics

Although ethical and environmental concerns were once the reserve of the media, increased information now makes this area a major concern for personal care consumers.

This trend is giving way to significant opportunities for cosmetics players, but as Datamonitor researcher Luckshie Balendran points out, tapping into the change this is bringing in consumer spend patterns requires a carefully planned strategy to avoid the many pitfalls.

Speaking at the recent Natural Beauty Summit, held in Paris last week, Balendran highlighted the trigger for this is a more informed consumer, leading to an increased awareness of the dangers posed by current consumer patterns.

In turn consumers want to positively impact the effect their purchases have on the environment by buying products that are ethical, while minimizing the impact to the environment.

Consumer awareness fuels interest in greener products

According to Datamonitor research, 60 percent of consumers feel ‘fairly well informed’ about how their behavior impacts the environment, while 81 percent of consumers consider protecting the environment to be important.

And consumers are prepared to make a sacrifice to achieve these goals. According to the research figures, 62 percent of US citizens are prepared for slower economic growth to achieve these goals. In the UK this figure is 69 percent, while in China it is 80 percent and in Japan it is 57 percent.

Translated into consumer spend on personal care products, this also means that the search is on for products that fulfill these requirements, although many industry experts have noted that most consumers are not prepared to make sacrifices concerning product presentation or efficacy.

In reaction to these concerns, one of the first things manufacturers have had to do is redesign their manufacturing processes, Balendran pointed out during the presentation.

Leading the way have been some of the biggest names in the cosmetics and personal care industry, and in particular L’Oreal, which led the way by last year announcing tough targets to reduce the impact its manufacturing has on the environment.

Environmentally friendly packaging

Likewise, an important means of demonstrating the fact that a product has a lower environmental impact is by designing more environmentally friendly packaging.

On this point Balendran drew attention to niche British cosmetics company evolve, which has used 100 percent recyclable materials in the packaging for its line of certified organic skin care products, as well as P&G’s initiative to use organic plastics for a number of its leading beauty brands from 2011, including Pantene, Max Factor and Covergirl.

Likewise the formulation is also proving to be increasingly important, a factor that is testified by the increasing number certification bodies to certify the organic, natural or ethical origins of the ingredients used in the product.

According to Datamonitor research, consumers react very positively to these types of claims. In its survey, consumers said that the claims most likely to influence their purchasing decision are: fresh, natural pure recyclable/compostable and organic – in that order.

Likewise, its survey results show that 52 percent of consumers feel that beauty products formulated with natural ingredients are good for them, reflecting the growing interest in this category of product and the industry leading sales growth witnessed worldwide.

Ethical claims are also tapping into the growing consumer awareness about product origins and production processes. Again consumers have been fed by a rash of media information that has left them far better informed about what goes into the products they buy.

Questioning ethical and green claims

According to Datamonitor research, 24 percent of consumers surveyed said they had chosen ethical personal care products over conventional products during the past six months.

Although ethical claims do not have as much impact as natural or organic claims, there is a growing number of ethical certification schemes, mainly revolving around the key issue of fair trade and animal welfare.

However, for this particular area, Balendran stressed that many of these issues are complex and often marred by political issues, a factor that can translate into skepticism on the part of the consumer.

Likewise, ‘greenwashing’ – a term coined due to the barrage of media articles on the subject and the large number of companies making spurious claims in this area - has heightened this consumer skepticism still further.

This point is underlined by the fact that the majority of consumers say they would question ethical product claims, while around one third of consumers would question the perceived value of such products, Datamonitor’s research finds.

Key to avoiding these kind of pitfalls, Balendran summarized, is to ensure that every kind of ethical or environmental product claim must be thoroughly qualified and conveyed in a realistic and believable way to the consumer.

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