Special Newsletter: Natural and Organic Labelling

Why consumers struggle with natural and organic labelling and how to fix it

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

How to stop confusing consumers with organic and natural labelling

Related tags Personal care products Organic certification Organic food

Natural and organic labelling claims, certification and branding are confusing enough even for industry professionals, so imagine how consumers feel. We spoke to Ecovia Intelligence-founder Amarjit Sahota to find out how things can be simplified.

What is most confusing to consumers about organic and naturals labelling on beauty and personal care products?

From our ongoing research, it is the absence of single logo for natural & organic personal care products. For organic foods, there is a single logo for such products in the US and EU. However, we are seeing proliferation in natural & organic logos for natural and organic personal care products. 

How do consumers differentiate between natural or organic products? Or is this just too confusing to most consumers?

There is confusion here too, because the same agencies provide certification to natural and organic personal care products. Ecocert and Natrue are two of the most established standards worldwide, however both have natural and organic certification. The launch of COSMOS standard was meant to provide a uniform standard for natural & organic personal care products. However, critics argue that it is adding to the confusion. For instance, BDIH used to have a natural cosmetic standard and Soil Association an organic standard. Now, under COSMOS, BDIH logo is also present on certified organic personal care products and Soil Association on certified natural personal care products. Before this, the Soil Association logo was only present on certified organic products (foods, textiles, ingredients, and personal care products).

Which labeling or certification schemes are the most easy for consumers to identify with? And Why? 

Amarjit - Organic Monitor
Amarjit Sahota, founder of Ecovia Intelligence

 From our and other organisations research, a single logo works best. For instance, the USDA organic logo is very successful in North America as it is a single logo for organic products. Similarly, the Fairtrade mark is highly successful as it is a uniform logo across the globe. In the UK, research has shown that three-quarters of ethical consumers recognise the Fairtrade logo, far more than other symbols & logos.

What do you think are the golden rules to making natural and organic labelling clear and easy to understand?

We find simple message works best, and preferably across countries / regions. The Fairtrade mark and MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) are examples of such logos. They have a simple – yet effective – message, and have a uniform logo. Unfortunately, we have yet to see something similar for natural & organic personal care products. NaTrue and COSMOS are trying to achieve this, however the problem is they represent different types of products (natural, organic, made with organic) and in the case of COSMOS, have various logos (Soil Association, Ecocert, CosmeBio, ICEA, etc).

What sort of label designs work best with consumers?

As stated before, logos with simple and effective messages. From research we have done, we find there is a lot of confusion about logos in the marketplace. For instance, we did a consumer insights study a couple of years ago. We did personal interviews with 100 buyers of natural & organic personal care products in the UK. When asked what symbols do they look for on natural & organic beauty products, Soil Association was first with 27 mentions. However, fairtrade was second with 21 mentions; fairtrade does not have a standard for natural or organic personal care products. The Fairtrade Mark is found on products that contain a minimum percentage of certified fairtrade ingredients. Unlike natural & organic personal care standards, there is no list of prohibited ingredients.

Moving forward, how to do you expect natural and organic labelling of beauty and personal care products to evolve in the future​?

Unfortunately, we see the way forward is more fragmentation in terms of standards and certification schemes. This topic is frequently discussed at our Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. When we first hosted this summit, there were 5 major standards for natural & organic personal care products in Europe and about 8 worldwide. Now, in 2017, there are over 20 standards in Europe and over 30 worldwide.  

To add to the confusion, we are seeing more ethical logos and symbols being introduced on personal care products. Many are from the food industry e.g. Rainforest Alliance, Vegan Society, Gluten-Free, Halal, Non-GMO, etc. Others represent some sustainability / ethical attributes, like Fairtrade, EU Eco-Flower and Nordic Swan. We call this the ‘labelisation’ trend, happening in the food and other consumer product industries. 

We (Ecovia Intelligence) believe the way forward is less labels and more simple messaging. Having multiple logos on product packs creates more consumer confusion. There is also a danger that some consumers will switch off and become antagonized by such logos and symbols.

Ecovia Intelligence organsizes the annual Sustainable Cosmetics Summit​ events.

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