CEO of oral care brand Humble Co North America Rich Hewton the category is uniquely positioned because the health of the oral cavity is closely linked to one’s overall health, beyond being cosmetically important in the US.
Humble Co, which is internationally based out of Sweden, was founded by dentist Noel Abdayem after volunteering his dental services in Jamaica.
Hewton said Abdayem saw how early in life children were seeing oral health issues and, while he could improve immediate oral health and donate toothbrushes, the overall issue wasn’t being solved and there would be a plastic waste problem.
“He knew that those toothbrushes since they were plastic would end up in a landfill and take 10,000 years to break down,” Hewton said. “He left his practice and he was one of the first in the world to globally market and sell fully biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes.”
As Humble Co aims to reach a market value of $100 million, Hewton spoke with CosmeticsDesign about what he sees happening in natural oral care.
Part of the natural oral care market is an overall reevaluation of ingredients, both my brands and consumers.
Hewton said Humble Co has been looking to remove ingredients used by legacy oral care brands that don’t contribute to oral health, including foaming agents like sodium lauryl sulfate and parabens.
Because the removal of some of these ingredients changes the sensorial experience, Hewton said there is an educational aspect involved in introducing these products to consumers.
“The other piece would be having people get over the feeling of using sodium lauryl sulfate or parabens,” Hewton said. “You don't need to have that foaming agent to get a clean oral cavity.”
The removal of these ingredients fits into an overall positioning focused on health and sustainability for the brand.
He also said consumers have been interested in fluoride-free formulations, which natural oral care can provide but should be balanced with a focus on broader oral care practices because the ingredient is such a strong oral health active.
Engaging in charity, sustainability authentically
One of Humble Co’s main positions is charity work through its nonprofit branch Humble Smiles Foundation, which focuses on dental clinics, education and oral health-related legislation in underserved and underdeveloped countries.
Hewton said consumers are increasingly interested in the charity and sustainability activities their brands are engaged in and are more likely to notice if claims are inauthentic or not followed through.
“Consumers today and in the future are going to make their purchasing decisions based on a company's ethics and morals,” Hewton said. “I think that's another piece that every company needs to really look hard at is what they doing to make the world a better place.”
Humble Co is focusing most of its legislative efforts around oral health in other countries because smaller players in the $9.6 billion US oral care market can’t compete in the DC lobbyist environment, Hewton said.
Move to electric toothbrushes
One of the dominant shifts in the oral care market in recent years has been the growth of electric toothbrushes, Hewton said. According to Research Dive, the market is estimated to grow faster than 5% annually between 2021 and 2028, reaching $4 billion globally.
Hewton said electric toothbrushes pose several sustainability challenges, including the disposable plastic heads, precious metals in the electronics and what a consumer does with the toothbrush if it breaks.
“I see growth in consumer demand and in the electronic space, which is great for your overall oral care,” Hewton said. “But then there's the sustainability aspect of something that's electronic.”
A few companies are attempting to bring more sustainable options, like Humble Co’s Sonicare replacement heads made of bamboo. Hewton also mentioned a company called Goodwell Co which is launching a crank-up mechanical toothbrush this year.
Like the rest of the personal care industry, oral care is looking at how to remove water from formulations.
Hewton said Humble Co is among other brands that have launched waterless toothpaste tables, which they are able to package in the paper. He also said they are developing a waterless mouthwash option.
One of the challenges in developing these waterless formulations is adjusting consumers’ expectations of different products and educating them on how to use new formats.
“The other piece is mold and things being hermetically sealed and clean,” Hewton said. “You need to innovate to make sure that those things don't pop up, which are not just consumer dissatisfactory but could be potentially harmful to people.”
Staying planted in the natural market
As natural oral care becomes more popular among consumers, Hewton said the essence of a brand can be lost when acquired by a multinational. While Humble Co does pursue diverse retail channels, he said the company will always keep its key consumer in mind.
“Products like ours … build that brand awareness and cult following with that natural, mom-and-pop store,” Hewton said. “The people that shop in those stores are highly educated about the environment and what they put inside their body, and they speak the loudest to other consumers.”
He said he’s seen some brands which started out in the natural category get acquired, rebranded and lose both their natural orientation and the attention of their original consumers.