As Millie Kendall OBE, CEO of the British Beauty Council, chaired the headline beauty panel at NOPEX 2023 – Meeting the green consumer challenge – Rosie Greenaway listened in to bring you the key talking points
Meeting the green consumer
Anabel Kindersley, co-owner, Neal’s Yard Remedies: For the last 20 years we’ve referred to the green consumer as the ‘dark green loyalist’; that’s changing. It’s becoming much more mainstream. The tide is turning. People do care. The consumer is becoming more discerning. They’re buying less, they’re buying better quality.
Jessi Baker, founder, Provenance: Often people think it’s just Gen Z … that want to shop in a more sustainable way – they’ve woken up, they’re Generation Planet A. But … at Provenance we’ve actually seen uptake and interest across the full spectrum of consumers which is really exciting. There is a younger generation coming through and thank goodness for them – vegan TikTok gives me so much hope – but actually it’s pretty spread. The reality is these consumers … are from a wide range of demographics. There’s no doubt that there’s a shift happening. It’s a movement, not a trend.
Value versus price during a cost of living crisis
Millie Kendall: The fear has been, for me, that during the cost of living crisis people will … buy cheap. As CEO of the British Beauty Council I’m thrilled to know that’s not happening. We need to wear our values on our sleeves. We can be, quite often, timid; we don’t shout enough about the value of the products that we’re creating.
AK: Our customers are looking for value in different ways. A purchase they feel happy about, that they feel aligned with. We’ve seen huge cost rises. We’re not going to pass that on to our customers. You just have to adapt. We give … value in different ways: we’ve made bigger sizes [providing] an extra 16 washes … we’re about to take off all the cartons on our products. We’ve seen a rise in multipurpose … refills.
Paige Tracey, business development manager, Soil Association: Organic formulations [are] often a lot more concentrated than non-organic, so you only have to use a tiny amount of product to get the same effects. It’s sustainable on so many fronts. The product’s lasting longer and you’re not wasting as much. There are a lot more formulations being made now without water which makes the product even more concentrated.
Lauren Murrell, CEO and co-founder, By Sarah London: There’s the real risk that if you do drop skincare that has been working for you, maybe you try something cheap from the supermarket which has been diluted with water, it’s not as active, then you can actually end up in a bit of a circle of despair – it’s not going to work for you, it’s going to weaken that skin barrier and then you’re wasting money. So you want to stick with what’s working for you.
PT: That’s what value really is: using something that works.
AK: I think when all customers become discerning there won’t be room for the cheap brands because they’re not paying the real cost of making products in the proper way. I think the word ‘cheap’ and how we’re going to see that word is going to be altered. Bet me on it!
Greenwashing and greenhushing
MK: Let’s face it, we come from an industry that has used marketing buzzwords and quite frankly a lot of bull for a long time. To acquire new customers, we need to be very straightforward and transparent about everything we do.
JB: People [are] a lot more aware of the term greenwashing … and also ‘greenhushing’ –people not talking about what they’re doing at all because they’re worried that it’s greenwash. It’s been proven that making sustainable claims on your products is good for business. It’s good for growth. So we are seeing lots of large brand groups shifting. The trouble is … the market is very flooded and not all claims are equal. The reality is … roughly 50% of the beauty and wellness industry is making some kind of claim. 86% [of consumers] are confused and not sure what to trust. So now we need to tackle the confusion.
PT: Research is showing that consumers are … differentiating between a brand just making an environmental claim or slapping their own eco label on and looking for that third-party accreditation.
MK: It’s very important that we have those [certifications] to make it easier for the consumer to make that choice. We all know you can slap the word organic on the front of a product and get away with it which is, to me, absolutely criminal.
LM: I think regulation is part of it but I also see a future where certifications … will become a lot more mainstream and then as a customer you’re going to say ‘So what?’. Every brand is going to look similar. How do we show our values beyond that? During lockdown when all the hair salons were closed we encouraged our community to keep growing their ponytails, then … donate them to The Little Princess Trust, who make real hair wigs for children that have lost their hair to cancer. It’s a charity that I actually donated my hair to when I was undergoing chemotherapy so it was a very moving moment for me. It was a moment for our community to get behind something that really mattered and had a real impact.
Certification and community
LM: B Corp helped give us that extra focus. We know our community very well – it’s the part I loved the most because we speak to our community every single day. In us sharing our story as a brand so many of our community have shared their stories with us and it’s deeply moving to see the impact that our skincare has, not just on their skin but on their overall emotional wellbeing. Understanding exactly who we’re speaking to … was actually really empowering. In going through that B Corp process – which is very arduous and time consuming – it allows you to focus and think ‘How much more can we do to serve that customer?’.
PT: The Soil Association COSMOS certification [is] very rigorous. Lots of brands won’t meet the standard. That will hold brands back, but we’re seeing more and more who are beginning to change; they are beginning to look at their formulations and think ‘Does that really need to be in there, because it’s not allowed in the standard and why is it in there in the first place?’. I’d just like to give a shout out to all our certified brands because … it’s a difficult process to go through but one that’s ultimately worth it. I use that phrase ‘farm to face’ – being certified organic you’ve got that whole supply chain audited. You’re able to tell fantastic stories about how using those organic ingredients is supporting nature, the eco-system and the farmers, helping them to make a livelihood. It’s not just about the final product – obviously that’s really important and there’s a big list of things that can’t be in the product – but the whole supply chain is looked at. Everything down to the manufacturing facilities, what they’re using to clean their equipment with. A lot of our brands are start-ups; from their inception they’re formulating to these high standards and it puts some of these giant corporations to shame.
Claims crackdowns and company costs
JB: I set up Provenance because I wanted to squash greenwashing. I see it as such an enemy to brands that are doing great work. At the moment it really is a wild west. You can write whatever claim you want … in the beauty industry. It absolutely has to end. Provenance has been chipping away at that problem but what’s great is now regulations are coming in to raise the floor, to make it as hard as possible to make completely bogus claims. But it’s early days. We saw great leadership from the Competitions and Markets Authority on their Green Claims Code; they are squashing down on different claims, mostly in fashion, but beauty is probably next.
MK: We’re in a triple threat with COVID, Brexit and the cost of living crisis. How does Brexit prevent us from getting to where we want to be?
LM: As a challenger brand it’s been extremely difficult. It’s added more costs to our business.
AK: The Ukraine war has been as challenging in many ways. Brexit is a long-lasting, self-harming pain.
PT: It’s had effects at the Soil Association, mostly on the food side. We’ve also seen a knock-on effect for cosmetics. A lot of our brands have lost their EU distributors.
MK: There is an urgent need to be growing ingredients and creating products in the UK, both economically, environmentally and in terms of moving raw materials around the planet.
AK: We need the Government to hold themselves to higher environmental standards. I’ve been championing the Government … to stop hazardous pesticides, so that we can grow more ingredients in the UK, which we should be – it makes financial sense, it’s better for the economy, it makes environmental sense. Nothing is the same unless you stand together; there’s no such thing as that silly idea of competition. If we’re really going to change the world we need to stand together.
LM: I’d second that. If we can support more industry in the UK it makes a lot of sense.
Looking to the future
MK: If you’re sitting here again next year where do you hope we’ll be in sustainable beauty?
LM: Hopefully in a year’s time people will be less confused [and] feel more confident in the skincare choices.
AK: We won’t be talking about derogations anymore; the Government will have made the decision not to be lazy and keep kicking it into the long grass that’s full of pesticides.
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