A new research study ‘Exploring the Territory of Natural & Organic Cosmetics’ was completed, highlighting what consumers expect from natural and organic cosmetics, what drives their purchasing decisions, and what they understand about the products. The research was commissioned by NATRUE, the International Natural & Organic Cosmetics Association, and the results were recently presented at a conference on 5 November at the European Parliament in Brussels. The presentation formed part of a special two day event for MEPs, illustrating NATRUE’s vision, mission and values.
The aim of the study was to explore what consumers expect from Natural and Organic Cosmetics (NOC), to better understand public perception, as it currently stands, in order to address consumer confusion and best meet consumer expectations, amidst a sea of greenwashing. The study focused on the drivers and barriers influencing NOC purchasing decisions, and the differences in perception of the terms natural and organic.
The research was undertaken by the GfK Group, one of the most established market research organisations in the world. Research was both qualitative and quantitative, with two small focus groups interviewed in-depth in phase one, and a larger study of over 900 women who were surveyed online during phase two. The women, aged 25-65, came from a range of European countries - France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Poland and the UK. Households represented a good cross section of society: families, single parents with children, couples without children - with a wide range of educational and professional backgrounds - from students and unemployed through to full time or part time employees, self-employed and retired people, and homemakers.
The research flagged up that 75% of women are aware that there is a difference between natural and organic ingredients but less than a third of women interviewed in the UK (29%) feel they really understand what the difference is. Interestingly awareness of the difference in Sweden is far higher (51%). The public understands that organic is a strongly regulated process, which has a label/certificate that ensures the product is organic. Nine out of ten women interviewed stated that NOCs should not contain GMOs or artificial ingredients.
Key drivers behind purchasing decisions are whether ingredients are harmful (89% consider this of importance). Other things influencing their purchasing include allergies(87%), fragrance (86%)and recyclable packaging (51%). 79% expect that the products contain uniquely natural ingredients. The need for “only organic” is slightly less important than only natural.
Perhaps not surprisingly, these concerns are especially important for facial and bodycare products and less vital for wash-off products – shampoo and shower gel are rinsed off quickly so the concern about artificial ingredients is less significant. NOCs are considered especially important for leave-on bodycare and babycare products. Information about ingredients and production processes is also important.
The findings have thrown up some interesting facts and figures, which shine new light on the NOC market and the European mindset. Interestingly there was some regional variation in public perception, between Northern European countries and Mediterranean countries. The Northern European group perceived NOCs as being more gentle, pure, fresh or closer to ‘home made’ and were more focused on ingredients, composition, smell and colour. The Mediterranean group had broader concerns, for example about packaging, shelf-life and safety, and marketing.
The research has flagged up considerable confusion that exists amongst consumers about what makes a product genuinely natural or organic. For example, interviewees were asked if water should be certified when considering whether a formulation is genuinely natural or organic. Initially consumers thought this was a good idea, but when further questions were asked it became apparent that they had not initially thought about the quality of the water, whether it would need to be spring water, filtered water, tap water and so forth. When given the options, further information and time to consider the issue, consumer opinion faltered. No added value was perceived in labelling water as natural or organic.
Three diffrent types of NOC consumers
The majority of NOC consumers wish to avoid negative outcomes. NOCs are perceived to be a better choice in the long term.
There are 3 different types of NOC consumer:
1) In the UK 26% choose NOCs as ‘risk avoidance’, wanting to avoid harmful ingredients.
2) In the UK 50% take a more altruistic approach, wanting to avoid negative outcomes for others - mankind, the plant and animal kingdoms, the planet. This is of particular concern to women aged 45 and over.
3) In the UK 24% select NOCs as a lifestyle choice or way of life, because cosmetics must fit with their healthy and natural lifestyle and philosophy. This is of particular concern to women aged 25 to 34.
While risk avoidance (a negative driver) is often the reason for starting to use NOCs, continued use of NOCs is based on positive experiences and associations. In purchasing NOCs women feel that they are helping to make the world a better place. NOCs are perceived as the safest long-term choice for us and for the planet.