What's Natural? Burt's Bees Asks Rivals to Adhere to Its Definition

Marketer Proposes Standard, Encourages Industry to Follow

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- The big problem facing natural personal-care products is that the term "natural" technically means nothing when it applies to them. Burt's Bees, with sales north of $125 million making it the leader in the small but fast-growing business, is out to change that.
Burt's Bees Graph
Source: Burt's Bees/Yankelovich

Burt's has taken the unusual step of establishing its own standard to define natural personal-care products, vowing to follow its own rules as it works to get other players in the industry to endorse its standard too.

Burt's has begun promoting the standard before industry groups in a microsite from Avenue A/ Razorfish, New York, and in a mobile marketing tour, and will make it the centerpiece of a print campaign to break this fall from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.

The effort, tagged "The Greater Good," springs from a survey the brand commissioned by Yankelovich Partners earlier this year.

Organic confusion
Adding to the confusion, products labeled organic, which is a federally regulated term in personal care, need only have 70% organic ingredients, Mike Indursky, Burt's chief marketing and strategic officer said. And he said both organic and natural personal-care products may contain such ingredients as parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate, which he believes shouldn't be in such products.

Burt's Bees is proposing a standard that would require personal-care products labeled natural be made with at least 95% "truly natural" ingredients, contain no ingredients with "any potential suspected human-health risks" and use no processes that "significantly or adversely alter the purity/effect of the natural ingredients."

Mr. Indursky said he doubts the Food and Drug Administration will adopt such a standard, nor does he want it to. But he believes the industry can and will move to police itself.
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