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  Will green brands continue to grow strong?   Will green brand continue to grow strong?  Ron Irwin  
         
 
Will green brand continue to grow strong? The all-things-good-earth trend seemed to fade out somewhere in the late seventies and by the time the synthetic eighties rolled around it was officially dead. Fast forward to the last decade and suddenly it’s déjà vu all over again.

Laurie Demeritt, president of the Hartman Group, a research firm specializing in the healthy living and wellness market, has been watching this trend since the early nineties reincarnation and subsequent refinement over the last few years.

 
Demeritt says that today there is no concrete way for marketers to gauge the demographics of the trend toward eco-friendly products. Instead, she points out that "it is a wide-spread, long-term shift in how consumers are living, shopping and buying."

Hartman’s founder, Harvey Hartman, points to well known eco-friendly brand names such as Patagonia, Trader Joe's, Starbucks, Pottery Barn and the Body Shop as the standard bearers of the trend. More recent examples would include brands such as Anthropologic, boutique olive oils, Restoration Hardware, Prada and even Target. Canon, in a bid to become the camera of choice for wildlife photographers, has even managed to make photography equipment nature-friendly with its "Clean Earth Campaign" designed to link the company in consumers' minds to earth-friendly activity. Even pharmaceutical companies now offer either all-natural lines or natural dietary supplements.

According to Demeritt, the green market's gravitation toward natural, organic and eco-friendly products represents an effort by consumers to take control of their health and wellness "in a world that is getting harder to control.” The "wellness" market (an overarching term that includes food supplements, natural drugs, self care products and cosmetics) is growing at an awesome rate of 15 to 20 percent per year, with a current volume of approximately US$ 6.4 billion (7.25B euros).

In a Gallup poll last year between 80 to 90 percent of Americans said they participated in simple eco-conscious behaviors like recycling and reducing energy usage, while 73 percent bought environmentally beneficial products. Demeritt's research indicates that this activity is "not a fad but a return to the idea of authenticity and comfort on the parts of buyers."

A question that comes up again and again to green marketers is whether or not this trend will endure through the upcoming recession. Hartman himself is emphatic on the point: "Do we really think that all those folks with their ultra-light tents and Gore-Tex backpacking equipment are really going to return to Sears for old-fashioned canvas stuff at the next hint of economic downturn? Ditto for coffee: Do we really think that consumers are going to trade Starbucks for Folgers when the next economic recession hits?"

However, according to the Hartman Group, the average green consumer has virtually no brand awareness at all. Therefore, leading companies that have already spent years developing customer confidence in their brand name have, ironically, the most to gain in the trend away from the mass market. As a result, many companies not traditionally associated with the organic lifestyle have nonetheless managed to successfully capitalize on this new consumer base through a policy of product development and the acquisition of small fledgling wellness companies that reappear under the parent company's banner.

Demeritt says the acquisition is “a strategy that many firms are using to enter the natural/organic food marketplace. Companies such as General Mills, Heinz, Kraft, Danone and Kellogg all have acquired or purchased portions of growing natural/organic brands. American Home Products introduced a line of Centrum herbals, Bayer has One-A-Day herbals, and McNeill has specialty supplements such as Aflexa." Colgate-Palmolive has added an herbal brand of toothpaste to its line, and Arm & Hammer Baking soda now has a site devoted to extolling the good-for-the-environment qualities of their product. Given these successes, Demeritt believes that "all companies ought to be acquiring natural product lines."

Marketers wishing to get involved with the trend have learned that the packaging and promotional material that goes with selling eco-friendly products has to be beautiful and refined. Organic product packaging has become simpler and more artful.

In 1995, Clairol's Herbal Essences line, an offshoot from a popular shampoo promoted by Clairol since the 1970s, became the first shampoo company to incorporate art and imagery on the inner back panel of the bottle, creating what they describe as "beautiful, trend setting packaging that consumers enjoyed displaying in their bathrooms." The shampoo's revamped, recycled packaging, herbal and botanical formulas and its support of the conservation organizations were meant to attract a mainly female customer base that "wanted to make a contribution to the planet but who also demanded luxurious, high-performance beauty products." Within one year, Herbal Essences had become the number two hair brand in the US, and Clairol's marketing information refers to Herbal Essences as their "miracle." Today, according to Clairol, somebody uses an Herbal Essences product every fifteen seconds in the US.

 
How did they do it? Like most companies embracing the wellness campaign, Clairol successfully links its product with a lifestyle. The website HerbalEssences.com triples its visitors every month, and counts over half-a-million members among its "Club Herbal." Like most highly-visited sites, HerbalEssences.com succeeds by providing the target with what it wants. Larry Lucas, Group Product Manager for Clairol Herbal Essences, says that Club Herbal's site not only "offers beauty and product tips that teens adore, but also provides them with a portal to the Internet that they can customize to meet their own personal interests and needs."

Pfizer has also embraced the natural trend. Its Celestial Seasonings Soothers leverages the already well-known Celestial Seasonings brand name, which is a stalwart from the 70s. Christopher Hou, Marketing Assistant at Adams USA, a division of Pfizer, said that the decision to acquire the brand name was "beneficial as Celestial Seasonings gives consumers an alternative to traditional cough drops, which helps round out the category offering." Marketing research, he said, "found that many consumers prefer treating their symptoms with natural products rather than medicines. Our Celestial Seasonings products provide consumers with this alternative." In the same vein, Pfizer's Adams division sells Echinacea Complete Care, an herbal wellness product long relegated to the hippie sideshow of homeopathy but now almost synonymous with over-the-counter cold-care.

The green marketplace is no doubt a reaction to the increasingly processed world around us. The more consumers understand the product, the more demanding they become about what they’ll take home from the shelf. "Consumers believe that these things are what they need to feel better,” says Hartman’s Director of Quantitative Research Michelle Barry. "It's all about choice. It's a real cultural shift." Marketers now need to realize that who makes the product, with what, and how are all questions that will be competing for a consumer’s attention.     

[19-Nov-2001]

 
  
  

Ron Irwin is a brand consultant and writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. He has lectured extensively on brand management at the University of Cape Town School of Management Studies and to local companies. Find him on the web at ronaldirwin.co.za.

     
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