Bath and Body Products: Natural, Upscale, and Green
Three natural-product brands have similar packaging goals—and challenges.By Marie Redding, Senior Editor
Marketing natural products can pose many packaging challenges, as three brands—Farmaesthetics, Terralina, and Pharmacopia—can attest to. These challenges include finding the packaging components and suppliers that help to maintain a brand’s natural yet upscale image—as well as environmental friendliness.
Terralina is a new line of bath, body, and skin care products made with natural ingredients. Its first products launched on the company’s Web site in September. The brand was created by cousins Gina Garrubbo and Patricia Bazan Garrubbo, who are both committed to using as many sustainable materials as possible for all of Terralina’s packages.
Pharmacopia is a natural and organic body care brand founded by Lisa Levin. Although the company is not new, many more retailers have shown interest in selling Pharmacopia’s products this year. The company just partnered with Beauty Brands to become the retail spa chain’s first organic product line.
Farmaesthetics, the natural personal care brand featured on this issue’s cover, exemplifies how hard work and determination can fuel a small company’s success. The company’s founder, Brenda Brock, is originally from a seventh-generation farming family in Texas. Brock moved to rural Rhode Island, and in 1999, she began selling her homemade products at a neighbor’s organic farm stand.
Fast-forward six years to 2005 when Farmaesthetics products and packaging were put through a rigorous testing process by The Estée Lauder Companies’ laboratories in order to receive Origins’ stamp of approval. In 2006, Origins chose a select group of Farmaesthetics products to sell in its stores and on its Web site, marking the first time that Origins has taken on the role of a third-party retailer.
Farmaesthetics’ products are 100% chemical-free and have a certified shelf life of two years without refrigeration. The company has managed to remain true to its roots, even during major growth, without changing its formulas or the look of its packaging.
Each of the women leading these brands feels that it’s important to be recognized by consumers as “a company with a conscience.” They are even rewriting a few of the common packaging rules in the industry by making some unusual decisions. Although each company is at a different stage of growth, they have all experienced very similar packaging challenges.
The Right Design Elements
Striking the right balance between packaging that looks natural and packaging that looks upscale is something that all three brands have achieved.
Scott Jost, design director for Studio One Eleven, the design division of packaging distributor Berlin Packaging (Chicago), often advises natural product companies on how to create an image that will be more appealing to consumers.
“It’s no longer a badge of credibility for your product to look as if it were filled in your bathtub. We help our clients walk the fine line that separates a look that is too slick or commercial and one that is too ‘granola,’” Jost explains.
Levin knew from the beginning that she wanted Pharmacopia to convey a natural image, but she was careful to use package design to distinguish her brand from the mass-market brands sold in health food stores. She started out by selling to upscale boutiques and gift shops.
Gina Garrubbo hopes to lead Terralina down a similar path. “Everything about our product is ‘luxe.’ We use expensive and healthy ingredients, so we wanted a clean and elegant look,” she says.
Garrubbo did a lot of market research before deciding on her packaging. “Our consumer thinks that less is more. We won’t use flashy metallics to decorate our packaging. We think that simple, smart, and efficient designs are elegant, and our consumer gets that,” says Garrubbo.
Brock says that she never mapped out a design concept for Farmaesthetics. “Its look just naturally evolved and came together. It’s so interesting to see how our packaging is starting to gain recognition by simply being what it is,” she says.
Brock chose very standard packages because they reminded her of the types of containers she remembers seeing on her grandmother’s dressing table. She uses an old-fashioned 1930s hand-crafted radio as a “litmus test.” “If I’m considering a new type of package, I set it next to my radio. If it looks right, it passes the test,” she says.
Labels: Designed to Create an Image
Pharmacopia and Farmaesthetics both chose to use labels on their packages. The graphics chosen for the labels are meant to evoke memories of a different time when everything was simpler—including beauty products. The labels also help to communicate that the products contain natural ingredients.
Levin, who was formerly a graphic designer before founding Pharmacopia, had an advantage when it came to creating packaging. She designed her own labels, giving the brand its well-known identity. Throughout the years, Pharmacopia’s packaging has been recognized in a number of graphic-design competitions and has been featured in Vogue magazine.
“Because I was using stock packages, my label design had a huge influence on how consumers perceived the brand. The graphics I chose definitely helped position the line as an upscale brand,” Levin says.
The entire design concept was inspired by 19th century apothecaries and herb stores in France, where Levin spent a summer. The wallpaper design on the labels resembles the type of graphic ornaments that were commonly used by printers to replicate a Victorian page design.
Farmaesthetics’ labels look very similar to what they looked like when the products were being sold at the farm stand. When Brock came up with the typography for the brand’s name, she wanted it to look as if it were printed on an old-fashioned typewriter. “It was the kind of lettering my uncle used for prescriptions on medicine bottles in his pharmacy in Texas,” says Brock. She used her computer to print the brand’s name on blank sheets of paper, and then cut out small labels. Using an old-fashioned ink pen, Brock wrote the product names in script and taped the homemade labels on the bottles.
When the company began to grow and Brock needed to have labels printed in large quantities, she didn’t want to lose the brand’s original look. “It was authentic, like our products are. I didn’t want to create a made-up image,” she says. Now, her supplier scans Brock’s handwriting, and the labels are printed on large rolls. “I find it so funny that people have actually called asking me what font my handwriting is,” she says.
Durability is also important in determining the feel of a label. If the copy rubs off or the label begins to tear before the product is finished, it will be detrimental to a brand’s image. Pharmacopia’s labels are coated in polypropylene to hold up in the shower.
Farmaesthetics uses paper labels with a water-resistant coating. Polypropylene labels were chosen for a few of the essential oil bottles. The labels are applied using an adhesive but can be easily removed for recycling.
Relying on Suppliers
Forging relationships with the right suppliers is always critical, especially for a small company. Finding a handful of suppliers to count on was a huge help to both Terralina and Farmaesthetics.
Garrubbo has spent an exhausting year of searching to find the right suppliers for the launch of Terralina. “When you can only afford stock packaging, you have to search to find the right type of package from what’s available. It’s also a challenge to find suppliers that are willing to work with small quantities,” she says. The companies she found include Roberts Cosmetic Containers (Chatsworth, CA) and M&H Plastics (Winchester, VA). “They are extremely supportive. We are so happy we found them,” she says.
Brock says, “In the beginning, I had to knock on a lot of doors asking for help. A lot of suppliers don’t want to work with a small company.” Happily, she says that she is fortunate to have found a few key suppliers for Farmaesthetics. Cosmetic Packaging Group/O.Berk (Union, NJ) and Cape Bottle Co. (Manomet, MA) are two of the suppliers that she remains loyal to today. “I’ve stayed with many of my original suppliers. The only difference is that my orders have changed from a case of 12 to a palette of 20,000,” she says.
Trust is so important to Brock. “It takes time to develop the types of relationships that will really help you in the long run,” she says. “I have come to rely on the suppliers’ expertise.”
Brock also says she “adores” J.L. Clark (Wethersfield, NJ), the company that produces the line’s white enamel tins. “They could have tried to convince us to use a different printing technique on our tin that would have been more profitable for them, but they really understood what we needed,” she says.
Glass Breaks All the Rules
One of the general rules in the personal care industry is that glass packaging shouldn’t be used for bath and body products because of the risk of breakage. However, for Garrubbo and Brock, breaking this golden rule took a lot of courage and turned out to be the right choice for their brands.
Terralina currently only has one product in glass—its facial moisturizer, which is in a jar supplied by Roberts Cosmetic Containers. “Because only a little bit is used on the face, most people just dip into the jar once and are able to keep the product clean,” says Garrubbo.
Garrubbo feels that there is more of a need for a body lotion to be in plastic because hands become slippery when using that type of product. She also realized that consumers need more travel-friendly options, so Terralina will be launching a smaller-sized moisturizer in a plastic tottle.
Terralina has received a lot of positive feedback about the glass jar from its consumers. “We are finding that our customers truly enjoy the experience of using a face cream from a glass jar,” she says.
Brock agrees. She chose glass for the majority of Farmaesthetics’ products. “Glass has an entirely different feeling when you pick it up,” she says. For Brock, that feeling stems from growing up on a farm. “We weren’t a ‘disposable’ bunch. Washing and refilling glass containers was a necessity. It’s a whole different experience,” she says.
Glass also provides practical benefits. “Glass has the ability to really preserve the integrity of our formulations,” says Brock. Farmaesthetics products don’t contain synthetic preservative systems, so Brock relies on packaging to help with natural preservation. “The potency of my formulations would diminish much more quickly if stored in plastic, because plastic is porous,” she adds.
Brock chose cobalt-blue glass for a few of her bottles. “The blue glass helps keep these products fresher for a longer period of time, so I chose to put the products that won’t be used up as quickly in these bottles,” says Brock. Since all of her products contain essential oils, extracts, or herbal infusions, she recommends that they all be stored away from direct sunlight. In order to further ensure freshness, the company ships in small quantities to stores to ensure that shelves are replenished often.
“In the beginning, people would tell me that I would never be able to sell in glass. I can’t tell you how many accounts I have lost because people didn’t want glass packaging. I’m proud to say that I’ve never compromised, and now glass is becoming more accepted,” says Brock.
There was even a moment when Brock thought that the retail partnership with Origins might not happen because of several issues that Origins’ packaging team had with glass.
“Our policy does not allow glass packaging for products that will ultimately be used in the bath or shower area,” says Alan Bodker, executive director of package development for Origins. An exception to this rule was made when Brock explained to Origins that the products aren’t meant to be kept in the bathroom. “My grandmother used to keep all her bottles on her dressing table and used them in the bedroom. Luckily, the team at Origins saw the logic in that,” she says.
However, Origins wouldn’t make any exceptions for the bath salts, which were originally in a glass jar. At first Brock was concerned because she didn’t think there were any other options. She was firmly against using a plastic jar. Then, Bodker recommended a tin.
“I thought that was an amazing idea. Bath salts were traditionally kept in tins,” says Brock. She chose a square, off-white, enamel tin supplied by J.L. Clark.
The glass bottles did pose a few engineering challenges for the team at Origins. “It has been very difficult to find pumps and spray tops that fit old-fashioned, thick glass, which naturally has some irregularities,” says Brock.
The team at Origins helped Brock solve these issues and took Farmaesthetics’ packaging to the next level. “Plastic pumps aren’t made for glass, so special configurations were engineered to ensure a secure fit. We worked closely with our package testing lab to ensure the compatibility,” explains Bodker.
Pharmacopia went in a different direction for glass. The brand’s essential oils are in dark-amber glass bottles, but the rest of Pharmacopia’s products are in plastic packaging. “I do agree with the fact that plastic is best for the bathroom. I based a lot of my packaging decisions on convenience and ease of use,” Levin says.
Levin is also a fan of tins. “They are recyclable and have an old-fashioned appeal,” she says. A variety of tins are used for Pharmacopia’s bath salts. “You can even reuse them,” Levin adds.
Recycling and Reuse
Encouraging consumers to recycle packaging is very important to all three companies. Levin makes sure that Pharmacopia’s plastic bottles aren’t decorated in any ways that would prevent recycling. She also encourages consumers to find other uses for her tins after the bath salts have been used up.
Glass is always recyclable, especially if is hasn’t been sprayed. Some Farmaesthetics’ customers have been sending back the empty glass packaging to the company or returning it to the place of purchase. “We encourage them to bring it to us for recycling. We also have many customers who ask to purchase our larger, spa-sized products, which they use to refill the smaller bottles. We wish there were a better program in place so we could refill packages,” says Brock.
Garrubbo encourages Terralina’s customers to reuse its glass jar as a votive holder by including a soy tea light candle with every purchase. “We’ve received very positive response from our customers, who love the idea of rinsing out the jar and using it as a candle holder. It’s been a huge hit,” Garrubbo says.
Decoration on Terralina’s glass moisturizer jar is kept to a minimum. Most of the ingredients information is located on a two-piece fold-out label on the bottom of the jar. The label is supplied by Macaran Printed Products (Cohoes, NY). “In the future, we want to keep thinking of ways to get more people to reuse our packaging,” says Garrubbo.
Using Sustainable Materials
Farmaesthetics, Terralina, and Pharmacopia all support a minimalist approach to packaging. They try to find sustainable materials whenever possible. “We are careful not to ship our products with a lot of extra secondary packaging that gets thrown away,” says Levin. Pharmacopia uses recycled paperboard for its cartons and chlorine-free papers for its gift packaging, marketing materials, and brochures.
All three companies use biodegradable peanuts made from cornstarch to protect products during shipping. KTM Industries (Lansing, MI) supplies the biodegradable corn-based foam that Terralina uses as packing material. Since these peanuts provide enough protection, outer cartons are unnecessary.
Obtaining sustainable and recycled materials can be a huge effort—one that is especially challenging for a small company. The price of these materials is usually slightly higher than the price of less environmentally friendly options, and supplies are often limited.
“I hate paying twice as much for cornstarch peanuts. If we all used them, the price would come down,” says Brock.
Garrubbo can’t believe that many companies aren’t doing more in terms of environmentally friendly packaging. “If we can do it as a small start-up company, then anyone can,” she says.
Recently, Garrubbo was searching for a supplier of postconsumer recyclate (PCR) resin in time for her to purchase bottles for Terralina’s facial cleanser and toner. She had already been working with M&H Plastics, which supplies the tottle for Terralina’s body lotion. “Just when I was beginning to lose hope, M&H called to say that they could now supply us with PCR. We were so thrilled. It felt like the gods were on our side,” says Garrubbo. Now, Terralina’s bottles will be made from 100% PCR. In the future, the tottle will be as well.
Garrubbo is sure she could have expected better profit margins if she took the easier, nonsustainable approach to packaging. Many industry experts even advised her against trying to use these types of materials because Terralina is a start-up company. However, Garrubbo feels that, as a natural brand, the company must adhere to certain standards. “We have a responsibility to our planet that we feel consumers expect of us. We want to do what we believe is right, and we want our customers to feel good about purchasing our products,” she says.
Brock is hopeful that it will become easier to use sustainable materials in the future as more consumers demand greener packaging. She has also already witnessed positive changes from many suppliers. “I’m always very excited when I get a call from a supplier telling me that they have found a new source, or that they can now offer a new alternative material or package. That is happening more and more lately—it’s so positive,” she says.
The timing seems right for natural brands to flourish. Levin always felt that Pharmacopia was ahead of its time, but now she feels that the industry has finally caught up.
“Wherever you look, there are articles about being green, [about] sustainability, and [about] organic products,” says Levin. “I think the interest in natural products will continue to increase greatly.”
When the Garrubbo cousins first noticed the need for upscale natural products, they knew that “natural” would be more than a passing trend. “There still aren’t that many good, natural options out there. Women are so much more concerned with toxins now and want to know what is in the products they are putting on their bodies,” says Gina Garrubbo. “They also want to know that packaging isn’t making the environment worse. These concerns aren’t going to subside.”
Garrubbo hopes that more companies and suppliers will commit to using sustainable materials for packaging. “It’s becoming a little more hopeful,” she says.
Brock also sees a bright future ahead for the sustainable beauty category. “I have been so lucky to have Origins as a retail partner because they are committed to educating their customers about the products and ingredients. As more people become accustomed to using some of my more unusual formulations, they will understand why ‘natural’ is so much better,” she says.
Brock is still a little surprised when she remembers that it was just eight years ago when she was making products in her kitchen to sell at a farm stand. “It’s amazing that my original choices for packaging and formulation, which were mostly value-driven, didn’t have to change in order for the brand to be a success. In fact, I feel that our commitment to remain authentic is at the heart of our success—and that is what sustainability is all about,” she says.