Natural Brands Get Naked and Trace Ourselves – Part 1: Get Prepared

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a new kind of consumer out there.

The new natural shopper is educated, informed, and engaged.

The natural shopper is no longer just a dyed-in-the-wool tree-hugger who blindly believes that if a product comes from a natural brand she knows, it must be trustworthy. This new consumer is educated, informed, and engaged. And whether you like it or not, she knows what you’re up to. The good, the bad, the ugly.

Importing ingredients of unknown Chinese origin? Using fillers or extenders in your formulations? Thanks to the rise of social media and the astounding rate at which information is becoming available — not to mention the scrutiny of governing agencies and industry watchdogs — consumers will hear about it.

This leaves two options for those of us in the business of marketing and manufacturing these products: Swing the doors wide open for whoever wants to have a look inside; or have the doors knocked down for you. Companies who have chosen the former are out there taking the lead, and it’s creating a shift in consumer expectations.

Since the beginning of time, supplement claims have been given the benefit of the doubt by consumers. Words like “promotes,” “supports” and “healthy” became ubiquitous shorthand consumers understood to mean, “It couldn’t do any harm.” This mentality has carried us quite a long way. Even if they can’t feel tangible results taking their daily dose of Milk Thistle, for example, consumers trust that at the very least, by “promoting a healthy liver function,” they’re doing their body good.

The interrogation light hanging over industry’s head these days draws a different emotional reaction from even the most committed of supplement users, and there’s no new shorthand that will reassure them. No longer is “promoting health” the crux of their concern. The suggestion that supplements may be tainted with heavy metals, toxins, pesticides or bioengineered chemicals is creating concern among consumers that by taking supplements, they could be causing their body harm. This shift has led to a new discourse, one centered on fear. That fear is a powerful motivator, driving consumers’ demand to know exactly what is, and is not, in the products they’re purchasing.

There’s a benevolent button being pushed here as well. It’s an altruistic, yet equally effective emotional motivator. The fair trade, organic, local and environmental movements are converging to create a league of mission-motivated shoppers who demand to know not only what’s in a product, but also where it comes from, the impact of its production and what its manufacturer is doing to make the world a better place.

These highly motivated consumers have unprecedented access to information and the unprecedented ability to reach out to their peers, share information and rally around it. It’s no wonder companies who try to cover up their dirty laundry will soon be washed up.