The supplier side 

“Indie” companies are not the only ones attracting the coveted young female segment. Several huge corporations have either purchased smaller brands or developed trend-right products themselves. This lets retailers obtain desired merchandise from companies with the bandwidth, experience and technology to service myriad stores. 

Colgate-Palmolive purchased natural toothpaste brand Tom’s of Maine in 2006. In 2007, Clorox bought Burt’s Bees, a maker of natural lip balms and other products. CPG giant Unilever also has been aggressive, launching Love, Beauty and Planet in 2017 and purchasing Schmidt’s Naturals (soap, toothpaste and shampoo) in 2018. 

Historically, labels were primarily offered in natural products stores. But changing demand has brought them mainstream. “Socially conscious brands are no longer on the fringes,” said Sonika Malhotra, CMO U.S. hair care, Unilever, and co-founder of Love, Beauty and Planet. “They’ve come to the center of the plate.”

Fifteen years ago, 90% of Dr. Bronner’s business came from natural products stores. Today, 80% is with big chains, said Mike Bronner, president. “Today’s consumers seek different reasons for believing in products than earlier generations. They don’t take brand claims at face value. They look behind slick salesmanship and marketing campaigns and want authenticity.” Dr. Bronner’s has manufactured natural, sustainably produced soaps since its inception in 1940.

[Read more: Transparency influences shopper’s beauty, personal care purchases]

Changes prompted Dr. Bronner’s to update its marketing. “Until recently, we never did traditional advertising,” Bronner said. “Money went for cause marketing. It was, ‘This is who we are and what we believe in.’” One third of company profits go to charity.

To keep the brand authentic, Dr. Bronner’s relies more on blogs, video and social media influencers. They discuss ethical ingredient sourcing, fair trade and other social issues. Media features real families using products. “We’re focused on storytelling and what happens behind the scenes beyond enriching stakeholders,” Bronner said.

Influencers are often self-appointed, independent experts. Some companies have recruited them as spokespeople. “Brands that harness the power of social commerce by influencers and other means become more important,” said Mark Hosbein, head of Magid’s Consumer & Commercial Brands practice. “It gives manufacturers and retailers major insights into consumers’ habits.”

Among Gen Y and Gen Z women, 44% are swayed by social media influencers compared to 29% of combined age groups, said Magid’s 2022 study, “Status of the U.S. Consumer,” Social media and podcast ads influence 27% of young women versus 23% of other groups. Just 17% of Gen Y and Gen Z respond to traditional advertising. 

Unilever markets brands via social media, too. Love, Beauty and Planet influencers have discussed everything from littering to creating “beach” hair looks. Dove’s social media campaign talks about young girls and self-esteem.

Unilever’s TIGI Professional brand Keep it Casual flexible hairspray was a big Instagram hit. Introduced under the Bed Head label in 2022, it was the first item to come close to “breaking the top 10 products since the brand’s 1996 inception,” said Nataly Avila, head of TIGI Professional, Americas.

“Manufacturers must adopt these shifts into brand and innovation planning,” she added. “Traditional brands are still very relevant. It’s about positioning yourself as authentically as possible to that person when they need and want you most.” 

An older product, the Bed Head Stick, went viral on TikTok in March after influencers discovered it. “This wasn’t a ploy by the brand,” Avila said. “It was the first product marketed by Bed Head. It’s now the go-to item for the slick bun look.”


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