Aishwarya Ramesh

Natural to organic to now, ‘plant-based’: is this a new sub-segment within personal care, or a passing fad?

After F&B brands, the personal care category is now marketing its wares on the back of the ‘plant-based’ promise. Will large companies and startups take this trend to long-term fruition? Or, will it peak and fall?

After natural and organic, the personal care category is now going the ‘plant-based’ way. Companies like Mamaearth, Dabur Vatika, Soulflower, Himalayan Organics, Earth Rhythm, Forest Essentials, Kama Ayurveda, Vilvah, Nature’s Tattva, Arata, Neemli Naturals and Juicy Chemistry use natural and plant-based ingredients in their products and marketing.

While some brands are making this promise part of their marketing message itself, others are, in their ads, e-commerce descriptions and labels, underscoring plant-based extracts and ingredients in their bottles with renewed vigour. We won’t be surprised if the existing products refurbish their labels to include ‘plant-based’ in the days ahead.

We spoke with a few brands that are marketing their plant-based personal care products. We also asked market observers whether the trend will continue to grow in 2021, or whether it will be replaced with the next buzzy ingredient in a few months.

Talking about the recent launch of the ‘No Nasty’ type of shampoo under the Vatika brand, that is essentially free of sulphates, silicones and parabens, Rajat Mathur, head of innovation, Dabur India, says, "The key ingredients are plant-based active ingredients. The starting point for introducing a new product for us is having a thorough understanding of the consumers, and what they want. We try to understand the gaps in the consumers mind. We look at how our products can fill those gaps. That’s how we create a market for our portfolio."

Rajat Mathur
Rajat Mathur

Mathur goes on to explain that there’s been a heightened demand for hygiene and personal care products, especially among the youth, since COVID started.

"We certainly believe that it is not a fad,” he says, adding, “It is a shift in the consumer behaviour, and it is here to stay. We’re seeing a shift in the demand towards not just plant-based, but natural and chemical-free products across categories, whether it is food, personal care, or hygiene."

‘Plant-based’, states Mathur, is an emerging sub-segment within the personal care category. "Vatika’s plant-based shampoo is an e-commerce-first launch for us. We will extend the product to other channels once we see the product gaining traction among the consumers.”

The other half of this trend is being fuelled by the startups. Mamaearth, a brand that came into existence in 2016 to market toxin-free products for babies, has expanded its range to include skincare products for adults. Varun Alagh, co-founder and CEO of Mamaearth, says, “We wanted to create safe, toxin-free products using plant-based natural ingredients.”

The company has an in-house R&D department that is constantly researching ingredients, their benefits, and how they can enhance product efficacy. “Most products from the Mamaearth portfolio are based on kitchen recipes and traditional methods. The objective is to present age-old recipes in a hassle-free form,” says Alagh, before going on to explain that while the demand for natural and organic products was already on the rise before March 2020, the pandemic has increased it manifold.

“Living consciously, and choosing what’s right for oneself and the environment is not a fad. It is a way of life for the millennials,” he says. The prices of Mamaearth’s products range from Rs 99 to Rs 1,700. Some popular plant-based ingredients include onion, aloe vera, rose, tea tree, cocoa and cucumber.

Another brand big on ingredients like onion, coconut, aloe vera, green tea and rose is WOW Skin Science, a six-year-old company. Madhur Acharya, its head of marketing, says, “… the idea is to offer the consumers a natural, safe and affordable beauty care option, i.e, products with ingredients that they recognise, know and often have in their kitchens. Not only do our products have plant-based ‘actives’, they are also without harmful additives like parabens, sulphates, mineral oil and silicones.”

Madhur Acharya
Madhur Acharya

Acharya adds that during COVID-induced lockdowns, ‘self care’ emerged as a major consumer trend, something that’s fuelled the preference for plant-based options. The preference for natural products was already on the rise, when the pandemic struck. He argues that this is not a fad.

Hamsini Shivakumar, a brand consultant and founder of Leapfrog Strategy, opines that 'plant-based' as a marketing point is just an effort at coining a new descriptor in the skincare/personal care category. “In a country of natural-herbal-Ayurveda, it's not going to have any significant impact. It is trying hard to 'manufacture' a sense of novelty.”

Hamsini Shivakumar
Hamsini Shivakumar

When asked if ‘plant-based’ as a marketing point has the potential for growth among the Indian consumers, she disagrees, calling it a ‘naming gimmick’. “It’s an effort to coin a new phrase, or descriptor to get through to the consumers, who are jaded with familiar descriptors and labels. This is an attempt to cut through the clutter,” she concludes.

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