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Earthly Matters

For all of the talk about earth-moving trends, one of the biggest movements today is all about the earth. Call it going green, call it environmentally friendly, call it natural and organic. However it’s billed, the emergence of merchandise geared toward those concerned with the planet’s health has affected all retail channels.

Organic Bath Products

Upper Canada Soap
The popularity of earth-friendly products continues to build to the point where supermarkets, big-box chains and now independent gift and decor shops are promoting these green offerings.

Those who develop and supply products for the eco-conscious say that such merchandise has transformed from a niche to a full-blown category. What’s more, many note, the shift is not likely to be a flash in the pan.

“Every time Earth Day comes around in April, there is an increase, but in the past months, people are really looking at this alternative,” reports Joyce Frenzel, operations manager for Eco-Me, LLC, a Pasadena, California–based vendor of environmentally friendly products for home, body, baby and pets.

“Everyone is becoming much more aware and educated,” observes Karen Trueblood, vice president of marketing for Burnes Home Accents in Round Rock, Texas. “It’s been in the automobile industry, the growth of organic food and now moving into home decor.”

Other vendors indicate that consumer interest in green products accelerated in 2008. “I would say that interest from our customers in gift stores and boutiques has gone up 70 percent over the last year,” says Carol Perkins, owner of Harry Barker, Inc., in North Charleston, South Carolina, a company that sells natural pet products.

Especially Eco

The continued eco-emphasis has been fueled by several converging trends, among them, fuel itself. In the wake of growing concern about fossil fuels, many Americans have started to think globally and act locally. “When gas hit the $4 mark, I think the alarms went off for many people,” surmises Perkins.

In addition to ongoing warnings about global warming, pollution and other problems, the human desire to live healthfully can’t be overlooked. “From Hong Kong to Germany to Topeka, Kansas, people want healthy, non-toxic and earth-friendly care,” remarks Perkins.

Bamboo Home Goods

Bedford Cottage/
Kennebunk Home

Home Source
Serena Pellitier, account executive for Boca Raton, Florida–based natural-fiber clothing and decor vendor Under the Canopy, says that the movement has opened up the discourse to a broader level. “People are becoming more aware of the things we breathe and drink and wear. Our bodies are big cells and really do absorb everything we put in them and on them,” she explains.

As interest in earth-friendly and natural items has surged, so has the breadth and depth of the marketplace. “The trend started with organic food, moved into health and beauty and now consumers are becoming aware of the health benefits of organic textiles,” remarks Amy Schrader, national sales manager for organic apparel company Kee-Ka, Inc., based in Brooklyn, New York.

“I think the movement is really big in personal care at the moment,” relates Laura Brown, who works in media relations for personal-care product company HollyBeth’s Natural Body Products in Decatur, Georgia. “It did start out with food, and then people said, ‘Hang on, what we put on our skin is just as important because it’s readily absorbed.’” In addition to its line of luxury face and body creams, moisturizers, facial scrubs and candles, HollyBeth’s soon will be launching a new dry oil for the face, made from a combination of plant extracts and botanical infusion.

Meanwhile, gift stores, many of which have already expanded their baby and child sections, are also ordering more earth-friendly merchandise geared toward the youngest consumers. Gabrielle Kahn-Chiossone, owner and designer of Farmerkids Organics in New York City, says that the baby-care market is, to use a relevant term, a natural one. “I think that new moms, and not necessarily young moms, are trying to do their best and give babies the good start,” she says. The Farmerkids Organics line of organic cotton infant hats, onesies, T-shirts, burp cloths, tops and pants have resonated with concerned parents, she says.

Frenzel, meantime, says that Eco-Me’s baby line is growing. “Just being a new parent, you are very conscious about what you bring into your house,” she says, noting that baby items also are well positioned for gifts.

In another progression, home decor elements are also proving that what’s old is new again. Burnes Home Accents, for example, is set to roll out a new line of photo frames made from discarded pallet wood and a series of shabby-style products made from fall-out wood from furniture mills. “We are keeping the sourcing from North America, too, to reduce our carbon footprint,” Trueblood adds.

Locally manufactured using reclaimed wood

Danielson Designs
Beyond the sourcing of materials and ingredients, merchandise touted as friendly to the earth doesn’t sell itself: in short, quality is still critical to sales and repeat business. “People are willing to spend a little more money on an item that has better quality and is special, rather than getting a whole basketful of cheaper things,” remarks Kahn-Chiossone. Perkins agrees. “They want premium and are willing to spend, but they don’t want junk,” she says.

Details Wanted

No matter what green product is added to a store, chances are that the earthy-friendly merchandise is packaged and promoted differently than “traditional” products. Educating consumers about sourcing and production is key for this category.

“A lot of it is education,” says Kahn-Chiossone, adding that many retailers ask her for information to help them talk to customers who don’t know a lot about organic cotton or who know about it but want the details.

Schrader of Kee-Ka, Inc., says the type of information is just as important as the amount. “They are looking for information not only on organic or sustainability but they want the true story behind a company, like if you have fair trade and fair wage policies. It’s very important for their decision-making process,” she remarks.

In addition, green products are typically packaged and presented in a way that immediately signals to a shopper the merchandise’s distinctive nature. On-package graphics and labels are often clean and simple while packaging materials often include recycled paper products and eco-friendly fabrics.

Trueblood says that relevant packaging and displays must demonstrate a company’s commitment to the movement. She notes that Burnes’ new line of reclaimed wood frames is sold in very minimal packaging, with corrugate to protect the product and a tag explaining the product and process.

Likewise, Pellitier underscores the fact that eco-conscious shoppers are looking for minimal packaging features. “If someone is making a choice or picking our product up for the first time, plastic would be a turnoff,” she points out, noting that the company’s bedding is wrapped in recycled bag and can be easily propped on a shelf.

At Eco-Me, Frenzel says that the company’s kits for home, personal care, baby and pet care are sold in burlap bags. “It’s very unusual compared to anything on the market, and that in itself is eye-catching,” she says.

Some vendors have come to specialize in display materials that enable retailers to showcase the fact that they’ve gone green. For example, Ecowood Retail Displays in Mount Shasta, California, manufactures retail display systems made from reclaimed wood and sustainable finishes, among other components. Owner Colette George says that cash-wrap systems and farm tables have been popular among country stores because of their rustic look.

Business has been brisk, according to George. “We have recently been doing a lot of POP for manufacturers. We’ve been hit from all side for our mission and visions and materials we use,” she comments.

This article is reprinted with permission from Country Business magazine. © 2009. Country Business is a trade publication for independent retailers of gifts and home accents. For information, visit www.country-business.com.
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