At the Natural Products Expo, last week in Anaheim, Calif., the companies exhibiting on the show floor weren’t touting green attributes as a differentiator to woo consumers. They were touting them because they are the ticket to entry.
But somewhere between bites of ample samples from the eighth (or was it the 15th) natural potato chip company, I started to see that this industry has the same issues as its larger, “un-natural” competitors: To win, you need to differentiate. In the case of natural products, this means they need to educate.
Some companies get it. Amid what seemed like endless booths of green cleaning products, I caught up with Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry, the co-founders Method (we featured them this year at our GreenBiz Forum). Their non-toxic and biodegradable cleaning products certainly meet the green ticket-to-entry criteria. They’ve also proven they know how to educate, making information about their ingredients, processes, and company practices fully available to the public.
More recently, they’ve established an ocean plastic supply chain, which they hope will raise awareness of the importance of using plastic that’s already on the planet. But as Ryan noted, it’s not just about chemistry. It’s also about great design, which he believes will lead to greater success in the mainstream marketplace.
From waste to wear
Just down the aisle from Method was the relatively new apparel company Playback. To make their fabric, they gather recyclable material like cotton scraps and plastic bottles and sort them by color. After they break down the scraps into fiber, they re-spin them into yarns and knit them into their Eco-Logic fabric. The sorting process results in the company offering three colors that don’t require dyes because of the plastic bottles used – water cooler blue, beer bottle brown, and soda bottle green. A personal favorite: the X-ray V-neck, made from recycled X-ray film, a plentiful feedstock as medical records get digitized.
I asked about their sales channels and they cited a multi-channel strategy. Like Method, they want their clothes to be chosen because of superior designs and are opening their own stores in Manhattan later this year. But they also have strong interest from companies looking to promote their green programs with one of Playback’s eco-friendly T-shirts. Order enough and perhaps they’ll kick in a display tube that communicates the manufacturing process (see here). This makes it easy for anyone to connect the dots from waste to wear.
Labeling: A pathway to informed choices?
Educating consumers is a tricky business, especially when it comes to labeling products. I sat down with Whitewave Foods Vice President of Responsible Livelihood (great title, by the way!) Ellen Feeney and Tyler Holm as well as Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, to get an update on their efforts.
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