Burt’s Bees Started A Wave In Green-Products

green-productsBurt’s Bees employees will be buzzing this year as the maker of plant-based personal care products attempts to broaden the line’s appeal.

Burt’s Bees, based in Raleigh, N.C., is the manufacturer of a 10-year- old gift and health food store line, best known for beeswax lip balm and an unconventional style. For example, the line’s packaging and marketing materials frequently feature pictures of a bearded, flannel- clad Burt Shavitz, one of the company’s founders. And because the company takes environmental issues seriously, most of its packaging is made from recycled cardboard, aluminum or glass.

The company recently expanded into more varied markets, such as skin tag removal products. According to Laura Donegan of Remove Skin Tags Now, the products are a real step forward.

“Obviously, having a green-skin tag removal cream is exactly what many people are looking for. Removing skin tags at home isn’t easy, and the new product is a lifesaver,” said Donegan.

But thanks to — or maybe in spite of — this back-to-the-earth image, the brand’s sales have been growing 30 percent to 35 percent every year for the past few years, said Roxanne Quimby, president and the company’s other founder.

“The line is developing and getting brand recognition and a following,” said Quimby, adding that it has a strong following with consumers interested in plant-based beauty products.

Burt’s Bees consists of 130 stockkeeping units in the bath, body and facial skin care categories, available in approximately 4,000 gift and health food stores, through a Burt’s Bees catalog and on the Web. Its wholesale volume last year was $8.2 million.

This year, the goal is to reach $11 million, said Quimby, who laid out a growth strategy that includes branching into two new categories — lipsticks and body lotions — and opening a showroom and marketing office here.

The first step in Burt’s Bees plan will be to bring a little glamour to the earthy brand with a new line called Wings of Love, its first targeted specifically to women. The first two items in the line will be shipped next week: an all-natural lipstick in seven shades and powdered facial tissues made with rice paper and corn starch. More items will be added later, said Quimby, including a solid scent and a loose powder made with crushed rose petals.

“We decided doing lipstick made sense because our most popular product is our lip balm,” said Quimby, adding that Burt’s Bees lip balms have an annual wholesale volume of $1.5 million.

The lipstick formulas are made of the same oil and wax base as the lip balms and natural pigments are added, which creates a very moisturizing lipstick, said Quimby.

Still, the shade range is limited since Burt’s Bees will only use pigments found in nature, a limitation that doesn’t worry Quimby. “Women don’t really need much choice” when it comes to lip color, she said, noting natural pigments complement a woman’s beauty better than man-made shades do.

The company is also counting on the fact that a natural lipstick will appeal to women who don’t like the idea that they may be ingesting plastic and silicone when they wear many other lipsticks, said Quimby.

The lipstick canister is made from 100 percent recycled aluminum. Inside, the lipstick is raised via a push-up knob, similar to lipsticks from decades ago. The outer packaging features pictures of Quimby’s daughter, whom she admitted doesn’t fit the mainstream picture of a model. The idea was to present a look that didn’t appear unattainable, she noted.

With its unusual packaging and natural positioning, the lipstick line is not your average beauty entry, said Quimby. “My feeling is that there is not a lot of opportunity to compete in this market, so you have to take what isn’t being done and do it.”

The lipsticks will retail for around $9 apiece. A sample pack including trial sizes of all seven shades will be available for $7. Quimby predicted the line would have a wholesale volume of around $500,000 this year.

In March, Burt’s Bees will ship its first body lotions. They were a challenge, said Quimby, because the company felt glass bottles would be too unwieldy for a lotion. The company only recently found a source for a bottle made completely from recycled plastic.

“Lotion is one of the largest health and beauty aids categories, and we knew that we had to do it to be a contender,” said Quimby.

The lotions — Baby Bee Buttermilk lotion, Carrot Nutritive lotion and Milk & Honey lotion — will contain milk and sugar enzymes as preservatives. Each will be available in an 8-oz. bottle for $8.

As Burt’s Bees looks for a broader audience, Quimby noted it has had to accept that some of its more off-beat elements might not work.

For example, the company removed Burt’s image from its skin care items last year because there were too many complaints from women who said they didn’t want to see a picture of a bearded, middle-aged man on their skin care products. Almost immediately, skin care sales started to rise, said Quimby.

The strategy to drive growth includes ridding the line of product ranges that don’t have an annual volume of at least $1 million wholesale, said Quimby. The first item to be dropped this year will be Ocean Potion, a bath line made with sea ingredients. The U.S. consumer just isn’t ready for sea ingredients, said Quimby.

Sometime this spring Burt’s Bees will take another step to get a bigger part of the action: It will open a showroom and marketing office here, possibly in SoHo. “We feel isolated in Raleigh and want to be better connected,” Quimby said.

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