Behind the label: The beauty of
transparency is more than skin deep

New Transparency - Beauty - Avery Dennison

In many ways, the old saying that beauty is only skin deep, could not be less true in today’s market. The rapid rise of reputational transparency is driving brand owners to demonstrate their integrity around sustainability in such a way as to authenticate their eco credentials.

These values align strongly with current consumer and lifestyle trends, explains Adam Briggs, currently Sustainability Director at JB Communications, and formerly Head of Shopper Insights at Johnson & Johnson:

There is gathering momentum around conscious beauty, as various consumer megatrends converge – increasing awareness and concerns over environmental sustainability, veganism, animal welfare, and the long-term shift towards natural ingredients. As avoidance of gross negatives becomes a hygiene factor for the many, not merely a motivator for the few, more people will be prepared to pay (at least a little) more. Also, with more scale of production, ‘green oncosts’ reduce, and a positive circle follows.

What this transparency principle means in practice is that brand loyalty and trust is now built upon products and their producers being seen to be green, literally, both inside and out.

As a consequence, according to a recent survey on the topic of ‘Clean Beauty’, two-thirds of women worldwide want greater label transparency to provide ingredient information on-pack.


Transparency becomes the new normal 


Especially in the case of premium packaging solutions, though, transparency has been playing a significant part for some time now in the sustainability stories being shared by beauty brands, says Ralph Olthoff, Marketing Director, Wine & Spirits, at Avery Dennison:

Transparency in the beauty industry is not a new phenomenon, but more mainstream now. One of the pioneering early adopters and advocates was The Body Shop, who established a reputation for openly communicating with consumers about their cosmetics and personal care ranges – essentially lifting the curtain on the ingredients used and the production process. It was only latterly and to a lesser degree, however, that the packaging itself got much attention.

Whilst it makes sense to focus on the product as a whole, of course, not just the container, in many cases, communication of sustainability issues can tend to happen more at corporate, or parent-company level, than on the brand packaging and labelling itself.

In the world of wine and spirits, for instance, whilst global mega-group Diageo might well be promoting an environment policy that commits the company to ambitious targets around plastic in it packaging for 2025 and beyond, the messaging does not necessarily feature in any campaigns for its brand names such as Johnnie Walker, or Smirnoff.

The approach to transparency can also differ from brand to brand, even within the same group. Multinational Unilever, for example, manifests its longstanding sustainability commitments much more in some of its well-known beauty and personal care brands, such as Simple, Dove and Timotei, than others like Lynx, Pears or TRESemmé, targeted less at conscious consumers.

Interestingly, Unilever has revealed that in 2018 the group’s 28 Sustainable Living Brands actually grew 69% faster than the rest of the business (up from 46% in 2017), plus delivered as much as 75% of its overall growth. 

When it comes to contents, ingredients and by-products, the reasons for reluctance on the part of some brandowners to exhibit full transparency can be a combination of practicalities and aesthetics, explains Mr Olthoff:

Many of the containers for luxury beauty products are in fact rather small, with little space available for a lot of text on the label to communicate about ingredients. Furthermore, in terms of styling, a surfeit of detail might rather take the focus away from the luxury, often minimalist look of the packaging. So, a good solution here might be the use of NFC chips under the label, where the consumer can find all the relevant information, provided discreetly, as necessary.

As employed by Avery Dennison, a Near Field Communication (NFC) tag applied to any physical object can launch a multitude of mobile digital experiences at the tap of a phone, serving to communicate a wealth of product information and boost transparency without compromising on packaging size, shape and style.


Watchwords are natural, organic, and scientific


The drive to display transparency should also be placed within the context of key consumer trends currently active in the beauty and personal care markets.

As with the food and drink sector, the beauty industry has been experiencing a rise in demand for products aligned with the modern lifestyle focus on health and wellbeing, which is only likely to intensify as a result of concerns around COVID-19. 

Established watchwords already popular with environmentally- and ethically-aware shoppers include ‘natural’ and ‘organic’, which often figure prominently on product packaging.

Beauty brands in the vanguard of explicit sustainability messaging include the likes of Haeckels, a natural skincare and wild fragrance company based in Margate, England.

In addition, with a call for science to be placed front and centre in both the climate debate and pandemic picture, credibility claims associated with scientifically-derived formulations are also surfacing in marketing materials for beauty and personal care brands. Such is the consumer interest, that so-called Farm to Face products, for example, are trending in online retail to the extent that they are emerging as a store category for shoppers.

Taking these trends together, much of the associated sustainability demand and transparency drive finds expression under the banner of the ‘clean beauty’ movement, with engaged consumers seeking to scrutinise product ingredients as listed, displayed, and described.


Labelling for the ‘clean beauty’ movement


Historically, the ‘clean beauty’ community has had something of a love/hate relationship with packaging and labels: they love to look closely at the product information presented, but often hate what (little) they find.

An explainer piece for clean beauty published in Vogue not only challenges the performance of traditional packaging in responding to these expectations, but also highlights the emergence of smartphone technology that puts the information directly in the hands of shoppers, via barcode scanning apps such as Skin Deep by the Environmental Working Group, Think Dirty, plus Clean Beauty by Officinea, the French brand of organic cosmetics free from endocrine disruptors.

Nowadays, with consumers, media and public opinion encouraging brand-owners to be fully transparent about both products and packaging, the labelling solution doubles-up on sustainability, explains Rob Groen in ‘t Wout, Marketing Manager Films, at Avery Dennison:

The label becomes a twofold information-carrier communicating with consumers – anticipating and answering their questions. What ingredients are used? Where and how are they sourced? But also, what kind of packaging is used? What happens to that packaging after use?

So, with more and more brands using recycled plastic (such as rPET, rHDPE) for their products, combining the recycled bottle together with a label containing recycled content further helps complete and tell the sustainability story on the shelf.

Ultimately, a direct connection is effectively forged between drivers of brand loyalty and sustainability-signalling by virtue of clear and transparent on-pack messaging.

To that end, as the leader in self-adhesive labelling, Avery Dennison understands that solutions can sometimes be as simple as stating that 'This PET bottle is labelled with CleanFlake technology, that will enable the recycling of the package'.

Diving deeper into available options, the Avery Dennison range of premium sustainable materials embraces circular economy strategies through resource innovations such as Crush papers and facestocks, made out of organic citrus, grape or barley waste, or its Cotton Range.

Applying transparency thinking throughout the lifecycle of the product and its packaging, from responsible sourcing to recycling, can therefore generate multiple wins for brand-owners in beauty and personal care, concludes Mr Groen in ‘t Wout:

As well as satisfying rising demand for transparency around ingredients, by-products and allergens, the sustainable label solution can enhance both the shelf-appeal and the brand message by showcasing use of such as recycled content and bio-based materials – so promoting best practice and positive behaviours around recyclability of the packaging itself.

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