A series of product launches and sustainability initiatives from Seventh Generation make this brand a threat in—and beyond—the natural products industry.

We look at Seventh Generation’s recent strategies that include two new personal care lines and efforts to reshape the petroleum-based cleaning industry. The initiatives could position the manufacturer to be competitive with leading personal care and household products corporations such as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble.

Seventh Generation's foray into personal care

Once only known for its cleaning products, Seventh Generation entered the kids’ body care space last March at Natural Products Expo West, less than six months after J&J announced it would reformulate its baby products, but that J&J would take another two years to ditch formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.  

The timing couldn’t be better for a company such as Seventh Generation.

As reported in the NEXT Forecast, consumers started to lose faith in conventional brands after the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics nabbed J&J and various other kids’ lines for selling baby products containing 1,4-dioxane or formaldehyde in 2009.

Not surprisingly, overall sales of kids’ personal care products—most of which are still sold through conventional retailers—plummeted following the 1,4-dioxane discovery. The numbers continued to decline through 2010, rebounding only slightly last year.

Meanwhile, nontoxic baby products made up the fastest-growing segment of the overall natural and organic personal care category in 2010. This encouraged many new companies, such as Dolphin Organics, Episencial and Baby Mantra to enter the space, and existing, larger lifestyle brands such as Seventh Generation to introduce kids’ lines over the past two years.

While this move by J&J was a major stride in the right direction, it also puts the company in a difficult position. J&J must convince consumers it’s okay to use its products in the two years leading up to the reformulation, reported the New York Times

Getting moms on board with natural

This time of uncertainty and skepticism lends opportunity for recent launches in the natural space, especially from a widely recognized brand such as Seventh Generation, to appeal to moms who are new to the natural personal care category. These are consumers who want to purchase safer products for their children now (not two years from now).

While all of Seventh Generation’s baby products rank as low hazard on the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, J&J’s will continue to raise red flags with ingredients such as parabens, mineral oil, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and more. The company will phase out some, but not all, concerning ingredients.

In a recent blog post, Seventh Generation addresses J&J’s reformulation as a way to gain a competitive advantage for its baby care line.

"Johnson & Johnson's announcement represents a start, but it's clear that the need for sweeping systemic change that would remove all hazards from all products remains. We urge Johnson & Johnson, and all personal care and cosmetic companies, to follow the Precautionary Principle and do just that. There's no reason they can't—we've been providing parents and others with products that supply peace of mind for 25 years, and our new baby care line  represents just that—a non-toxic alternative that we've made available for families to use today.
Eliminating a handful of the harmful ingredients from a formula while allowing others to remain and taking years to fully implement this is a half measure and ultimately accomplishes little.  It compels the question:  is this about protecting public relations or public health? Indeed, the launch of the company's own Natural line and the healthier formulations it offers overseas to meet stricter European regulations show that much stronger and far more comprehensive steps could be quickly and easily taken to more effectively safeguard the wellbeing of tens of millions of children and adults."