Whole Foods Seeks ‘Organic’ Certification for Bodycare Products

Jun 24, 2010
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

The use of oil and petrochemicals
in manufacturing bodycare products is something not all consumers consider
when shopping. Additional confusion may be caused by the fact that some manufacturers
label their products "organic" despite
the presence of these ingredients. As yet, there is no official certification
for this term on non-food products; the USDA cannot police products that have
not been officially certified but choose to define themselves as organic.

Whole Foods Market has taken matters into its own hands, announcing that "all
personal care products and cosmetics making an organic claim
sold in its U.S. stores must be third-party certified by June 1, 2011."

means they must meet the USDA’s National Organic Program standard, the same
standard to which organic food must be certified under U.S. law. Products claiming "made
with organic ingredients" and "contains organic ingredients" must
also be certified.

Suppliers have until August 1, 2010 to explain how they will
change their labelling or formulations to comply with the new standard. Those
that don’t submit an explanation are expected to be dropped from store shelves
over the coming year.

"Our shoppers do not expect the definition of organic to change substantially
between the food and non-food aisles of our stores," said Joe Dickson,
quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods, in a statement. "We believe
that the organic claim used on personal care products should
have just as strong a meaning to the organic claim used on food
products, which is currently regulated by the USDA’s National Organic

A detailed list of requirements for all personal care products
using the word organic on
the product label followed his statement.

In recognition and praise of Whole
Foods’ new policy, the Organic Consumer’s
Association issued its own statement encouraging other retailers to follow
suit. Ronnie Cummins, its co-founder and executive director, described it as "a
major victory for people who want to stop washing petrochemical formulations
all over their bodies and then down the drain." OCA has been orchestrating
a "Coming Clean Campaign" since 2004, trying to encourage selectivity
amongst retailers and regulation from the USDA, claiming that without accreditation, "the
main cleansing ingredients and preservatives are usually made with synthetic
and petrochemical compounds."

Discussion Questions: What do you think of mandated certification standards
for personal care products making organic claims? Should other retailers
follow suit? Is there strong consumer demand for organic and/or "natural" claims
around bodycare products?
[Author’s commentary] In addition to the
fury, grief and frustration generated by the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
comes a growing awareness of the ways in which we use (and depend on) oil.
Over the past few years, many have realized that there is more to it than
the fuel used to transport products around the world and power the factories
that make those products. There has also been much publicity surrounding
its use in creating the packaging for said products. And, of course, transporting
the packaging to the products. But Whole Foods is conflating two separate
issues. Firstly, organic certification and how to ensure its consistency.
Secondly, removing petrochemicals from bodycare products. Achieving the second
may be a prerequisite and enabler for the first but lumping them together
in this way could be overly-complicated and counter-productive.

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9 Comments on "Whole Foods Seeks ‘Organic’ Certification for Bodycare Products"

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Marge Laney
10 years 10 months ago

I think Whole Foods is smart to take the lead on making sure that they are really selling what’s advertised. Organic is what defines them and it only makes sense to protect their brand. If you can’t trust that the products Whole Foods says are organic are in fact organic, why bother shopping there?

Devangshu Dutta
Devangshu Dutta
10 years 10 months ago

This is a good initiative by Whole Foods.

There’s too much mis-selling on the organic platform, especially using “weasel words” like bio and natural. Any brand that pushes for clarity and transparency has my vote.

Paula Rosenblum
10 years 10 months ago

It’s an interesting question…but the answer has to be, in the age of transparency both are equally important.

I’m not sure there’s an absolute right or wrong–in other words, one could argue that it’s not necessary to label food products as organic either. But people want to have a choice about what they put IN their bodies. Why shouldn’t they have a choice about what they put ON their bodies?

We could argue about whether or not what goes on the skin actually makes it under the skin eventually, but that’s irrelevant. It’s the age of the customer, and Whole Foods is acting as a customer voice here (obviously for its own reasons). Expect Walmart to follow.

Max Goldberg
10 years 10 months ago

A segment of consumers wants organic and will consistently pay the extra money for it. A much larger segment does not. Whole Foods serves the smaller segment, and therefore it’s taking the right step for its customers. Consumers will vote with their wallets. For Whole Foods, this makes good sense.

Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
10 years 10 months ago

As someone who grew up in an era when getting clean was more demanding than getting organic skin treatment, I confessedly relied on soaps such Lava, Lifebuoy and laundry soap. So I doubt that my aging skin would resuscitate and beautify under new world of organics or the increased cost that would come from its opportunistic application by Whole Foods.

This may be another panacea but I shall content myself to shower in the shade of this sycophancy of skin. Darn it.

Lee Peterson
10 years 10 months ago

Is there any doubt that Whole Foods is one of the (if not THE) best companies in the U.S.??? Due to their avid customer base, they have permission to take “better for you” things to a completely new level of awareness and are in the process of doing so. How relevant is the use of petroleum products and their pervasiveness? I seriously doubt that many of us even realize what the phrase “get off the juice” would really mean. Petroleum is so ingrained in everything we do, it doesn’t even seem possible right now.

But with actions like these taken by companies like Whole Foods, at least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. A light that many of us will follow…either immediately or in short order. Keep going with it, John Mackey!

Gene Detroyer
10 years 10 months ago

So are those pelicans in the Gulf covered with organic bodycare products?

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 10 months ago

I applaud Whole Foods for taking the lead and running with this. There is always a leader and follower in every market. Whole Foods stands out as a leader. I expect there will be resistance from the suppliers and manufacturers. But they either get on board the train now or risk missing out later.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
10 years 10 months ago

It will be interesting to see what impact this has in light of the ongoing economic challenges.


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