Distribution Key to Success of Green Brands

Green brands need to focus on distribution if they are to widen appeal of sustainable products. Organic Monitor finds the most successful green brands are those who have expanded distribution into mainstream channels; such brands have managed to break ‘the green glass ceiling’ and outperform the market.

In spite of high consumer interest, most sustainable products have low market share. For instance, natural products represent just 3% of personal care product sales in Europe. Organic foods generate 4% of total food sales in North America; the market share of ethical textiles and green household cleaning products is even lower in these regions.

A major factor behind the low market share is most green brands are focusing on specialist outlets. Few natural personal care products are in mass market retailers, whereas the channel generates over a third of cosmetic & toiletry sales in the US. Similarly, almost half of organic food sales in Europe are still from organic food shops and health food retailers. Distribution is even more limited for ecological household cleaning products and organic clothing.

As will be shown at upcoming sustainability summits, green brands need to ‘think outside’ specialist retail channels if they are to broaden appeal. Brands are advised to follow pioneers like Green & Black’s and Aveda in reaching out to mainstream consumers.

Green & Black’s has become the world’s leading ethical chocolate brand partly because of its success in large food retailers. In the UK, the brand has recently launched a USD 3 million television marketing campaign to promote its organic and fair trade-certified chocolates.

By gaining a mass market following, sales of the green brand have increased over ten-fold from USD 7 million in 2002.

Aveda has also been successful in the natural personal care industry because of its distribution strategy. Aveda is positioned as a professional hair care brand in salons. Organic Monitor research shows it is the premier brand of natural personal care products, with distribution in over 7,000 salons. Ecover has also taken up a similar position in the green household cleaning products market because of extensive distribution.

A major challenge for green brands is channel selection: what outlets to focus on? To add complexity, the success of sustainable products in some channels creates competition. For instance, almost all major food retailers in Europe are marketing organic foods under their private labels. These private labels often ‘cannabilise’ branded product sales. Indeed, the leading brand of organic products (O Organics) in North America is owned by a retailer (Safeway).

In Europe, the Änglamark private label of Coop Denmark comprises over half of organic food sales in the country. The private label also leads in the green household cleaning products market. Alverde of DM drugstores has also taken up high market share to become the leading private label of natural personal care products in Europe.

The complexities associated with distribution have led some green brands to set up their own retail networks. The Body Shop pioneered the ethical retailer concept in the 1970s. A growing number of green brands are following its lead and opening concept stores. Most are in the natural personal care industry, where the likes of Melvita and Korres are opening stores across the globe.

Consumer demand for sustainable products is likely to strengthen. Green brands are advised to focus on distribution if their products are to become mainstream. Only then, will sustainable products break out of their niche status.

Marketing & distribution issues facing green brands are regularly featured at the Sustainable Foods Summit and Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. These executive summit are now hosted in Europe, North & Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific.

Posted: April 27th 2015

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