I think you can almost talk about this wave of natural products as a new category.

New Natural, the Innovation Group’s new trend report, looks at why consumers are increasingly skeptical of conventional industrial products, and turning to natural products and processes as an alternative.

New Natural has a particularly strong impact on the beauty sector. As such, we tapped the beauty expertise and insight of consulting industry veteran Anna-Marie Solowij. Anna-Marie is a beauty retailer and journalist who spent 25 years as beauty and health editor: spending six years as director at British Vogue, as well as writing for the Financial Times, Elle, and Marie Claire. More recently in 2012, she founded BeautyMART, the curated beauty retail platform, with Millie Kendall MBE, former founder of Ruby & Millie.

In a nutshell, she writes, “Nearly every brand researched … is able to lay claim to the majority of the following: superfood ingredients, cold- pressed or raw processing, small-batch manufacturing, preservative- free and bacteria-rich formulas, waterless application, and absolute traceability from seed to skin—with science helping to do all of this better.”

We caught up with her to hear more about what she learned from her research, and what makes the New Natural different from natural trends in previous decades.

You’ve tracked beauty trends closely throughout your career. Were you surprised by the amount of activity around natural beauty?

What I realized was that there’s this real tidal wave of change in natural beauty, but a lot of the individuals involved aren’t making a big noise about it. I think that because it’s small companies and they’re doing it creatively and they’re operating on their own, they’re not drawing a lot of attention as a movement, but it’s almost as if their sort of whispering is having a bigger effect.

So I was aware of all of the strands, but I hadn’t glued them together properly in my head. I hadn’t really seen it as a category, and I think you can almost talk about this wave of natural products as a new category. And I think we’re still casting around about what to call it – is it well-being, is it health? It’s not the dermatologist’s face cream or the latest eye cream from a major brand. It’s products that you can put on your face and on your body, but also products that you can ingest, and that are being informed by what’s happening in food.

More broadly speaking, natural products were also quite popular in the Eighties and Nineties. What makes this wave different?

Design is a very strong focus for all of these brands. Personality, quality, great textures, quite a slick and sophisticated delivery on everything. In the early days of naturals, from the early Eighties onward, you only bought that stuff if you were a hardcore vegan and opposed ingredients that would have been tested on animals before the early Eighties. There were very few people that felt that strongly about it, but also that were that informed. It was very underground.

Naturals brands now are aware that they have to compete on a global scale with the big brands. So in terms of what they look like, how the stuff feels, how it performs, what the packaging’s like, it can’t be granola. It has to look slick and professional and be thought through, and have a strong message and ultimately be desirable. And that’s true whether it’s a younger consumer who has grown up with natural as a mainstay and wouldn’t think of buying anything else, or somebody who’s making the choice to switch to natural and turn their back on the more synthetic, manufactured, lab-produced product.

I spoke to one woman who was talking about the specific oil she was using, and how she had to work out how to make it more refined without losing its integrity. Because she realized that any woman buying it and wanting to apply it to her face would go, ugh, this is too thick and sticky. Whereas ten years ago, somebody would have produced thick and sticky and thought, that’s good enough. What they’re learning is that you can apply technology and there are ways for an ingredient to retain its integrity without reducing its efficacy.

It seems to be about a very specific, selective application of technology in those cases.

Very specific, and I think it mainly came out through the sort of cold-pressing methods, what people were doing. There was someone I spoke to that said they were using an even more special version of cold pressing. They were working at extracting the ingredient at a very specific temperature and that was in order to retain both its integrity but also to make it palatable for the consumer to use.

In our work for the report, we were struck by how quickly and literally things from food and drink were being applied in beauty. Were you surprised by that?

I suppose I was surprised by the immediacy of it, although if I think about the world that we live in, a lot of that immediacy, of ideas translating quickly, I think comes through digital. I think because information is out there and it’s so widely available, I think you can very quickly spot trends and get products into production. Six weeks stability testing, six weeks for the lab, add another six weeks for packaging design. So that’s 18 weeks, so you can pretty much get it on a shelf in six months after you’ve seen an idea.

And I don’t think any of the food trends, the ideas with guts and with legs, I don’t think any of those trends disappear in six months, I think they actually sit around for a couple of years. So actually if you get in right on the first step from hot new food trend, you could have that a beauty product out and on a shelf in six months’ time and still be current.

Will the work you’ve done on New Natural influence your thinking as a retailer?
For BeautyMART we’re constantly looking at what everybody’s up to in terms of what’s being made, what’s floating to the top, what’s coming to the top of the pile. What’s difficult about some of the brands is I think they would struggle to get EU compliance in this country, because a few of them were very kind of homemade. Especially the fresh ones, the superfoods and the raw brands, the smoothie-type brands where you would go in and you would have something mixed in front of you. So there are hurdles, but I do think it’s a big and important new channel.