Examining the rising local organic personal care segment in Pakistan.
As the benefits of living an organic and healthy life become increasingly apparent, consumers have become conscious not only of what goes in their bodies but of the ingredients they use in their beauty products. As a result, after organic food, the second category most influenced by this shift in consumer lifestyles (and witnessing phenomenal growth) is organic personal care. This is evident from the fact that globally, the organic personal care market was valued at $10.9 billion in 2017 and is expected to rise to $18.7 billion by 2022, at a strong CAGR of 11.3% (source: Transparency Market Research).
In Pakistan too, the trend of using organic personal care products is catching on and several local brands have emerged that offer a range of quality, organic products. Aurora interviewed the founders of these organic lines to gather insights on what is fuelling their growth and on their scale and sustainability. We also look at their target market, the products offered, along with their ingredients and benefits.
Organic personal care products mainly comprise plant ingredients, grown without using genetically-modified organisms, herbicides and synthetic fertilisers. They do not contain chemicals such as parabens, phthalates, aluminium salts and petrochemicals, all of which are potentially harmful to health. This market is further segmented into skincare, haircare, oral care, cosmetics and fragrances. Skincare maintains the top billing and is expected to emerge by 2024 as the most attractive segment with a 30.9% share, followed by haircare.
Although the idea of natural or organic is not new in Pakistan (housewives have long been using chemical-free food, such as coconut oil, fresh cream, honey, olive oil, lemon and yoghurt to enhance their beauty), the trend of developing all-natural concoctions commercially and under a brand name is new. Emerging brands in this category include Aura, Conaturals, Jo’s Organic Beauty, Kishmish Organic Skin Care, Mana Beauty Spirit, Spa in a Bottle and Yellow Berry. Their founders are women from varied backgrounds who started off their entrepreneurial careers for different reasons.
Fatima Khan, Founder, Aura, studied Film and Media Studies in Canada and making natural skincare products started as a hobby. “As a family, we are a bit obsessed with healthy lifestyles; at home, we never kept junk food or soft drinks and my friends hated coming over. So, making toxin-free products seemed like a good hobby.” Along with her father (who worked in a pharmaceutical company), Khan founded Aura in 2011. One of their best-known products is Repello, a 100% natural mosquito repellent.
All founders are of the view that there is a marked and increasing awareness among consumers (especially the young) regarding the adverse effects of air pollution, environmental damage and harmful chemicals, a consequence of which is a conscious effort to be more eco-friendly in their lifestyle choices.
According to Myra Qureshi, co-Founder, Conatural, “when I moved back to Pakistan, I saw that there were no certified organic brands and whilst products were being sold as ‘natural’ and ‘organic’, they really were not. I decided to set up a factory and market truly natural and organic products made from the finest ingredients.”
Qureshi, who worked as a banker in London, says that in Pakistan, manufacturers are misusing the word organic. “They call it organic because they grow it in their garden, whereas authentic products are those certified through vigorous tests. There must not only be a total absence of chemicals and fertilisers, there must be no traces of sewage adulteration in the soil.”
For both Zara Tahir, Founder, Yellow Berry (she worked in the oil and gas sector as a lead accountant) and Jovita Alexander, Founder, Jo’s Organic Beauty (she worked in the house and mortgage sector), organic beauty products began as a part-time activity.
All founders are of the view that there is a marked and increasing awareness among consumers (especially the young) regarding the adverse effects of air pollution, environmental damage and harmful chemicals, a consequence of which is a conscious effort to be more eco-friendly in their lifestyle choices. All began with a range of six to seven products (mainly handmade soaps and essential oils) and then gradually extended their range to offer over 40 to 60 different products, including body butters, cleansers, hair oils, lip balms, masks, serums and shampoos.
The brands may be local but the ingredients they use are not entirely sourced in Pakistan. As Alexander puts it, “we try to keep it as local as possible; unfortunately, sourcing 100% pure, organic raw material is quite difficult in Pakistan.”
This is because some of the ingredients are either not available and those that are, are not certified and may be adulterated with substandard oils or chemicals. As a ball park estimate, about 70% of the ingredients are imported and are usually argan oil (Morocco), cade oil (France), coconut oil (Sri Lanka), cocoa and shea butter (Nigeria) and rosehip oil (Chile, Bulgaria). Activated charcoal powder, evening primrose oil, grapeseed oil, mango butter and olive oil are also imported from different countries through certified suppliers. Locally available ingredients include castor oil, chickpea flour, green tea leaves, Indian gooseberry, liquorice, neem, organic beeswax, rice flour, rose petals, sweet almond oil and turmeric. Before sourcing these ingredients, it is a common practice for these brands to request a fresh batch of raw materials along with certificates of analysis and material data safety sheets to ensure the product is “what it says on the documentation.” Of the locally available ingredients, Khan says that thanks to her family’s pharmaceutical background, “we are able to personally lab test and certify them.”
Khan and Qureshi, both of whom have ISO-certified brands, say they have a very efficient team to carry out quality control and keep a check on expired ingredients and products. Also, because chemical and preservative-free products have a shorter shelf life, all brands ensure that expiry dates are printed on every batch before it goes to market.
“It took time to convince customers that a Pakistani brand can be trusted and we had a hard time convincing retail stores to support us and give us shelf space."
Fatima Khan, Founder, Aura
Given that these products are not mass produced and require extensive certification tests, they inevitably come with a higher price tag. According to Qureshi, the extensive tests required for certification are an expensive process. Tahir adds that, “our products, especially soaps and serums, are ‘artisan’ grade and, like a pair of handmade shoes, they attract a higher price given the extent of skill and care that goes into their making.” (For context, a conventional, commercial soap costs approximately Rs 80, whereas a natural/organic soap costs between Rs 350-500 (plus 375 to 525%).
In terms of target market, given the price of these products, it is mainly confined to SEC A+, A and B+; a niche segment that comprises two age brackets – 17 to 35 and 40+. Approximately 85% of the market is made up of women and the rest, men. Although the bulk of the demand comes from the three metropolitan cities, second-tier cities are beginning to represent a not insignificant source of revenue for these brands. Keeping in mind the size of the market, the prime advertising medium is social media (Facebook and Instagram). These products are also stocked in supermarkets and specialist retail and health stores. The rest is taken care of by word-of-mouth.
Although it is a challenge to obtain pure, high-quality raw materials, ensure a good supply chain, get perfect formulations and find hard-working HR (according to Khan, “it took time to convince customers that a Pakistani brand can be trusted and we had a hard time convincing retail stores to support us and give us shelf space), the founders believe that with improving standards of living, increased consumer spending and online customer reach, there is huge potential for the organic personal care segment in Pakistan.