New ingredient disclosure rules are a game-changer for non-food products

24 January 2018 (Last Updated January 24th, 2018 12:02)

Do you really know what is in your personal care or household product? Mystery ingredients like ‘fragrance’ may streamline ingredient lists, but chemical-wary consumers want more ingredient transparency.

New ingredient disclosure rules are a game-changer for non-food products

Do you really know what is in your personal care or household product? Mystery ingredients like ‘fragrance’ may streamline ingredient lists, but chemical-wary consumers want more ingredient transparency.

That transparency is coming. California’s passage of the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act in October 2017 will force makers of household products like detergents, air fresheners and disinfectants to list any ingredients linked to harmful health effects on product labels. Disclosure on product labels will be required by January 2021.

Pressure for enhanced transparency is also coming from top retailers like Target and Walmart. The latter is getting specific about what it wants non-food makers to remove from their products. In 2016, the retail giant identified eight chemical groups – like formaldehyde – that it wants to see eliminated from household products. Walmart expanded its list in 2017 and is asking suppliers to list all product ingredients by 2018.

Product makers respond

The veil of ingredient secrecy is already being pulled back by product makers. In late 2017, Procter & Gamble announced that it will begin listing the ingredients that currently hide behind the catch-all term ‘fragrance’.

By 2019, Procter & Gamble plans to publish all of the fragrance ingredients for its over 2,000 scented products online. Unilever has announced similar plans for its home and personal care products.

This enhanced level of disclosure goes beyond what California’s pioneering law requires. The California Right to Know Act is primarily aimed at household cleaning products. Personal care products like shampoos, deodorants, cosmetics, and perfumes are not currently covered by this legislation, though that could change at any time.

Ingredient transparency is sadly absent in many non-food products. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), just 7% of American cleaning products adequately disclose their ingredients.

What you do not know can hurt you. EWG estimates that 53% of the more than 2,000 cleaning products they have studied contain chemicals harmful to the lungs. Around 22% contain chemicals reported to cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy individuals.

Demand for cleaner ingredient labels by government, retailers and consumers is likely to be bullish for plant-based personal care and household products. Already, product manufacturers are responding with formulations that cater to ingredient-aware consumers.

Plant-based ingredients on the rise

Unilever is currently launching ApotheCARE Essentials in the US, a new line of premium haircare and skincare products made with plant-based ingredients. Unilever touts a new plant ingredient extraction process called phytoextraction to source active ingredients from plants without using chemical solvents to do so. The process “bursts plants open like a water balloon” to source plant-based ingredients in a more holistic way.

Consumers globally are generally positive toward the use of plant-based ingredients in non-food products, with some caveats. Support is generally higher for plant-based ingredients in personal care products than for similar ingredients in household products.

Near the top of the list are plant-based oils like natural and essential oils, with 68% of consumers globally believing they would be effective for a beauty or grooming product, according to GlobalData’s Q1 2017 global survey. Fruit extracts and coconut oil are also highly regarded, with 63% and 60% of global consumers, respectively, believing that each would be effective.

Efficacy matters

Enthusiasm for plant-based ingredients for household products is more muted. GlobalData’s Q1 2017 consumer survey found that 66% of consumers globally said they thought that vinegar would be effective for a household care or laundry product. Botanicals or plant extracts were only seen as effective by 45% of global consumers, not exactly a rousing endorsement.

Efficacy matters when it comes to household cleaning products as consumers want assurances that a plant-based cleaner can actually kill contaminants like e-coli and salmonella that can wreak havoc in the kitchen.

The most likely scenario for personal care and household product makers is a new round of product innovation focused on offerings that are both plant-based and free of objectionable chemical ingredients.

How innovators go after the most transparency-seeking consumers remains to be seen. Will reformulating existing products pass muster? Or will companies need to take more of a ‘clean sheet’ approach with new brands? Either way, a clean label wave is coming to personal care and household products.