The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), an environmental watchdog group, says Whole Foods Market is taking action against greenwashing in its cosmetics aisle, and that its new standards will compel such brands as Avalon Organics, Nature's Gate and Giovanni to either change their labels or their formulations.
"While the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] has said that it will address the problem of mislabeled organic personal care products, we're pleased Whole Foods has gone ahead and taken this action now," Ronnie Cummins, director of the Finland, Minn.-based group, tells Marketing Daily.
"You can't let people use the word 'organic' as a marketing ploy -- we would never let food companies do that. And people are beginning to understand that what they put on their bodies has just as much impact on their health and environment as the foods they eat."
Whole Foods did not respond to an emailed query, but the OCA posted a letter on its site that it says the Austin, Tex.-based retailer sent to vendors last week, which asks all personal care vendors that intend to make any "organic" claims on products to notify it by Aug. 1 of their plans to become compliant. It also says they will need to meet these stricter demands by June of next year.
"We believe that the 'organic' claim used on personal care products should have very similar meaning to the 'organic' claim used on food products, which is currently regulated by the USDA's National Organic Program. Our shoppers do not expect the definition of 'organic' to change substantially between the food and the non-food aisles of our stores," it says.
Avalon, Nature's Gate, and Giovanni, which are all currently sold at Whole Foods and were all called out by the OCA as making "organic claims on products whose main cleansing and moisturizing ingredients are generally made without any organic material whatsoever and are usually composed in significant part [of] petrochemicals," did not respond to interview requests.
Cummins says he expects other retailers to make similar demands, and that marketers will comply, even before the new federal guidelines come out. "It doesn't make sense -- will companies want to have one label for Whole Foods, and another for Trader Joe's? We're asking other retailers to do the right thing. In the long run, stores can only retain customer loyalty by being ethical -- why would a customer trust claims that produce or pet food is organic, when stores are willingly selling mislabeled cosmetics products?"