By Louise FitzRoy
Nurture yourself with nature. The slogan says it all. More than that, it is the availability, price and celebrity support that has allowed the People for Plants certified organic skincare range to gain a solid following of customers.
It is the only high quality range of its kind that you can buy in more than 1200 stores around Australia, as well as online, for between $9 and $30.
Founders, Andrew Brown and Anna Addicoat, have friend and award-winning international horticulturalist and television personality Jamie Durie searching the globe for ingredients to use in their products.
The People for Plants range of 22 products hit the shelves in late June 2013 – four years after the company was created.
How it all began
Andrew says, “The idea was actually in the making 12 years ago, when my wife, Anna, suffered from dry, itchy and sore skin while pregnant with our twin daughters. She was conscious of not putting chemicals on her body whilst she was pregnant. We began making our own natural lotions and potions at home to treat her skin condition. A friend gave me a kilogram of raw shea butter and also told me how to heat and mix oil and water together to make creams. Anna was already making jams, marmalade and chutneys, so we added the soothing balms to this collection and gave them away to people as presents.”
Only 70 kilometres from the centre of Sydney, Andrew and Anna, along with their four children under 11 years of age, live on 20 acres of quiet paradise at the foot of the Blue Mountains on the Hawkesbury River in NSW. The farm includes 100 mixed organic fruit and nut trees, a big kitchen vegetable garden, thousands of native trees, which they have planted, cows, sheep, pigs, horses, chooks, ducks, geese, peacocks, pet dogs, Ranger and Bear, and Lucky the cat.
What was originally intended to be a small online business managed from the farm, instead started with over 1000 retail outlets across Australia stocking the range.
Andrew says, “Jamie is an old friend of mine. I met him through a friend about 16 years ago. He was integral in getting our product into the retail outlets, thanks to his celebrity status and the media that comes with that. Jamie is not just a face of the brand – he’s one of the founding partners and an essential part of our marketing. A lot of the company’s success can be attributed to Jamie. Normally you make your products and then find the markets to sell to. It all happened for us the other way around. Retailers came to us with open arms.”
Certified organic skincare is a niche market that has doubled in growth, year on year, for about the past 10 years.
“We are uniquely Australian organic and are competing against multinationals with big budgets. The major retailers we supply to include David Jones, Priceline and Terry White Chemists. We appointed a distributor who has found other pharmacy groups, independents and over 100 health food stores to stock our products.”
However, it hasn’t all been easy, with Andrew and Anna spending more than a year reworking formulas for their products.
Andrew says, “We needed to get the shelf life for the entire range of 22 products to 36 months and the period after opening to nine months. We also had to change formulations to meet our price points for fast-moving mass products competing against cheaper synthetic brands. We wanted our products to be similarly priced, feel fantastic and be packed with high levels of active ingredients, as well as maintain the highest possible levels of certified organic ingredients, with most over 95% organic. That is a real balancing act. We have one of the best organic cosmetic scientists in the world working for us full time using the latest technology in organic skincare. Wherever we can, we have brought in people who have expertise in the areas that we don’t to make the job easier.
“We thought we were ready to go to market 12 to 15 months before we actually did. We developed the range to a certain point and then realised we needed to reconsider our price point to receive a more profitable margin. However, to compete in the natural category we’ve had to lower our expectations of the profit we would like to receive to stay competitive. So it’s a fine line.”
Despite all of this, the biggest challenge was finding the initial cash to finance the huge orders being requested by retailers for People for Plants products.
“We received an order of close to one million dollars, which is the biggest order ever requested by a particular retailer in the natural and organic category. We had to try and finance the outlay to make this happen.”
Andrew says, “We source our ingredients from all over the world and we also have a focus on Australian plants. We engage local aboriginal wild harvesters who pick our Kakadu plum in Arnhem Land and north Western Australia. It looks very much like a green olive but it has the highest naturally occurring level of vitamin C of any plant in the world. In fact it contains about 60–70 times the vitamin C of an orange.
“The history and providence of each ingredient is really important. For example, the Rose Otto we use comes from a rose plant that has been harvested for thousands of years in the Valley of the Roses in Bulgaria. We get our shea butter from Ghana, our argan oil from Morocco and our rosehip from wild roses in Chile. We don’t include this information on our packaging, however we made 12 three-minute videos with Jamie explaining the origin of our ingredients. They can be found on our website and social media pages, and on YouTube.”
The leaf of the 200-million-year-old ginkgo tree is the People for Plants logo.
Andrew says, “This is Jamie’s favourite tree and we also use it in our products. Gingko has been used as a medicine across Asia for thousands of years. In skincare it is used for its ability to counter inflammation and destruction of or damage to cells from oxidation as it is a regenerative agent that combats free radicals.”
“Considering we are a reasonably big player in the market now, we are able to compete with our competitors for these ingredients. However, we can’t always guarantee a consistent supply of a certain product. Certain weather events also don’t help.
“We are certified by Australia’s most widely known and strictest certifying authority, Australian Certified Organic (ACO). To have our products certified as organic, you need to undergo the audit process with ACO that traces the ingredient from when it’s planted all the way to when it leaves our manufacturers here in Australia. There are six steps in the audit process and once the product is certified, you have to stick to that formula.”
Where to next?
A push into international markets is the next big development for People for Plants.
Andrew says, “We see great opportunities in the US market and, being Australian made, we really need to make the most of our clean and green image. Whole Foods Market sells only natural and organic products and it is the fourth largest grocery retailer in the US, so we see lots of potential for the brand there.
“Body washes are also on the cards. They are the holy grail of organic products because it’s tricky to create the bubbles and foam in organics. It’s estimated that the average woman will use 514 chemicals on her body before walking out the door in the morning. The industry is not regulated to the extent that it should be. About 65 per cent of what you put on is going to be absorbed through the skin, so we’re all about trying to reduce that.
“The best thing to come out of the past six months of having our product on the market is that people are coming back to us saying their skin or allergy problems have been cured by using our skincare range. Our customers are seeing results and this is the most rewarding thing of all.”