Carrots - they're not just for rabbits ...
Let’s just say Ido Leffler is keen on his brand. As CEO of natural beauty brand Yes To Inc., Leffler is resplendent in a bright orange jumper, orange watch and socks when we meet on his way to the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit 2010 in Paris. “I never want to forget where we have come from with this brand,” he says with a laugh. “It started as a bit of a joke but I always want to be reminded that Yes to Carrots is where it all started.”
Leffler hardly needs an orange jumper to remind him that Yes To Inc. is a phenomenal success. The first brand the company produced was Yes to Carrots and for the past four years it has been the fastest growing natural beauty brand in the world. After just four years, the brand’s products have grown to be stocked in over 25,000 stores worldwide and available in 29 countries globally. The brand originated in Israel but is now based in the US with the majority of production taking place there too.
Leffler says that the brand originated from the needs of himself as consumer. “As consumers, my circle of friends and I didn’t find anything in the natural beauty space that appealed to us. Here we were improving our lives by going to the gym, using iPhones and Macs. We weren’t tree-hugging naturalists but we did feel guilty using some of the products on our shelves. Every day I know that I am putting on a deodorant that is killing me. I do that because I have not found a natural one that works for me. You make choices – not everything I eat is healthy and I have a drink like many people but it’s about making and having choices as a consumer.”
A savvy businessman, Leffler says that he is not a chemist, nor did he have big budgets at the start to do market research, so he simply asked his consumers what they wanted. He says that there are four main premises or “Love Points” for the brand.
- Will she love how the product works? Will it compete with how a product from Garnier or some such brand makes you feel?
- Will she love how the product looks? “Traditionally natural brands may be in dark colours and not be very design led,” says Leffler. “We fly Virgin and use Macs – we like our design. So we want a product that looks good.”
- Will she like the price? At which price point will someone not feel guilty using it?
- Will she love to tell her friends? “We wanted this to be something people would want to tell their friends about.”
Whether it is the natural products, Leffler’s determination to “do business face-to-face” or the funky packaging, he is doing something right. Ireland is now the world’s second largest consumer of Yes to Carrots after the US and the brand is the second largest natural beauty brand in the US. He says that the company has been able to buck the current market trend by making good quality products that are also affordable. He attributes the success of the brand in Ireland to the Irish ability to “back an underdog”. “We launched as a young brand, small, but with a big heart,” he says. “And people recognise that.”
However Leffler says that being a natural company is no longer just about the ingredients in your products but about the company ethos too. The company does not profess to be organic but says that it is a “natural beauty brand”. In other words, there are extremely high levels of natural ingredients in the products. Leffler says that the plethora of certifications for what is a natural or organic product worldwide is problematic and he anticipates that at some time in the future there will have to be a recognised worldwide standard.
“It’s a big question trying to regulate the natural beauty industry. There is a lot of green washing out there and it is a challenge to avoid this,” he says. “What we do is that we formulate all our products according to the Natural Products Association (NPA).” The NPA is the oldest not-for-profit organisation in the US concerned with natural products which include food stuffs, beauty products and dietary supplements. “Whole Foods is a very prominent retailer in the US which has their own stringent standard,” says Leffler. “The Yes to Blueberries line, which launches in Ireland in the New Year, is formulated to their Premium standard. We call it natural if it has 95 percent and above of natural ingredients. Our Yes to Babies range will be 100 percent natural when it launches next year in Ireland.”
For Yes To Inc. products, organic means a product that is certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “There is no such thing as a USDA beauty seal,” says Leffler. “Which means that any product that has a USDA seal is a food product. All of our lip butters are USDA certified which effectively means you can eat them.” And eat them he has, at conferences and during television appearances. “Our lip butters are actually food grade products and are probably healthier than most bars you will pick up in a store,” he jokes. Leffler says that the brand has just been incredibly lucky in catching the crest of the wave of consumer sentiment and riding that wave. “One of the nicest things someone has said about us is that ‘Yes To took natural from alternative to popular’. I don’t want to say we have achieved our goal but I think it is a pretty good start.” The brand does not test its products on animals and the only animal derived ingredients they use are beeswax and honey (their new baby products have a soya and honey smell and are good enough to eat). The products are all paraben free. When shipping products from their online site they use eco-friendly biodegradable fillers. The paper they use is FSE certified.
The Future Is Natural
When we meet, Leffler is en route to Paris to speak at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. He was giving two key note speeches – one on how a natural brand today needs to be more than just about the formula, and secondly on the challenges of growing from a small unknown brand to the largest growing natural beauty brand in the world in just four years. “I genuinely want other natural brands to come in to the market and succeed,” he says. “It is important for us to grow this category.”
Leffler is adamant that natural has to be the way forward and says that the more brands involved in this type of business the better for both the consumer and the manufacturer. “Take something as simple as packaging, he says. “All our paper is FSE; two or three years ago we were paying a 30 or 40 percent premium but now there is almost price parity with regular paper. Ingredients are also becoming more affordable for us – the more businesses that are involved in natural business the better.”