News broke on March 30th that Unilever Ventures, the venture-capital and private-equity arm of Unilever PLC, has secured a minority stake in natural skin and hair care brand True Botanicals—and fans of the indie line are already expressing mixed reactions. While many are thrilled about what this could mean for niche natural brands, others are less hopeful.
Unilever is best known as the corporation which owns Lipton, Hellman’s, Vaseline, Dove, Axe, and Suave among 400 other brands that are clearly not uniform with the ethos of True Botanicals, a brand whose purpose is to deliver high-end safe and non-toxic skin and hair care products to the conscious consumer. This business venture would be part of a more than $3 million round of seed funding that includes several investors. Of note, Unilever bought pseudo-natural REN Skincare in 2015 and Seventh Generation last year. While the firm is not acquiring True Botanicals, many are not sure what their investment will mean for this small company.
Given that the website for Unilever states this statistic: “In 2016, our Sustainable Living brands grew 40% faster than the rest of the business,” it would seem clear that having a stake in fast-growing True Botanicals is part of a larger plan with financial gains as their primary goal. Although a tab on the menu indicates “Sustainable Living” has its own category, a mere glance at any one ingredients list from among Unilever’s brands proves that they’re far from upholding a truly green standard.
That is exactly what has green beauty fans concerned. Andrea Gardiner, a green beauty enthusiast and member of closed Facebook group the Green Beauty Insiders (a group which I co-moderate with author and Hello Dollface blogger Cindy Smith Bokma and Megan Sockel), said in a discussion on the topic:
“I am happy for their opportunity for growth, however I have not heard of many success stories for the green beauty movement when an investment like this occurs. Truth is the value of greener and organic products are moving into mainstream without the help of huge chemical laden corporations. It’s through the retention of smaller brands that the public maintain their trust in ‘green’…usually a move like this ends up watering down a brand and raises the eyebrows of many towards skepticism… I still do hope this ends up well though.”
Will the brand have to make concessions to accommodate funding from an outside source? Or will the improvements be, as promised in the article, mainly directed at other advances, such as enhancing website technology? Will True Botanicals become yet another brand that disappoints the natural consumer? (We only need think of Clorox obtaining Burt’s Bees to shudder just a little bit.)
One commenter was not concerned and instead vouched for the brand on account of the Made Safe certification which ensures that True Botanicals will lose the non-toxic seal should Unilever have any effect on product formulation.
True Botanicals responds
Because I have enjoyed several products from True Botanicals and know that they have a loyal following among green beauty advocates, I decided to reach out to the company directly to hear what the founder and CEO had to say. They let us know that they’re putting together a more official post for their Facebook Page either today or tomorrow, but here’s what they could give us so far.
If a product wasn’t safe for humans and the environment, it wasn’t worth making. ~ True Botanicals
We will never, ever compromise quality and safety for our bottom line. It’s just not in our brand DNA. ~ True Botanicals
Statements by Hillary Peterson & Christina Mace-Turner
“From our first conversation, it was clear that Unilever connected with our desire to evolve the beauty industry into a wellness industry. They respect our mission and Made Safe certification and made it very clear that they are committed to helping us reach our potential as a brand, while maintaining our rigorous safety standards. They are 100% respectful of our autonomy and are also interested in sharing their valuable knowledge, which is a perfect combination for us.”
Christina Mace-Turner, True Botanicals CEO, also commented in the press release:
“Our relationship with Unilever is really ideal. They are able to support us with insights we wouldn’t have access to otherwise, and we are able to be part of their larger effort to drive a world positive future for the personal care industry. Our mission is to eradicate the practice of selling toxic products to women, and working with a giant like Unilever to create an industry that is increasingly thoughtful and mindful of the best interests of humans and the environment is a fantastic opportunity for us.”
Now it’s your turn. What are your impressions of this venture? Let us know in the comments.