Aveda Corp., Blaine, Minnesota, USA & Argan Forest, Morocco
PHOTO BY RICH RYAN
The Aveda team: from left, Chuck Bennett, John Frankenfield, Cindy Angerhofer, and Katherine Martin
A beauty company goes deep into the forest and finds an ingredient that helps its bottom line, the environment and the local community.
On the edge of the Sahara desert in southwest Morocco, a forest stretching over 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) is home to more than 20 million argan trees. For centuries the local Berber population has used oil drawn from the argan tree's fruit for medicinal, culinary and cosmetic purposes. Yet large swaths of the forest have been lost to uncontrolled development, overgrazing, and logging for charcoal production and firewood.
To counter the destruction, a group of Berber women banded together to form the Targanine Cooperative, a collective designed to bring products of the argan tree to the international market through sustainable harvesting of the fruit.
Halfway around the world in Blaine, Minnesota, USA, a team at Aveda was working on a project to develop a new skincare line called Green Science. And when Cindy Angerhofer, executive director of botanical research, paired argan oil with a leaf extract from the same tree, she knew she was on to something.
SEEING THE FOREST FOR THE TREES
Sustainability has long figured into Aveda's reputation—and its business plan. Since the company opened its doors in 1978, it has built its brand around meshing green practices with its competitive business strategy.
“Sustainability is ingrained in the fabric of how we do business,” says John Frankenfield, manager of commodities, indigenous raw materials, organics and essential oils at Aveda. “Our senior management sees the competitive advantage and added value that sustainability brings to the table.”
Aveda's core mission “to care for the world we live in, from the products we make to the ways in which we give back to society” infiltrates every project decision, beginning with how and where ingredients are sourced.
PHOTO COURTESY OF AVEDA
Once an ingredient is identified, Aveda has to ensure the community has the wherewithal to produce it for mass distribution.
That means every raw material and ingredient used in its products is carefully analyzed not just for performance and price, but also for its impact on the community, the environment and the people who produce it.
But finding and using sustainable ingredients is a difficult, risky process. Once an ingredient is identified, Aveda has to ensure the community has the wherewithal to produce it for mass distribution.
Ms. Angerhofer was first introduced to argan oil in 2006 by an Aveda team tasked with searching the globe for exotic and socially beneficial ingredients. Those materials are then handed over to the research and development team for product consideration.
“We fit sustainability into our process by aligning ingredients with upcoming projects,” she says.
Because the raw ingredients and companies that produce them can require varying degrees of support and upfront investment, Ms. Angerhofer prefers to begin with an ingredient, then match it with a new product line.
“Doing the initial research upstream is a useful way to manage our project timeline,” she explains.
For example, the company may find an ingredient that a local population relies on, but that doesn't mean the community can produce enough of it for a big-name brand distributed around the world.
“They may have used this material for a long period of time, but they aren't used to making specification sheets or meeting quality goals,” says Ms. Angerhofer.
All of those elements have to be factored into the project—and the schedule.
“If it's an indigenous source, we need to start working with the supplier much earlier in the process to set up procedures and do lab testing,” says Katherine Martin, senior research project manager at Aveda. “It may require a much longer development time that has to coexist with the product development timeline to get the product to market on schedule.”
In the case of the argan oil, the Targanine Cooperative had a pre-existing partnership with Cognis, a German supplier of specialty chemicals and nutritional ingredients.
That relationship proved critical—allowing Aveda to launch the project, assured the ingredients were up to quality standards and ready to use on a global scale.
“We were fortunate in this case that the co-op worked with Cognis, which was already used to dealing with the specifications and paperwork,” explains Ms. Angerhofer.
THE RIGHT RATIO
After Aveda agreed to purchase the ingredient for the project, there were still some numbers to crunch.
Even though the story behind argan was rich, the team had to focus on the actual cost of goods and materials. That often means tweaking material amounts, cutting unnecessary ingredients, altering packaging, or adjusting economies of scale to achieve performance and price.
“It's always a balancing act,” Ms. Anger-hofer says.
Although the argan oil and extract met her team's price goals, sometimes it's not that easy. With extremely rare ingredients, for example, it's a matter of discovering how much adds value without breaking the project budget.
“Sometimes we have to retest ingredients to find the optimum levels to get the benefit of the material without overkill,” Ms. Angerhofer says. “We will never cut the levels down to a point where it serves no purpose, but sometimes we find that we can get the same results with a smaller percentage.”
Once an ingredient is chosen and incorporated into a product, the research and development team is charged with communicating that background information to the marketing department.
Yet sometimes that part of the project process gets lost.
“The research and development team may know we've got a great story, but we aren't always good at passing it on,” admits Ms. Angerhofer.
To ensure those stories get passed along, she and her team have regular meetings with the marketing people.
“If the communication doesn't follow through, then it doesn't contribute to the bottom line. And that's the whole point. Our customers connect with these stories,” Ms. Angerhofer says.
Aveda isn't just out to sell some happy fairy tale, though. The company invests in the communities it partners with.
“Through this project, we are able to support the co-op, expand the processing plant, and create opportunities for education and economic growth in the community,” says Ms. Martin.
Aveda made a US$20,000 grant to help the Targanine Cooperative purchase equipment to begin automating labor-intensive processing and, ultimately, increase production capacity. The money will also be used for literacy programs, considered essential for the community of Berber women who have not been traditionally educated. As part of the cooperative, they attend classes on reading, writing, family planning, healthcare and finances.
The fate of the projects and the resulting products really comes down to the raw materials themselves. As Ms. Angerhofer is quick to point out, the ingredient must fulfill its promise.
“We are not just going to ‘fairy dust’ this ingredient into a product so we can tell a good story. It's got to be genuine and have a valuable function,” she says.
“In the end, the reason people select Aveda is the functional performance of our products, as well as our commitment to environmental and social principles,” says Chuck Bennett, the company's vice president of earth and community care.
Green Science hit shelves in mid-2008, with the line—and its background story—given a prime spot on the company's website. Consumers seem to be buying. Two products from the line rank among Aveda's top five best-selling skincare products. To capitalize on the momentum, Aveda has just added a cleanser and toner to the line. That's good news not just for Aveda, but the Berber community and its argan forest. —Sarah Fister Gale PM
If it's an
we need to start
working with the
earlier in the
process to set up
do lab testing.
—Katherine Martin, Aveda
PM NETWORK DECEMBER 2009 WWW.PMI.ORG