What does 'natural' mean to you?

28 August 2009
I'm feeling a bit tired today so this will be short. We had a big day yesterday going into Brisbane to collect my friend from hospital. We brought her home and waited until her family arrived then came back home again. That big city traffic really gets to me now. I need a while to recover. I'll spend a relaxing day at home today and I'll be in the garden to take photos for a post I'll do tomorrow on tomatoes.

But I have a couple of important bits of information for you today. Burt's Bees contacted me a while ago to ask for help with their survey in Australia. I've only used one of their products that was sent to me from the USA, and I loved it. Now they're selling in Australia so I'm happy to help. I forgot about the survey and remembered it yesterday, so better late then never, I'll share part of what they sent:

We are about to launch an online survey asking Australian consumers about their concerns and attitudes to ‘natural’ ingredients – what ‘natural’ means to them and what matters to them about ‘natural’ ingredients in personal care (meaning products for body, face, hair etc). Burt’s Bees has done a similar survey in the US but as far as we know, no-one’s done one here.

Why are we doing this? Firstly, because we just don’t want to make assumptions about what Australians think and know about ‘natural’ in personal care. Obviously Burt’s Bees is a ‘natural’ focused company but this survey is about understanding what consumers actually want. All sorts of assumptions get made in marketing and both Burt’s Bees and Porter Novelli Adelaide have decided that’s not enough for us. So we’re asking. We’ve decided to approach online communities because we know connecting online is one way consumers can share their unfiltered views and concerns, and that’s what we want to hear. Yes, you will be talking to a PR company and a manufacturer in the industry - because we genuinely want to know what people are thinking.

We will use the results of the survey in the following ways: we will report back to the blogs and site communities that link to the survey on what we find, we will share the results with the health and beauty media in Australia and we will make the results available via the Burt’s Bees website. We hope the results will help address any concerns or confusions about what ‘natural’ means and how it is presented in Australia. (One result of a similar survey in the US was that Burt’s Bees joined together with other major natural personal care companies to develop a national standard for ‘natural’ via the Natural Products Association.

The survey is for Australian residents and will run from August 20 until November 14. You can find it here.

Thanks to my readers for alerting me to the sale of Burts Bees to Clorox. There is some information about it here at organicconsumers.org.

UK READERS here is a survey for you.
For those not in the UK or Australia, RSPCA is the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Stefan from the UK RSPCA sent this:
For the first time ever, the RSPCA Good Business Awards is open to the public through the People’s Choice Supermarket award which means that people can vote for the supermarket they think is doing the most for animal welfare.

Further information on the award and the achievements of each of the shortlisted supermarkets is available at here.

Take care, I'll see you tomorrow.


  1. I'm an Australian living in the USA. I LOVE Burt's Bees. We use their diaper rash cream exclusively as it is natural AND it works BETTER than popular non-natural products. I also use their baby powder exclusively. We use their Baby Bee soap for our babies and they smell great.

    I am currently using the Mama Bee Belly Butter for post-partum tummy and am LOVING it, it keeps my tummy moist ALL day!

    We also love the Tomato Complexion soap and we use it as bath soap to clear up the acne all over. Works just as good as bath soap as it does as face soap.


  2. Burts Bees uses fragrance in most of their products. Some of them are so strong I can't stand them. Natural to me, means using essential oils to scent a product. (among other things)

  3. I know what you mean about traffic!If I have to go into the "big city"I am wiped out by the time I get home,even though all I did was sit!
    I am in the USA,I use some Burt's products and really like them ,but a few of them I have tried have too strong a fragrance that bothers me.I do believe their products are better for you than conventional products.I think the best are what you make yourself,then you are 100%sure what is in them because you put it there!

  4. I just wanted to mention here a Tasmanian company that also has some amazing products just in case anyone is interested they make everything from scratch and they use essential oils rather than fragrance. www.beebeauty.com/

    not to take away Burt's Bees I have not tried any of their products.

  5. I'm also an Aussie living in the US and use Burt's Bee's products. I think it's great that they are coming to Oz. I tend to agree that the fragrance of some of their products can be a bit much (namely the Lavender), but there are alternatives in their range.

    I can't really answer the survey, becuase I can't really recall how 'natural' is viewed in Oz. I'm coming home for a visit in two weeks and can't wait.

  6. Just kind of and FYI, but did you know that Burt's Bees is now owned by Clorox the bleach company?

  7. I won't buy Burts Bee's anymore because they are now owned by Clorox which in my book is the complete opposite of natural.

  8. Natural means absolutely nothing - it is a marketing term that gives the impression that the product is good - they are hardly going to say it is unnatural - which of course it is. Another marketing term is de-tox which means absolutely nothing also.
    Burts Bees has some nice packaging but is not that environmental friendly - their lip shimmers contain lead. Stick to the soap you make - 100 times better (and cheaper) than anything Burts Bees could come up with.
    About the traffic - it is hell I know but dont stop driving in it - make yourself do it - its good for you - trust me.

  9. Before we had a baby, we took one of those "Babies are not that scary. Really." classes, and the instructor said she didn't like recommending products, but she made an exception for BB baby shampoo/liquid soap.

  10. I'm with Lizzie. 'Natural' means precisely nothing and its use on a label fills me with cynicism. In this particular case, how does 'natural' jibe with those products which are supposed to make you look younger than your 'natural' age?

    BTW 'Organic' doesn't mean anything either, unless it's 'Certified Organic' and you can see the logo of the certifying institution. I have just bought some BFA-certified potting mix.

  11. I am not collecting the data so I hope you completed the survey and told them exactly what you think.

  12. I'm in the US and have loved Burt's Bees. Its not as Natural as I would like since it was sold by its original owner to a large company and that alone concerns me, because the more big companies get involved, with little legislation on what can be labeled 'Natural' then we will have people using not so 'Natural' products. But I do still by Burts when in a pinch. Burts chap stick is the only thing I can use on my youngest daughter (who gets aweful dry cracked skin (to the point of sores and bleeding), but I have taken to making a lot of home made products. I use pure local honey to wash my face, to make a sugar/salt scrub and to make my no strip wax. Then I use Milk, Egg and Honey to wash mine and my daughter's hair, but I will always buy the chap stick.

    I am sure you will like Burt's over in the UK

  13. I have used and liked Burts Bees products. I was the buyer at a small nature store & we carried their products because they were natural, free of animal testing & we were supporting a small company (at that time). When I had found out that Clorox had bought out BB, we decided not to carry their products anymore. It didn't fit into our mission statement. However, I struggled w/ the decision of supporting a company who is possibly making a positive change and but who are also terrible polluters of the environment. IT is too bad because it is a great product and their story of how they began was wonderful!! I guess in the end, we must each decide for ourselves :)


  14. The object of this survey is to figure how best to market their product to the public - same as focus groups - how to sell their products - they are not concerned about anything else - if they can gauge that people respond to "natural" or "green" then they can use these terms to sell their stuff.
    I find the best thing is to read the labels and educate myself as to what exactly the ingredients are.
    I buy a lip balm from the girl next door who has a hive - the ingredients are olive oil and beeswax - thats it !

  15. My son has eczema and the Burt's Bees buttermilk lotion is the only one that seems to work for him.... plus, I love the smell!
    I have used many of their products for myself and have liked them, but for the most part I use home made stuff now... it is much less expensive to make your own shampoo bar/soap etc...
    I will keep hanging on to their Buttermilk lotion, however!

  16. Burt's Bees isn't a company I support anymore. I don't feel like I can buy their products since they are now owned by Clorox. Clorox does NOT say "natural" to me!

    Love the blog, btw!!

  17. "Natural" doesn't mean anything to me. The word is so overused and taken out of context these days. I am using up the last of a stash of Burt's Bees lip balm, however, I do not support them any longer since they sold out to Clorox. As someone else said, that name alone does NOT say natural to me. I have been using many of the products from 100% Pure (Purity Cosmetics) and am extremely pleased.

  18. I used to be a big fan of Burt's Bees lip conditioner. Then all of a sudden it wasn't in any of the stores where I regularly shopped anymore. When I asked for it in one of these stores I was told Burt's had sold out to Proctor & Gamble. I've tried a lot of similar lip potions,but none are as good as Burt's Bees. So when I found out it was in a large super store here I bought several tubes.

  19. My name is Jess, and I work for Porter Novelli, the PR firm that originally contacted Rhonda on behalf of Burt’s Bees.

    Firstly, thank you Rhonda for bringing the survey to the attention of your readers – we really appreciate your help with spreading the word. Burt’s Bees is aiming to generate as much dialogue around natural personal care as possible, and conversations like this are an integral part of that. What we are hoping to do is determine how much (if any) confusion there is around the terminology in natural personal care and what Australian consumers have to say about it.

    So far of 119 responses, 75% indicate they rely on labels/promo material for information and a staggering 95% say they are at least a little concerned that products may not be as natural as they sound. At the end of the survey period, we will be sharing results like these with mainstream and online media with the goal of producing as much debate as possible – so we encourage everyone to complete the survey and be part of the conversation.

    As far as the purchase of Burt’s Bees by Clorox goes – we hear you 100%. However, responding directly to those issues is much better done by Burt’s Bees themselves, something we can help to facilitate by offering everyone the opportunity to voice their concerns directly to Burt’s Bees CEO John Repogle, or the Australian MD Emma Atkinson, if that’s of interest to you.

    Lizzie, I would be interested to find out where you sourced information indicating that Burt’s Bees use lead in their lip products? That is of real concern to Burt’s Bees because their Lip Shimmers are, in fact, 100% natural (and lead-free) so any information to the contrary is misleading and we would like to follow it up.

    Please feel free to contact me at any time to obtain further details about the survey, or to be put in contact with Burt’s Bees.

    I can be reached at jmorris@porternovelli.com.au.

    Many thanks

  20. Hi Rhonda, I've commented a couple of times and my name shows up as Mike. I'm Helen and Mike is my husband. We live in NW, USA. I don't believe everything I read and hear. One more comment: Rattle snake venom is natural too, but that doesn't mean it's good for you. I enjoy your blog when I can find time to read it as I'm really busy with tomatoes, cucumbers,zuchinni, grapes & apples. Very thankful!

  21. Natural has no firm definition and is often used quite liberally for many bath and body product companies.

    As a natural soap producer, I am tired of the fake products out there and I finally made a video describing the differences between castile soaps and the 'so-called soaps' in the market place.

    I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma and started to look at how pervasive corn is in our ‘natural’ bath and body products.

    My company makes castile soap and I have created a video called ” Are You Washing With Corn”- view http://mountainskysoap.com/corn.php

    People have to make choices as to what they buy, as that will drive the market, their health and the planet's overall sustainability.


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