Self-care has become an unexpected side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales of cosmetics, particularly synthetic products, have taken a hit as lockdowns and work-from-home requests limit the need to keep up appearances.
These same conditions have spurred a growing interest in properly looking after skin, which in turn has caused a jump in profits for skincare products made with natural ingredients.
With the spotlight suddenly fixed on a A$48 billion global natural skincare market saturated with miracle claims, natural brands are working even harder to stand out – and Australian skincare company BWX is doing just that.
“We’re all in on natural,” says BWX Group COO Rory Gration. “Some people use natural as a tactic whereas we’ve built a company around it. When you understand natural and you’re obsessed with it, you begin to develop incredibly innovative products in that realm.”
And that’s what BWX and its stable of brands have done. Its Sukin label is Australia’s top natural skincare brand, while Andalou Naturals and Mineral Fusion products lead in the US. This success is indicative, Rory believes, of an instinctive preference for natural products.
“If you’ve got a choice between a synthetic product with a clinical claim and then a natural product with the same claim, you choose the natural product, and that’s what we’re seeing more of,” he says.
Some people use natural as a tactic whereas we’ve built a company around it.
“People are starting to think more and more about what they’re putting on their bodies.” BWX is one of Australia’s leading wellness businesses; already well established when Rory arrived in mid-2018, BWX has reached new heights under his tenure.
“I’ve always been in fast-moving consumer goods, both on the retail and supply side for companies such as Coles, Campbell Arnott’s, PZ Cussons and Monde Nissin,” he says.
“I was always a consumer of BWX’s brands, particularly Sukin, and I believed in natural and the natural stories. I’ve seen natural products perform and grow in a number of other categories, predominantly food, and while others have been slow to catch up, it’s happening.”
The burgeoning interest in natural products also presented an opportunity for Australian manufacturing after years of decline. “To join a company that had strong local manufacturing, strong brands with global potential and was undergoing a growth spurt with acquisitions was really compelling,” he says.
Three years on, Rory presides over a company that manufactures locally, enjoys strong sales globally, and managed to deliver 30 per cent growth of earnings in the 2020 financial year before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation during a global pandemic – all on the back of natural ingredients.
“While BWX is the smallest business I’ve ever worked in, it’s the fastest growing,” he says. “And I think that size has given us the agility to consider smaller ideas, to take risks on innovations and to place smarter bets on things bigger companies probably wouldn’t do.”
Similarly, when the COVID-19 crisis occurred, BWX was anchored by a streamlined purpose and strategy – a commitment to local manufacturing – which enabled the group to capitalise on the situation.
“We had the right teams and systems in place to be able to lean on each other and unlock opportunities,” Rory says. “We launched a sanitiser to market in 21 days, switched a factory to 24-hour production. Doing that was an incredible achievement, but we also stayed true to our values. We made sure our products weren’t compromised.”
While plans for bricks-and-mortar retail launches were shelved, Rory says an incredible acceleration of ecommerce business carried BWX’s growth plans forward; Sukin in particular enjoyed a 55 per cent sales boost.
“We made sure we secured supply chains so we could continue manufacturing,” he says. “Our global procurement team did a stellar job strengthening our relationships and mitigating the impacts of the pandemic.”
The company has also pressed on with its new operational facility, a greenfield site in Clayton, Victoria, which is expected to extend BWX’s core manufacturing capability, enhance production efficiencies, improve product quality and consistency, further mitigate supply chain risk and unlock further profitability on an ongoing basis to further invest in its brands.
“With natural in demand around the world, BWX is well positioned to meet the consumer and retailer needs for natural beauty products.” Rory says.
“In FMCG, a business lives or dies by the consumer and meeting their needs. Equally, consumer connections are made in retailers, both instore and online, and strong retail partnerships are critical to connecting consumers to our brands.
“Natural beauty is fast becoming the overwhelming preference for consumers all around the world and when we are able to connect our brands with consumers globally and continue to build momentum, its exciting and engaging. What we are doing is pretty special.”