In recent years, consumer attitudes worldwide have undergone a profound shift regarding chemical products. Perhaps the clearest example of this phenomenon can be seen in the skyrocketing growth of organic foods and beverages, a market projected to be worth nearly $500 billion globally by 2027.
Meanwhile, the market for all-natural cosmetics, another segment of the so-called “ethical consumer” space, is expected to be worth $48 billion by 2025, with younger generations increasingly wary of any chemical ingredients that touch their skin. Consumer preferences are rapidly evolving with heightened demands for environmental sustainability and healthier product offerings.
This movement away from toxic chemicals reflects several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including those seeking to reduce the number of deaths and illnesses linked to hazardous chemicals (part of SDG 3 on health and wellbeing) and to minimize chemicals’ adverse impacts on human health and the environment (part of SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production).
Consumer preferences are rapidly evolving with heightened demands for environmental sustainability and healthier product offerings
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the “natural” movement had begun turning toward our homes and offices more broadly — and the cleaning products we use there. I see this first-hand in my work as CEO of Equator Pure Nature, a Thailand-based company that sells a range of all-natural, non-toxic, hypo-allergenic household cleaners made from fermented pineapples.
When the pandemic first emerged last year, consumers throughout Asia rushed out to buy the most powerful cleaners and disinfectants they could find, often using bleach, ammonia, and other strong chemicals to scour their tabletops and floors in an attempt to kill the virus wherever it might be lurking.
Asian consumers are highly motivated by personal health — and by safeguarding their family’s health — and we heard many concerns about the potential hazards of traditional cleaners. With people spending more time at home than ever before, they confronted the pungent chemical odors and worried as they watched their children or pets crawl on a freshly disinfected floor.
Similar to the rejection of pesticides and genetically modified foods, and potentially harmful chemicals in cosmetics, there is a growing movement in Asia away from traditional chemical cleaners toward natural products. Our company has experienced its strongest sales ever during the pandemic. These changes are all part of a long-term secular trend, and a recent series of investments in this space is already pointing toward the future.
In 2016, the British multinational company Unilever bought natural household products maker Seventh Generation for an estimated $700 million. In May 2021, The Honest Company, founded by Jessica Alba, was valued at $1.44 billion in an IPO. The company grew its revenues 27.6% from $235.6 million in 2019 to $300.5 million in 2020, according to its prospectus, and noted: “We believe that this market shift towards clean and natural products is in its early stages.”
I see this first-hand in my work as CEO of Equator Pure Nature, a Thailand-based company that sells a range of all-natural, non-toxic, hypo-allergenic household cleaners made from fermented pineapples.
In my view, the market for toxic products derived from petrochemicals will eventually fall to zero. The shift might be generational, requiring many years, but I have no doubt that all products on the market one day will be plant- and water-based, except maybe for some trace levels of petroleum-derived preservatives. There is no reason to choose a chemical product over a plant-based one that’s just as effective and biodegrades on its own.
Before I co-founded Equator Pure Nature, I was a professional investor with a background in both hedge funds and private equity funds, investing in all stages of equity, from venture capital to late-stage private equity and liquid investments in public securities. I know that every investor in the world today commits at least some part of his or her work to assessing companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impact. Thirty years ago, this concept did not even exist.
Investors want to make money, of course. That is the nature of investing. But increasingly that is not all they desire. More and more investors want to make money by supporting good things and companies that are making the world a better place, and not from toxic products that degrade the environment or hurt the climate. The opportunity is vast: the global household cleaning products market today is worth about $220 billion.
There is momentum at our back. Since 2012, when our company was founded, we have run thousands of tests that all show our products—which are made using patented fermentation technology that yields natural biosurfactants, organic acids, and enzymes with antimicrobial properties — clean as well as, or better than, chemical cleaners. Our liquid hand soap, floor cleaner, bathroom cleaner, laundry detergent, and other products have been certified by international testing companies for having bactericidal effects on E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, with a sterilization rate higher than 99%.
These changes are all part of a long-term secular trend, and a recent series of investments in this space is already pointing toward the future.
From a business perspective, the only thing slowing our growth right now is our cost differential. It’s cheaper to produce chemical cleaners than non-toxic natural ones — and so for the moment we are a “premium” product. However, in time we will reach a tipping point where we achieve economies of scale, causing our prices to drop. And from that point onward, sales of natural products will start to pull away from chemical ones… and there will be no looking back.
Europe is already reaching that point. Asia is on its way.