The number of women who use organic cosmetics is growing in both Germany and the U.S. Julia Roberts, Madonna and Jennifer Aniston are just a few of the Tinseltown stars who swear by a brand from the German countryside.
Even Hollywood would be hard put to create a backdrop that looks less like, well, Hollywood. This is Swabia in southwestern Germany, where rolling hills covered in colorful foliage give way to bucolic meadows. But this is no film set; this is the real thing. This is where the Wala Heilmittel GmbH company grows and processes the ingredients for its natural remedies and its Dr. Hauschka cosmetics line. In Wala’s gardens, medicinal herbs are grown by much the same methods as in medieval convent gardens.
Just as in the Middle Ages, the seasons and the weather dictate what the harvest will bring. A sign at the entrance to the gardens informs visitors that mobile telephones are forbidden everywhere on the grounds. And when you talk to Wala’s staff, you notice immediately that their favored adjectives are words such as “real,” “natural,” “organic” and “sustainable.”
Despite the literal and figurative oceans separating the town of Bad Boll from the glitz of Hollywood, American celebrities have made a major contribution to the success of Wala’s Dr. Hauschka line. Julia Roberts used Dr. Hauschka products during the filming of “Erin Brockovich” and both Madonna and Jennifer Aniston have said publicly that they swear by Hauschka’s “rose cream.” And since then, the company has grown. In the last five years, Wala has doubled both its staff and sales, which reached ?75 million ($96 million) in 2005.
The company continues to expand herbal cultivation in order to increase production capacity. Wala spokesman Antal Adam says, “in the 1980s, we were the brand for environmental types wearing wool socks and our products were displayed in health food stores right next to the potatoes.” He then goes on to tell the story of opera singer Cecilia Bartoli winning the Echo award as best classical female singer and whispering “I love Dr. Hauschka” before taking off with two bags full of Dr. Hauschka cosmetics.
The Wala company is particularly proud of the way it reconciles two seeming opposites. On the one hand, the Dr. Hauschka product line satisfies the stylish consumer’s desire for organic products produced with sustainable methods. Nor does the company shy away from seeking to align itself with that group and its not inconsiderable purchasing power.
On the other hand, the company remains true to its roots as an anthroposophic undertaking. Each little pot and tube contains a piece of the weltanschauung subscribed to by the company’s founder and namesake, Dr. Rudolf Hauschka. The very name of the firm, “Wala,” is an acronym of “warmth/ash light/ash,” the anthroposophic method devised by Hauschka to produce his original “tincture.”
Since 1986, the company has been organized along the lines of a foundation. Profits are reinvested in production and any surplus is distributed among the more than 600 employees. Adam wryly calls it “a particular incentive to be responsible about the budget,” while CEO Johannes Stellmann considers the system a guarantee that the company remains totally consumer oriented.
But he also never tires of pointing out that Wala is a profitable undertaking. That’s all he’ll say, however. Company policy is to make profits, not talk about them. Stellmann is no more forthcoming when asked about the company’s sales growth, saying only that it’s in “a comfortable two figures.”
Dr. Hauschka is Germany’s second largest natural cosmetics company and there’s no getting around the fact that the brand’s growth has a natural limit. Wala medicinals and Dr. Hauschka cosmetics are made only with raw materials from strictly controlled biodynamic cultivation, meaning they are not available in unlimited quantity. Medicinal plants that aren’t grown on the company’s 4.5-hectare (11-acre) grounds are purchased from outside suppliers. If the harvest of a particular plant is meager in any given season, then that year will see fewer products using that ingredient on the market.
That is one of the reasons Stellmann rules out the idea of distributing Dr. Hauschka cosmetics in drugstores, as Germany’s market leader Weleda does, or simply bottling the product, the way the number three company in organic cosmetics, Laverana, does. Dr. Hauschka products are available only in pharmacies, health food stores and specialty shops. There are about 10,000 outlets for the brand in Germany.
The company’s director of marketing says she has no fears that the natural cosmetics market, currently enjoying double digit annual growth, could disappear back into the stagnating overall cosmetic market.
Katharina Hahlhege calls the consumer switch to organic products “not a trend, but a change in consciousness.” The United States is Dr. Hauschka’s second most important market after Germany and it has more and more LOHAs – people who lead a “lifestyle of health and sustainability,” who Hahlhege says are “already 30 percent of consumers in America and rising.”
When Stellmann talks about the reasons for the jump in sales of Dr. Hauschka, it sounds almost like sarcasm, “BSE and environmental scandals are like warm spring rain to us. People have begun thinking about where products come from.”
He is also not worried about competition from a slew of newer natural cosmetics brands, saying, “we welcome the development.” What does make him angry are companies that sail under the “organic” flag but are actually marketing conventional cosmetics. He points out that “the other companies have a growth limit anyway – nature,” glancing out his office window, where a few sheep graze in the afternoon sun.
The pastoral scene is so perfect, one almost expects to hear the director yell “cut” at any moment. But this backdrop is 100 percent real, built by Mother Nature herself.
- Judith Lembke is a business/financial editor for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.