Alex Fisher
Alex Fisher is a Senior Analyst in Mintel's Beauty Team. Contributing reports on the UK market with a keen focus on consumer behaviour and changes.

In June 2018, Lush launched Slap Sticks, a range of 40 solid egg-shaped foundations made with natural ingredients, adding to its existing range of solid haircare, perfumes, toothpastes and sunblock. While uptake of natural cosmetics has been low, the wide range of Slap Stick shades increases their credibility in a market where individuality and diversity are increasingly prominent and relevant.

Beauty brand Lush is probably best known for the importance it places on natural ingredients and ethical practices as part of its brand ethos. As these issues become a growing concern among consumers, Lush is utilising its expertise and popularity to educate the masses about environmental and ethical problems.

The long-standing ‘naked’, packaging-free range from the brand offers an alternative to liquid products that generate plastic waste, often ending up in the ocean. Slap Sticks are Lush’s latest solid offering. The foundation is 100% vegan, made with a host of natural ingredients, and minimal preservatives and synthetics.

Kayley Thomas, Project Manager at Lush, currently leading the make-up division, spoke to Mintel about the inspiration behind the new Slap Sticks.

Mintel (M): This is such a unique concept – how did you come up with a packaging-free foundation?
Kayley Thomas (KT): Reducing packaging is a real passion of Lush’s founders and it has always been at the heart of our philosophy – we want people to pay for the quality of our products, not for their shell! Blue Planet’s focus on ocean pollution has been a turning point, making people more aware of the damage plastic has on the environment. It inspired us to work even harder on ‘naked packaging’ and really think outside the box. This meant experimenting in a category that relies heavily on beautiful, flamboyant packaging such as make-up. Truth is, make-up is one of the worst offenders when it comes to plastic – with just a couple grams of product kept in a bulky case – and we couldn’t resist the challenge! By removing all packaging from our Slap Sticks, we’ve decided to be completely transparent and let the product speak for itself.

M: What were the main challenges in creating the concept?
KT: When designing the Slap Sticks, we were well aware of Mintel research showing that women across the world apply and reapply their make-up on-the-go – whether on public transport or when they get to work or school – so portability was definitely one of the main issues. When bought online, Slap Sticks arrive in a small matchstick-style cardboard box. These are pretty durable and fully recyclable, with a vegan coating so minimising the chance of products staining the box. We’re under no illusions that this product will be a little messy compared to heavily packaged foundations, but that in itself is an interesting talking point. In fact, we’re working on new longer term packaging solutions, still in line with our credentials, and we’re also developing a makeup bag specifically designed to house a new wave of naked products.

As with all our products, another challenge was finding the right ingredients. We don’t use any silicones or plastics within our products, so we had to come up with an innovative formula packed with skincare benefits that looked great on the skin and lasted well. Finally, we had to shift consumers’ preconceptions and show them that a good foundation doesn’t need a fancy packaging to be of high quality.

M: What’s next in naked packaging – do you think it will catch on?
KT: Our feeling is that, sooner or later, all companies will have to wake up to the damage caused by plastic pollution and take responsibility for the packaging they use. The way we are interacting with our planet at the moment is simply not sustainable. However, I have the impression that not many brands are putting the environment as their core yet. Having focused on this issue for years now, we’re happy to lead the revolution and show the beauty industry that creative alternatives are possible.

We want people to pay for the quality of our products, not for their shell

M: For a company that doesn’t primarily focus on make-up, a selection of 40 shades is very impressive. What inspired you to launch such a wide variety of shades?
KT: Our ethical commitments aren’t limited to the environment – inclusivity and representation are also main drivers for the products we develop. As a brand, we pride ourselves of catering for minority groups, especially when it comes to makeup and haircare, where a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach just doesn’t work. When Fenty Beauty launched its foundation in 40 shades last year, it really set a much needed benchmark for the industry – and brands that don’t take this into consideration are already facing backlash. Lush’s Slap Sticks can be used by anyone, women and men alike, and come in 40 shades targeting cool, neutral and warm undertones.

What we think

Mintel research on natural, organic and ethical toiletries shows that British consumers are considerably more likely to buy natural/organic haircare and bodycare than make-up or fragrances.

This is likely because visual results and quality play the most important roles in make-up purchases and only one in five natural/organic toiletries buyers believe these products are better for your appearance. Therefore, while ethical claims like vegan are on the rise in BPC, it is still not a primary claim in cosmetics, and especially not among mass-market brands.

However, Lush’s packageless approach to beauty could be a key differentiator for the brand if it decides to play in the cosmetics sector. The current media focus on the environment creates potential for more solid formats like blushes or eyeliners, or even just non-plastic/refillable pots similar to its existing creams. Moreover, the availability of Slap Sticks in 40 shades really gives this product the opportunity to rival other major cosmetic brands, fulfilling primary needs alongside its natural and ethical credentials.