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Bulk sales can help reduce cosmetics prices and lower environmental impact

Brazilian regulatory body’s decision to ban the reuse of bottles and restrict bulk sales to certain product categories is criticized by manufacturers of beauty products.

Ricardo Afonso Cruz, fundador da Nação Verde

Ricardo Afonso Cruz, fundador da Nação Verde

It’s a common scene in street markets and grocery stores in Brazil: customers select food from bulk bins, shopkeepers calculate the price based on the product’s weight and hand out the goods in simple containers. Bulk buying is as old as the hills when it comes to food products, but the practice is relatively new - or fairly unusual - in the cosmetics industry.

We saw it as a gap in the local market,” says Ducha Cosméticos’ director Patricio Gonçalves. Born as a bath accessories manufacturer in 2003, the company went through a revamp last year and decided to move to a franchise model that sells fragrances in bulk. Gonçalves says he has drawn inspiration from shops in Europe. “Bulk buying has been a trend in European countries for many years now, and this business model has been growing since the economic downturn hit.

Every Ducha Cosméticos’ store showcases 75 different men’s and women’s fragrances that are stored in special glass containers displayed upside down. Customers can pick their favorite scent, fill up the bottle and take it home. “It’s a way we found to allow our customers to purchase a quality product, be it a travel-size perfume to carry in their handbag or a 100ml bottle, at a very competitive price,” says Gonçalves.

The cost-saving component is a result of the reduced operational expenses a bulk operation entails – waste, inventory and packaging costs are cut back dramatically. Ducha, for instance, has only one type of perfume bottle, which is available in two different sizes (50ml and 100ml).

UK-based cosmetics manufacturer Lush was one of the pioneers in campaigning against the over packaging of products. The brand uses as little packaging as possible and encourages customers to go completely “naked”, thus reducing the business’ carbon footprint. In cases where customers don’t bring their own container from home, products are wrapped in a 100% recycled and recyclable wrapping paper.

In Brazil, a by-law created by local health surveillance body Anvisa in 2005 set guidelines for bulk sales of cosmetics, fragrances and personal care items. Designed to “ensure product quality and safety”, it restricts bulk selling practices to five categories – perfumes and fragrances, soaps, bath salts, shampoos and conditioners suited for adult use – and utterly forbids packaging reuse.

A revision of the current legislation would be an important step in modernizing the industry, further enabling Brazil to be more competitive overseas,” says Ricardo Afonso Cruz, founder of Nação Verde, a chain of organic cosmetics and supplements. As of now, the company is only allowed to bulk sell bar soaps, but a change in legislation would potentially create several new possibilities. “As far as I’m concerned, the current regulation is retrogressive for the Brazilian society,” he claims.

Cruz supports bulk selling of cosmetics and packaging reuse, claiming it would make products more affordable and less harmful to the environment. “A new legislation should be drafted along with industry members, and not just intellectuals and politicians,” says Cruz.

Patricio Gonçalves is of the same mind. “If such restriction weren’t in place, we could offer our fragrances in reused bottles, which is a common practice everywhere else in the world. We’re talking about a cut in costs that could drop prices by as much as 10%,” he says.

Renata Martins

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