March marked the two-year anniversary of Premium Body Care at Whole Foods Market. In case you aren’t familiar with it, products with the Premium Body Care™ symbol are the most exceptional personal care products available. They meet the strictest standards for quality sourcing, environmental impact, results and safety. When we created our Premium Body Care distinction, our primary goal was to help dispel some of the confusion our customers faced when trying to find personal care products that were truly natural, effective, environmentally friendly and safer alternatives. Our dedication to this mission has continued to gain strength. There are now over 3000 products in our stores that qualify for our Premium Body Care symbol, and we’ve identified over 380 ingredients unacceptable to our standard. With many hours spent reviewing products, ingredients and label claims, this has been a great learning process for us. What may be less apparent is the extensive time behind the scenes talking and working with our body care vendors to provide any needed assistance due to the impact of this standard on their products. Many vendors intentionally decided to formulate or reformulate their products to meet the standard as a way to highlight their products as Premium. Along the way, we have had many conversations with our vendors regarding ways to formulate non-Premium products as Premium. In this sense, Premium Body Care has been a trusted standard that has encouraged and accelerated the trend of reformulation to a more natural product with the collective elimination of many egregious ingredients. At the same time, Premium Body Care has benefited many of our smaller vendors. We’ve been pleased to see a significant number of small, local vendors with beautiful products that already met our Premium Body Care standards. This program has offered them not only an opportunity to gain recognition that puts them on an even footing with much larger names and product lines, but also to grow their brand within our company. There has also been ample opportunity to educate vendors (and ourselves) as part of the Premium Body Care review process. Small manufacturers who may not have the technical expertise of a larger manufacturer have received guidance from us regarding testing protocols and compliant labeling. In addition, we found that manufacturers may not have known the right questions to ask of their raw ingredient suppliers. For example, surfactants often come preserved with sub-ingredients that are not required to appear on product labels. By encouraging manufacturers to ask the right questions of their raw material suppliers, we have helped draw awareness to some of these practices. Of course, changing the formulation of a personal care product can be challenging, often requiring time, expertise and persistence to be done properly. When a personal care product is reformulated with natural colors and fragrances and with safer preservatives, it can affect the stability and viscosity of the entire formula—it is not just a simple one to one substitution. Formulators need to skillfully adjust each formula to account for these more natural ingredients, which can be as much an art as it is a science. Previously, it was easy and customary to formulate with powerful yet questionable preservatives, like parabens. These were a known quantity and easy to work with. In contrast, reformulating with natural ingredients can take some work to develop effective alternatives, but we believe that the end result is worth it when it comes to safety and environmental impact. With time, we hope that the natural way will become the norm. Since we first launched Premium Body Care, the availability of natural-based ingredients has expanded significantly — specifically with natural surfactants, emollients and fragrances. For example, fragrance houses are trying to use natural fragrance components more and more, while surfactants are being made from a larger quantity of natural materials. It also used to be difficult to find surfactants that did not contain preservatives as a sub-ingredient, but now preservative-free surfactants are available that were made to meet our standard. There are also natural quats (quaternary amines) made from sugar cane, and natural thickeners for hair styling products. Wherever possible, we are encouraging our manufacturers to formulate with the abundance of natural ingredients that are becoming more readily available. Over time, this will mean more good choices for our customers, which is what we set out to do when we launched Premium Body Care. We look forward to increasing our selection of Premium Body Care products, and at the same time, continuing to educate about truly natural, effective, environmentally friendly and safer personal care products.