How the ‘OG of natural products,’ Tom’s of Maine, is staying relevant

True, the company had a head start on competitors by doing good, but it is evolving in major ways, GM Esi Seng says at PRDecoded.

PRWeek's Aleda Stam (left) and Tom's of Maine's Esi Seng (right)
PRWeek's Aleda Stam (left) and Tom's of Maine's Esi Seng (right)

Tom’s of Maine, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is the “OG of natural products,” said company GM Esi Seng at PRWeek’s virtual PRDecoded conference this week. But that hasn’t stopped the company from evolving.

Tom’s of Maine has built its brand messaging around natural products since it was founded. But recently, other brands have been catching on and realizing they need their own products to be natural and sustainable to connect to consumers. 

“We were ahead of the game,” Seng said on Thursday. “We were doing all the trendy stuff before it was even trendy.” 

Seng noted that 80% of “zillennials”—members of the millennial cohort and Generation Z—are choosing products based on their impact on the planet. Additionally, employees are more loyal to companies that have sustainability agendas. And, overall, 75% of Americans want to buy natural and sustainable products, she said.

But Seng isn’t worried about a sudden onslaught from competitors. Tom’s has decades of experience knowing how to source ethically and what natural ingredients truly work, giving it a leg up on new entrants to the market.

“When cofounders Tom and Kate Chappell had an honest vision of wanting to have a beautiful lifestyle brand about being good to the earth and to people, it was genuine and came from the heart,” said Seng. “Some brands now are trying to figure out the purpose within their company, but the company for us started with purpose.”

She added that Tom’s of Maine doesn’t just say it wants to be good, it makes sure to act on it and “our consumers see that and reward us for it.”

Although Tom’s of Maine had a head start on competitors in terms of acting purposefully, it has had to evolve to understand what natural products mean to new consumers. The company aims to be truthful and transparent about all of its products’ ingredients, so Seng said it needed to develop devices to show consumers that Tom’s of Maine is the real deal. It created the “goodness box,” listing all of its ingredients on packaging to gain consumers’ trust and help them understand more about its products.

But when other companies created their own versions filled with misinformation, Tom’s of Maine took the next step and became a certified B-Corp.

“That means having the highest rigor and standards in naturality and sustainability practice,” said Seng.

Tom’s of Maine also regularly listens to consumers’ concerns. One complaint that it addressed last year was that its toothpaste comes in a plastic tube. In response, it developed a recyclable toothpaste tube and open-sourced the blueprints to everyone, even competitors, so “we could all win and make an impact,” said Seng.

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