Organic lip balm brand Eco Lips has been gaining placements for new products at Walmart as the retailer’s growing focus on sustainability opens doors for players in the natural space.
“Not only are we organic but we have all the third-party seals … that the general consumer is becoming more savvy about,” Jane Merten, vice president of marketing at Eco Lips, told the Path to Purchase Institute. The brand’s best-selling Mongo Kiss line is USDA organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, Fair Trade Certified, gluten free, cruelty free and made with 100% renewable energy offsets.
Launched in 2003, a time when organic products had yet to go mainstream, Eco Lips’ first attempt to penetrate the mass market failed. “We spent way too much money on distribution and frankly, didn’t really know what we were doing,” founder and chief executive officer Steve Shriver told Good Side News (an online site founded by the ceo of Publicity for Good, Eco Lips’ strategic PR partner since 2019). “We wanted to be a mass-market product so bad and tried to quickly jump our way into the arena. When we realized our mistake and had already run out of money, we knew that we needed to back up and start small."
The brand regrouped and tried again, this time slowly stoking its momentum at independent stores, co-ops and then Whole Foods Market before hiring a master broker to help the brand grow sales within the food, drug and mass channels, Merten said. The broker lined the brand up with Rogers, AR-based Infinity Worlds, a selling agency focused solely on Walmart. “They have relationships with the various buyers within Walmart and so they’re the ones who actually helped us get the meeting,” Merten said.
Infinity Worlds helped Eco Lips leverage its brand certifications, a track record of positive sales at Whole Foods, and a competitive price point that made organics affordable to gain distribution for a few different products at Walmart, including 25-ounce Mongo Kiss lip balms. “It was a pitch of, ‘Hey, this is selling like hot cakes at Whole Foods, and we know it would do really well with your audience because it’s a really big stick at a really reasonable price,’” Merten said.
This fall, the brand further expanded its lineup at the retailer with seven new organic SKUs. "We've had great growth year-over-year in terms of growing the product count [at Walmart]," says Colton Dillard, who manages the Eco Lips account at Infinity Worlds. "My team leans heavily into the data piece of it, helping [Eco Lips] build and craft a story that's going to get the attention of the Walmart buyer."
One of the new products, a combo pack comprising a strawberry lavender Mongo Kiss lip balm and a vanilla honey lip scrub, gained placement across 1,892 stores. “The vanilla honey lip balm that we have in Mongo Kiss is the top seller and we’re taking that flavor and putting it in a lip scrub and just pairing it with a different flavor lip balm, and I think that’s why [Walmart is] willing to take the chance on that,” Merten said. “And we’re getting some nice reorders on that already which is really good to see.”
The six other SKUs landed at some 100 Walmart stores to test the market. They span:
two products from the brand’s Lip Food line made with popular superfood ingredients. “If you look at trends in the market for what’s happening on the food ingredient side, usually what happens in food ends up happening in personal care,” Merten said.
two Brazilian lip tint combo packs. “People really aren’t putting much makeup on right now because they’re wearing a mask … but we know that’s not going to last forever,” Merten said.
a combo pack comprising a coconut Mongo Kiss lip balm and a berry lip scrub.
a smaller, 15-ounce tube of vanilla honey Mongo Kiss lip balm.
“It’s pretty exciting for us. We just keep growing our SKUs within Walmart,” Merten said. “Their buyers have changed a few times but we still maintain a really solid relationship with them.”
In Walmart stores, the small Mongo Kiss tube is merchandised with other impulse items at checkout, while other Eco Lips products are stocked in-line and on a sidekick in the natural beauty aisle. In addition to PR and blogger/influencer outreach, marketing support includes a geo-targeted Ibotta coupon offering a full rebate on the small Mongo Kiss tube. The brand plans to deploy additional Ibotta coupons in the coming months.
“The ultimate goal is just to increase the store count within Walmart,” Merten said. “The other side of that is taking this great story at Walmart, bringing it to the other big chains.”
Besides Whole Foods, where Eco Lips sells exclusives such as Mongo Kiss balm in banana, blood orange and “yumberry” flavors, the brand also boasts distribution via Amazon and regional retailers such as Wegmans and Sprouts. Merten says Eco Lips has had meetings with several additional retailers and is aiming to expand to chains such as Target, Kroger, CVS and Dollar General, though many have delayed their category reviews because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also on the horizon for the brand is a redesign and a sustainable packaging innovation, both launching in February.