Baking Soda-Free Natural Deodorant Brand Honestly Phresh Adds Distribution In Whole Foods And Target
The trajectory of an indie personal care brand isn’t always a straight line.
Leading the charge for baking soda-free deodorant, Honestly Phresh is currently rolling out across Whole Foods’ retail network and entering Target early next year. The brand began 2019 with its products stocked at roughly 1,200 retail doors and will hit about 3,000 in 2020, when its sales could triple from an expected $1.2 million this year.
“Whole Foods validates the brand because of its stringent standards. Global distribution with Whole Foods will let other retailers know this is the real thing,” says Honestly Phresh founder Hilary Orr-McMahon. “Target validates our approach of appealing to the everyday buyer looking for something clean and effective that they are proud to put on their bathroom shelves because it looks good.”
Honestly Phresh’s high-profile distribution coups didn’t happen overnight. Launched five years ago, Orr-McMahon designed the brand with colorful, inviting packaging intended to extend its reach outside of natural beauty loyalists, a small percentage of customers compared to the broader personal care audience. However, she didn’t skimp on clean beauty bona fides. Honestly Phresh avoids synthetic fragrance, and incorporates organic and fair-trade ingredients. Whole Foods was one of Honestly Phresh’s desired retailers off the bat, and it broke into the Southern Pacific region of the retailer almost immediately.
After the brand’s Whole Foods debut, Orr-McMahon repeatedly contacted the regions of Whole Foods it wasn’t in about carrying Honestly Phresh. She received no feedback in response. Meanwhile, the brand picked up speed at mass. It secured Meijer and Bed, Bath & Beyond in 2016. The same year, Target placed Honestly Phresh in 30 stores for a short-lived program spotlighting entrepreneurs.
“Target validates our approach of appealing to the everyday buyer looking for something clean and effective that they are proud to put on their bathroom shelves.”
“Ever since then, I have been dying to get another opportunity for distribution in Target. Just to be in there at that moment was unbelievable,” says Orr-McMahon. Discussing Honestly Phresh’s distribution history more generally, she notes, “We had better luck at mass, and I was happy that mass was embracing our brand because it was heightening the awareness of people buying natural products.” However, Orr-McMahon was disappointed natural retailers weren’t signing on to her brand to the extent she would have liked. She says, “I was giving them everything they wanted. I was a little disenchanted for a while.”
Orr-McMahon’s disenchantment is now over. In addition to Whole Foods finally coming around, the brand has a presence in the natural grocer segment at Lassens and Erewhon. On the conventional grocer side, Raley’s and Albertson’s carry it. CVS and Walmart are on Orr-McMahon’s wish list for future retail expansion. Amazon and Honestly Phresh’s e-commerce platform constitute about 20% of the brand’s sales, although Orr-McMahon would prefer that figure jump to 50%, and private-label manufacturing is responsible for 10% to 20% of sales. It manufactures its own products and products for third parties at its facility in Huntington Beach, Calif.
The time is right for Honestly Phresh’s products. The aluminum-free slice of the deodorant sector is climbing and, as it matures, customers seek stench fighters without baking soda. Orr-McMahon says Honestly Phresh’s customers, frequently millennial moms, are predominantly knowledgeable customers searching for aluminum-free products. The brand’s bestselling $9.99 stick deodorants feature a magnesium-enriched prebiotic formula. The women’s deodorant stick range has five scents, including an unscented variety, and the top scents are the passionfruit Barely Sweet, Sugar Mint and Soothing Shea.
“What was very important to me was to create a product a product that was non-irritating. A lot of people don’t feel they can use a natural deodorant because of baking soda, which is super alkaline, and our skin is acidic. The alkalinity can strip the moisture barrier of the skin and cause a rash in a lot of people,” says Orr-McMahon. Turning to Honestly Phresh’s formula, she continues, “The prebiotic in it encourages healthy bacteria growth on your skin. The more healthy bacteria you have on the surface of your skin, the less chance odor-causing bacteria will grow.”
“The brand is going in the direction we always hoped it would go.”
Honestly Phresh has expanded its assortment from deodorant to Pre + Probiotic Feminine Wash in unscented, bergamot rose, and sage and chamomile varieties. Orr-McMahon explains the feminine wash maintains the proper pH of the intimate area. She elaborates, “When you exercise, are on your period or have sex, your pH can get out of whack and unhealthy bacteria grows. That’s when you are going to have irritation, redness and pain. The whole idea of the wash is to keep the area balanced pH-wise.”
Honestly Phresh isn’t Orr-McMahon’s first brand. Her previous brand Sparklehearts was aimed at 4- to 10-year-olds. Retailers weren’t overly interested in taking on a brand tailored to a niche market, but Orr-McMahon was anxious for the brand to explode. She says, “I was trying all these different avenues to see if they worked and spent a lot of money on services that are not beneficial to someone just starting out. If I had been more patient and let it grow organically, the outcome might have been different. Patience does pay off.”
At bootstrapped Honestly Phresh, Orr-McMahon is patient and focused on organic growth. Is the brand without challenges today? Of course not. Orr-McMahon singles out cash flow as a constant challenge. It’s helpful that clients of the private-label division pay upfront, not on net 30 or net 60 retail terms. It’s also helpful that Orr-McMahon has plenty of experience navigating a brand through ups and downs.
“It’s exciting to get to this point in the business because it has been so much work and a crazy journey,” says Orr-McMahon. “I feel a little bit of relief even though I have a lot of work ahead of me. The brand is going in the direction we always hoped it would go.”