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10 tips to find buyers on the European natural ingredients for cosmetics market

Takes about 9 minutes to read

The European market for natural ingredients continues to expand. The region is a large buyer of ingredients for cosmetics as Europe is the largest consumer and producer of cosmetic products. Identifying, selecting and getting into contact with the right buyer for your product is not easy. This document will give you a number of tips and tricks to help you do this effectively and efficiently.


1 . Start by doing thorough market research

If you want to find buyers in Europe, you should start by getting to know the European market.

Make sure you understand the safety and quality requirements of the European industry as well as how the sector operates, is structured, and how it communicates.

Tips:

2 . Make sure you understand the needs of your buyers

You need to understand your potential buyer. Quantities, prices, documentation and their vision on sourcing are all important factors. Remember, your company’s products need to match these requirements.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where does your buyer sit in the supply chain from raw material to retailer?
  • What is the buyer’s role?
  • Are they potential competitors?
  • What specific market segments does the company operate in?
  • Do your potential buyers use or buy the types of ingredients you offer?
  • Do they specialise in specific ingredient categories?
  • Are they looking for ingredients from specific regions or ingredients with a certain functional or active profile?
  • Do they require particular tolerance levels?
  • Do you and your products need to be ready to take to market?

It is important to note that some European companies look for speciality ingredients: new ingredients that add a story to the origins of their products or ethics. These companies are often willing to engage with suppliers who are not yet ready for the market. They might even be interested in partnerships to help you on your journey to market. But beware, you need to consider the terms very carefully of any exclusivity agreements they might want in return!

Tips:

3 . Consider working with agents or distributors

Working with an agent or distributor could be an interesting option if you have limited marketing and sales resources. An agent or distributor can help you target the European market more effectively if, for example, you don’t have a dedicated sales team.

However, make sure that working with an agent or distributor is the best strategy for your company. Read the conditions of your contracts carefully as they could prevent you from selling your products directly to the European market.

Warning: if you choose this route, you could miss out on essential commercial processes, market information and skills.

Tips:

  • Look for commercial agents on the website of Internationally United Commercial Agents and Brokers (IUCAB).
  • Visit trade fairs and look for agents or distributors (see below).
  • Check the experience of potential distributors
  • Check their genuine interest in selling your products
  • How important are sales of your products to their monthly sales targets?

4 . Review the websites of European sector associations

Many companies in Europe join sector associations. These may be at a national, European or international level. Most of the associations have member lists including cosmetic manufacturers, ingredient producers and importers. The lists often give contact details, making this a good place to look for potential buyers. Identify suitable companies and get in contact with them.

The associations also provide up-to-date news on market developments and legislation. They are also a good place for finding guidance on the implications, and implementation, of legislation (you may have to become a member).

The associations in the cosmetics sector are divided according to their position in the supply chain.

Interesting associations by product group:

On the processing and trading level the go-to association is the European Federation for Cosmetic Ingredients (EFfCI). They represent manufacturers of both synthetic and natural ingredients. Its website also provides links to national associations in key European producing countries.

Interesting national association on this level are:

At finished product level corporations and national associations are member of Cosmetics Europe. This is a good place to start looking for buyers.

You can also review the website of national sector associations:

Tip:

5 . Participate in trade fairs

Visit or exhibit at international trade fairs. This is an excellent opportunity for meeting potential buyers. It is also a good way of presenting your company and any new developments to current buyers. Face to face contact is a powerful way to communicate with your customers and potential customers.

The key event in this industry is In-Cosmetics. In-Cosmetics takes place every year in a key European cosmetic production and R&D centre. It attracts buyers, formulators and marketers of cosmetics from across the world. People come here to learn about the latest trends and to find new ingredients and suppliers.

Another event is Beyond Beauty, which takes place in Paris as well as in other parts of the world.

If you exhibit, you will be surrounded by key ingredients traders and processors. You need to make sure you and your company are ready.

Visiting a trade fair is a good option too, especially if you don’t have the budget for exhibiting. You can do a lot of market research just walking around the trade fair, talking to exhibitors, attending seminars and looking at what is on offer.

Tips:

  • Visit In-Cosmetics. It is a good starting point for learning more about the market and identifying the companies you would like to do business with.
  • Do research before visiting or exhibiting at a trade fair. Start by looking through the exhibitor lists (In-Cosmetics exhibitor list).

6 . Participate in industry conferences

Visit industry conferences and networking events. They provide important insights into new market, legislative and technical developments and enhance your network. They give you the opportunity to build your knowledge of the industry and serve as excellent places for meeting potential buyers. Conferences are often organised by sector associations. The Society of Cosmetic Scientists is a good example. It organises technical events.

You will find ingredient exporters, buyers, R&D staff and marketing staff at these conferences. These are the people you want to meet.

International conferences by product group:

Other interesting events:

  • Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, with a visitor profile revolving around sustainable cosmetics companies and sustainability managers working for conventional brands.

Tips:

  • Do a cost-benefit analysis before you decide to participate in industry conferences, as they can be expensive.

7 . Keep an eye on trade press

Trade press is an interesting place to look for potential buyers. European ingredient manufacturers quite commonly use trade press to promote themselves or their new products to potential buyers. They either do so by direct advertisements or advertorials, or by publishing articles in trade press or more scientific journals. Their advertisements can help you find new buyers, for example that are focusing on a region, ingredient category or property you offer, and identify companies which might be interested in your ingredient.

For SMEs exporters, advertising yourself is not recommended.

Online and offline trade press and magazines:

8 . Participate in matchmaking programmes and trade missions

Get to know a new market and develop contacts with potential importers on matchmaking programmes, trade missions, and incoming buyer missions. Many countries organise commercial visits to promote their export sector. Joining such visits can be an effective way to expand your business network.

Check whether or not natural ingredients is one of the focus areas for the foreign mission or matchmaking event you would like to attend. In most countries this sector is considered a niche, and receives less attention than agricultural sectors, such as fruits and vegetables.

9 . Make sure you can be found online

Besides actively searching for buyers yourself, it is also important that importers can easily find you. You need to have a professional website that contains basic information about your products, your facilities and relevant documentation for example. It is also a good idea to post your product offerings on online trading platforms, yellow pages, databases etc.

Your website should communicate in the language of your buyers: using common industry terms for functionalities and active properties of your ingredients. Use International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient (INCI) names for your products. Purchasing, R&D or marketing staff will be looking for a particular product from a specific country for example. Make sure you use the right key words so that they can find you (Search Engine Optimisation).

Include certifications, the standards with which you comply and your sustainability practices. Don’t rush to put online technical and material safety data sheets, as they might contain confidential information that you don’t want to share with your customers (or competitors). Present information that will want to make your potential customer contact you. Make sure your website supports your brand image.

Tips:

  • Focus on your brand image using relevant photos: e.g. photos of your laboratory facilities or your product development staff at work if you wish to be seen as a research and innovation driven company.
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a strategy that helps you to be traced via search engines. With some minor changes on your website you can positively impact your position on the search result lists. For more information, see the Google Search Engine Optimizations Starters Guide (PDF).

10 . Adapt your sales pitch depending on who you contact

There are a lot of cultural differences between the countries in Europe. Buyers will differ from country to country and before you try and contact them, make sure you are aware of the business culture in their specific country. This will affect your commercial approach at the company level, and at a personal level when talking to key contacts.

Tips:

  • Read our study about doing business with European buyers of natural ingredients for cosmetics.
  • Learn all about your contact person’s role in the company he/she works in.
  • Talk to your buyer - Find out who makes the decisions about new suppliers or new ingredients. In some companies, this could be marketing staff while in others it could be purchasing. 
  • Adapt your sales pitch. It needs to be different when you are talking to an R&D manager or a formulator, a compliance/regulatory manager, a purchasing manager or a marketing manager. In some cases the direct buyer is not the right person to talk to.