Lavera – pioneering green beauty

Hanover-based natural cosmetics company Lavera manages to combine efficacy and ethics in a brand which is becoming synonymous with high quality and high expectations. Katie Middleweek visited the head office in Germany to find out more

Hanover-based natural cosmetics company Lavera manages to combine efficacy and ethics in a brand which is becoming synonymous with high quality and high expectations. Katie Middleweek visited the head office in Germany to find out more

Nestled at the foot of the picturesque Deister Mountains, in the idyllic town of Wennigsen, Laverana GmbH can be found. The company is more commonly known as Lavera due to the Lavera brand with which it has made its name and is also responsible for bringing the premium Laveré range of organic anti-ageing skin care products to the market. Despite growing recognition and accolades the company remains very much independently owned, despite several offers to buy it out, a move which has earned it much respect in a market constantly under threat of takeovers and mergers.

Lavera was founded by Thomas Haase in 1987 and he was joined in 1990 by his business partner Klara Ahlers who is now Lavera’s managing director. The founding of the company came from very much a personal source as Haase had suffered from the debilitating skin condition, neurodermatitis, in his youth and set about creating products which would offer him some relief. Despite having no scientific background as such, in 1975 he created a lip balm made from beeswax, woolwax and olive oil which he found offered him some relief. From that point onwards it became his crusade to develop natural cosmetics which would help others as much as they had him and in 1987 Lavera was born.

Mainstream success

Having made the transition from domestic market to worldwide stage some considerable time ago, and now sold in 30 countries, the company is going from strength to strength. It now has 250 employees and 330 natural cosmetic products to its name, all manufactured in the most ethical way possible. Every single Lavera or Laveré item that can be found anywhere in the world will have been manufactured in Wennigsen using ingredients from certified organic cultivation. The company doesn’t test on animals and its manufacturing site is powered by green energy, using water power where possible. The products, which all come in recycled packaging and in recyclable and refillable bottles where possible, range from cosmetics to shower gels, from fragrances to sun care products and Lavera prides itself on being the first manufacturer worldwide to produce a 100% mineral sunscreen. There is also a dedicated men’s line and extensive ranges for children and babies.

Lavera now employes 250 staff and has 330 natural cosmetic products in its portfolio and is bringing out more additions to its Trend Sensitiv range next month

The company is flying the green flag on every level. Products are certified by NaTrue where possible and the ranges contain over 300 organic ingredients in total – quite a staggering amount. Being both organic and ethical is at the forefront of the company’s agenda and for Haase and Ahlers this can only be achieved by staying independent.

Says Haase: “The reason I have always resisted offers to buy my business is that freedom is of the utmost importance to me. Freedom cannot be replaced by money at any cost. If we were bought out, as people approach us to do on a regular basis, we would lose our identity and lose control of where we want the company to go.” Haase adds that he views this freedom as both personal and entrepreneurial and once lost, this is lost forever. He clearly has a long-term vision for his company and even 23 years down the line this passion has not diminished.

Green mission

He and Ahlers are helped in their quest to bring natural cosmetics and skin care to the masses because the company is situated on German soil. German consumers are famously green thinking and conscientious about what they put on their skin. Rather than jumping on the natural and organic bandwagon in recent years like many other European countries have done, Germany was the absolute pioneer in this field.

Ahlers explains: “The German market is our home market and our core market – keeping our domestic consumers happy is very important to us. For the past 85 years Germans have been at the forefront of this sector and they are very knowledgeable about its products and ingredients. Although natural and organic C&T products are very embedded in German culture there is still big potential for growth, as with every market. As a company we think globally but act locally.”

She expands on this saying that this year the company wants to focus on expanding and extending its distribution channels. Lavera has just gone into 1,200 Target stores in the US and has recently moved into Holland and Barrett in the UK. Haase explains that to accommodate this change the company, while retaining its original site in Wennigsen, will look to expand into more space in a nearby location soon. “We are having to look at other options to get more space to operate,” explains Haase. “We currently spend €5m per year investing on machinery and and need the space to expand the business. The place we have in mind is nearer to Hanover than we currently are and we will have four times more space than we have at the moment. There is no fixed date yet though as we are waiting to see how the rest of this year pans out. Although we are fortunate not to have been directly affected by the credit crunch, job security is of the utmost importance so we will proceed with this move only when we are 100% ready.”

United front

Both Haase and Ahlers are united in their view of clarity and harmonisation when it comes to certification. Having supported the NaTrue movement since its inception (the company feels this to be the most international of the standards available), Haase feels strongly that people should seek certification for reasons of research and development rather than just to be used as a marketing tool which would detract from its original purpose. “People should only seek certification for the correct reasons and for the development and progress of our industry. Anything else will just detract from the meaning and devalue it,” he says. It troubles him that so many products are being plastered with self-approved logos which will only serve to confuse the consumer and for this reason he fears that all logos, even legitimate ones, could be prohibited from use in the future. Ahlers adds that while certification is important, and something Lavera certainly supports, the main reason for a purchase should still be because the customer actually likes the product and finds that it works.

The company has a long standing relationship with the German consumer magazine Ökotest which holds consumer testing on Lavera products and regularly rates them of the highest natural standard. Lavera has also won the magazine’s “Greenest Brand” award two years running. This valued association is very well recognised on a domestic level and serves to endear the brand even further with the German consumer who generally holds great store by such recommendations and will actively buy products based on this.

Product push

One of Lavera’s perceived strengths is that it has such a wide range of products on offer, particularly in Germany where a full range of lines often adorn drugstore windows alongside those of its competitors Weleda and Dr Hauschka. It has only fairly recently been taken on by the DM drugstore, Germany’s most prominent drugstore chain, which is visited by millions of consumers daily. Rolling out products is certainly something that Lavera is good at. A walk around the factory at Wennigsen shows that new formulas and creations are being tested all the time. And the company often repackages its ranges to make sure they are as up to date and fresh as possible.

Next month will see a comprehensive relaunch of the entire Trend Sensitiv mineral make-up line to include a wider colour palette and a number of new products including three vegan lipsticks. The rest will comprise lip liners, mascaras, eyeshadows, eyebrow pencils and the sku number will increase from 42 to 54. Other developments in the pipeline include a new Self Tanning Spray with Shimmer, to add to the already extensive sun care line and some new body care additions.

Haase recognises that his is a company at the top of its game and which is in the fortunate position to expand and grow, despite the economic conditions which are stifling many competitors at present. What other companies do he and Ahlers admire in the field of natural C&T? She says without hesitation: “Yves Rocher would be my choice as it was the first beauty brand that I purchased for myself at 12 years old when I was developing an interest in natural beauty.” Haase cites L’Occitane en Provence as another pioneer in the sector although he is clear that: “I admire and have respect for other companies in our sector but I don’t look around me too much – I focus on Lavera and what we can do to improve the lives of people looking to use natural cosmetics.”

While popular on an international scale, Lavera enjoys a great deal of success with its loyal German consumers, who are avid fans of the natural and organic movement

He concedes that there are challenges however. “The amount of natural beauty products on the market at a worldwide level is certainly growing and this keeps everyone on their toes. Even traditionally non-natural ranges are now adding natural and organic ranges to their portfolios. What we are concentrating on is developing our people, machines and products to head off that competition at the pass.”

It would seem he is succeeding in this wish. With a company of passionate and creative employees, growing recognition and well respected and ethical products and processes, it would seem that, for now at least, Lavera is ticking all the right boxes. Little wonder then that Thomas Haase is such a fulfilled businessman who will not let go of his company at any price.



Profile: Thomas Haase, founder and ceo, Lavera
Thomas Haase founded Laverana GmbH in 1987 in Wennigsen, Germany after years of creating his own natural cosmetics, including a bespoke organic lip balm in 1975. Haase had previously pioneered a chain of organic food shops, in keeping with his lifelong interest in all things natural and organic. Haase still owns the company after numerous offers to buy it out, saying that independence is the only way the company can chart and follow its own course. He was given the “Hanover Entrepreneur of the Year” award in 2007 and is respected by peers in the industry. He chose his company’s name from the Latin word for “the truth” which he feels embodies a dedication and commitment to a natural lifestyle.



Profile: Klara Ahlers, managing director, Lavera
At the age of just 22, Ahlers opened her first shop in Göttingen, Germany, selling natural cosmetics. With her enthusiasm and dedication for the sector, she managed to secure bank funding for the shop without any collateral. She says that opening her own shop was “a great dream, my ultimate happiness”. While still running her own business she started holding seminars for Lavera out of which a good relationship with the company developed. In 1990 she became Lavera’s head of sales and marketing and then moved on to become its managing director soon after. The Laveré anti-ageing brand was developed exclusively by Ahlers in 2000 and was given a comprehensive relaunch in 2007.



Lavera: The view from the management
Thomas Haase and Klara Ahlers are considered the dynamic driving force behind Lavera and its success. Here they answer some questions about the aims and ambitions of the company
What gap in the market does the company aim to satisfy?
KA We aim to bring natural cosmetics into the mainstream and to let consumers know that everything which is available as a conventional cosmetic should also be available as a natural cosmetic. With Laveré we brought to the market the first organic anti-ageing brand in the field of natural cosmetics. We wanted to offer highly effective, beautifully packaged natural cosmetics which are suitable for home use.
TH With regards to certification, our products are certified by the German BDIH standard at a domestic level and by NaTrue at an international level and we fully support the need to seek harmonisation with regard to natural and organic standards.
How key is European business to the company?
TH Right from the beginning we were present in the UK and Italian markets so this has always been a focal point for us and we garner support from agencies with established experience and expertise in these markets
KA One unique selling point of Lavera products is that they are labelled in a variety of different languages so they are very applicable not only for the German market but for the Italian and French ones as well for example.
How has Lavera fared financially in the past couple of years?
TH While we do not discuss specific figures, we performed well in 2009 with sales above the industry average and as far as 2010 is concerned we expect the same again.
Do you have plans to expand your distribution this year?
TH Yes we do, but not only that. We are planning further expansion of our production facilities so that all of our products can be guaranteed in-house standards of quality control and quality assurance.
What do you think your strengths are in comparison to your main competitors Dr Hauschka and Weleda?
KA We have a greater diversity of products and our products are all skin compatible as they are dermatologically tested both in-house and through independent test institutes by test persons who suffer from different allergies.
Where does Lavera see itself in ten years time?
TH We are currently planning for the next 20 years not just for the next decade. Our aim is to be the most important natural cosmetics company worldwide by 2030. As for the shorter term our plan is to increase our listing in the international market and to generate 50% of our sales abroad in the future.



Targeting the right people
Sonia Czech is Lavera’s Export Director and she tells ECM about the latest developments and where the company hopes to expand next
“We have just gone into 1,200 Target stores in the US and that has been a big undertaking for us. We are also being sold on its website – www.target.com – which we are very pleased about. The recent move into the DM drugstores in Germany has also been a very good move for us as traditionally we are a brand which has been largely sold in health food stores and the like so the classic drugstore is a very exciting channel for us.
“The Target deal was a lengthy process to be honest and took longer than we expected but we are very hopeful that things will go very well for us. The roll-out followed a successful test market period over there and now US consumers will be able to see what a comprehensive and effective range of natural C&T products Lavera can offer them. They are starting to get into natural cosmetics in a very big way over there so the timing couldn’t be better for us.
“In the UK market we are going from strength to strength. We have a prime spot in the beauty hall at Selfridges which gives us a lot of kudos with UK consumers and we have just gone into the new Holland and Barrett concept store in Suffolk as well as an increasing range of independent pharmacies. We work very closely with Pravera, our export and distribution partners in the UK, and these relationships are vital for the smooth transition into certain markets and are invaluable to us.
“We have plans to move into Croatia this year and into more eastern European markets as this is a real area of future growth and excitement. We launched in Slovakia last year and more countries like this will follow.”

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