The last stop on my recent Asia trip was Shanghai; China’s largest city (according to Wikipedia) and one of the country’s four so-called top tier cities. It was my first visit to Shanghai (and mainland China) and I loved it.
Granted, I only saw the (touristic) city centre – I was there for just four nights (on the 144 hour transit visa deal for EU citizens) and two of those days were spent at China Beauty Expo 2017 – but still: such a cool city!
It’s great for exploring on foot, has a fascinating cityscape, interesting buildings, stores and markets, and the food!!! And Shanghai has a fabulous bar scene, too – I wish I could have had an extra few nights to try out all the bars on my short list; thank you @asia.cocktails! – but at least I managed to visit Speak Low bar. An excellent night.
But this article isn’t about Shanghai’s tourist attractions, it is about an organic beauty brand which I discovered quite by accident in a Watsons drugstore on Nanjing East Road (Pedestrian street ). Even more surprising was the fact that I knew the brand – Urtekram is one of THE best-known and oldest Danish organic beauty brands and they have a wide European distribution. However, it seems that Urtekram (or “Yatikelan”) also has a product portfolio of around 100 sku designed specifically for the Chinese market. Exciting stuff!
Essences, toners, lotions, BB creams, CUSHION FOUNDATIONS, men’s care; face masks – these are Asian formats and textures. None of these product ranges are available anywhere in Europe (or in East Asia either; at least I haven’t seen these products in any of the beauty stores I’ve visited in Tokyo, Taipei or Hong Kong). The ranges aren’t listed on Urtekram International’s website either.
I tried to contact Urtekram China through their official Shanghai address but didn’t get a response. I can’t read a word of Mandarin, unfortunately, and Google Translate doesn’t work so well with non-Western scripts, but I did my best to dig up some info for y’all. Keep in mind that most of this info is based on assumptions, conclusions, inferences and some creative lateral thinking. If anyone of you kind readers out there can confirm or correct the facts or has additional info about Urtekram China, please let me know and I’ll update the article accordingly.
I also took a whole bunch of photographs (I think I spent almost an hour sitting in front of the product display; the sales assistants were starting to give me distinctly nervous glances) and I bought two of the hydrating toners which are SUPERB! Loving the textures.
Anyway, this is probably the longest teaser paragraph I’ve ever written for a trend-traveller article, so click on the link below for more info and pictures!
URTEKRAM’S BRAND HISTORY
Urtekram was founded in 1972 and has a very wide distribution in Denmark and around 30 international markets. In the Scandinavian countries, Urtekram also sells a wide range of organic dried foods, spices, teas and so on, in addition to its core portfolio of body care and hair care.
The company’s personal care line-up comprises around 120 sku across ten ranges: Nordic Birch, Rose, Aloe Vera, Brown Sugar, No Perfume; Nordic Berries and Baobab Men’s (which were both launched this year); Coconut, Calendula (children’s products) plus a wide range of shampoos for different hair types. There is also a brand new range, Morning Haze, which is packaged in stylish white and gold.
Each Urtekram range typically includes a shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, hand wash, hand cream and deodorant; some lines also offer body lotions, body butters, bar soaps, spray conditioners and body scrubs. The shampoos and shower gels are usually available in different sizes (250ml and 500ml) and there is also a range of toothpastes.
The line-up varies according to country; the 120 sku I mentioned above is Urtekram’s Danish portfolio; here in Germany we have perhaps seven ranges with around 5-6 products each.
I checked Urtekram’s international website (www.urtekram.com) as well as the Danish site (www.urtekram.dk) but although the brand has a few face care products in Denmark which are not available in other European countries (I think I counted three tubes of facial moisturisers in various skin care ranges and a lip balm stick); the site doesn’t list anything that comes even close to the highly segmented Chinese Urtekram portfolio that I saw in Shanghai.
For purposes of comparison here are two screenshots of Urtekram’s Western product ranges:
And here are two pictures of some of the Chinese product ranges!
After a LOT of Google Translating I was able to confirm (from urtekram.com) that in 2012 Urtekram Denmark established a joined venture in China. In 2013, the brand was officially introduced at CBE Expo (presumably China Beauty Expo trade show in Shanghai) and then started distribution in mainland China. I am not sure where the product ranges are sold – I checked three city centre Watsons outlets altogether and the only store that carried them was the Nanjing East Road outlet. Didn’t see them in any of the (few) Shanghai department stores that I visited either.
On many Asian language websites the text is actually embedded in an image, gif or png, presumably to ensure that the characters are displayed correctly no matter what browser or software you use to view the page. However, this also means that you can’t copy + paste individual pieces of text into Translate. Copying the link into Translate doesn’t always work either. I tried OCR/image to text conversion but whenever I managed to successfully convert the content of a jpg into text, the resolution was usually too low for Google Translate to make sense of it. In the end I resorted to opening my smartphone translation app and holding it in front of my computer screen to translate the text!
You still get gibberish, of course, but occasionally there are bits and pieces that make sense. So, this is courtesy of Google Translate’s Live Translation App: Urtekram China’s site mentions 103 Urtekram counters or POS in Eastern China and something about hair care shelves (salons, perhaps?) and supermarkets. During my Google research I came across a number of pictures of Urtekram brand counters which looked very elegant (see screenshot below), so presumably the brand is sold in more upmarket retail stores as well. Under “Latest News” was a link to Auchan in Suzhou so I’m guessing that a few of the big Western supermarket retailers in China also carry some Urtekram ranges.
And of course, the products of Urtekram China are available online, for example on Urtekram’s official store on Tmall (see pic above). I did a quick check and saw a number of Urtekram products that aren’t listed on the Urtekram China website either. Like a Winnie the Pooh special edition or Urtekram lip glosses! If you’re interested, google “yatikelan” which appears to be the Roman transcription of the Chinese characters for “Urtekram”. And yes, I did notice the mis-spelling of “Urtekran” on the upper left-hand corner of the official Tmall shop – although Google Translate kept giving me partial translations of “crane” whenever the brand name came up so this might not be a typo after all.
As far as I could ascertain, Urtekram’s Chinese products are manufactured in China. I used the Google Live Translation app to check the packaging of the two products I bought – beneath Urtekram’s International corporate address in Mariager, Denmark; the manufacturer is listed (in true Google Translate style!) as “Sub-Embankment Excellent and Crafts Cosmetics (Shanghai)”; the name might be incorrectly translated but it seems to be the Shanghai subsidiary of a Chinese C&T manufacturer. The place of product origin (last line of the text) is also listed as Shanghai.
At China Beauty Expo 2017 trade show I met several C&T brands which had both Chinese and Western product portfolios. The product manager of one of these brands told me that their China-designated cosmetics are produced in China while the international products are made in Europe. And it makes perfect sense really; the product textures and formats are designed for a domestic demographic so it is much more efficient to have a Chinese facility take over the product development. Also, if the cosmetics are already manufactured in China there is no need for the products to go through the lengthy and complicated product registration process, which is obligatory for foreign beauty brands who want to sell in bricks ‘n mortar retail in mainland China.
MADE IN CHINA / URTEKRAM AND THE ANIMAL TESTING ISSUE
And there is another upside to it – at least this would be an major consideration for an organic brand like Urtekram. Quick recap: Europe’s strict organic certifications forbid animal testing on finished products or the use of ingredients that have been tested on animals. Animal testing on cosmetics is forbidden in the EU, period. However, if you are a Western beauty brand who wants to sell in retail stores in mainland China, your products will have to be officially registered in China so that they can be distributed – that’s the product registration process I mentioned above. And at the moment (August 2017) this product registration still includes mandatory animal testing. This also applies to certified organic brands.
As a result it is rather difficult for an organic beauty to sell in mainland China and still retain your credibility as a green, animal-friendly beauty brand – the mere presence of your products in Chinese perfumeries, drugstores, department stores etc. indicates that you have let your finished products go through animal testing. And if your loyal customers find out, the chances of a full-blown shit-storm are VERY high.
By the way, should you decide to sell your products through cross-border e-commerce channels like Tmall Global or JD.com the animal testing rule does not apply – your products will be dispatched to and from so-called bonded warehouses, without having to go through official product registration. It’s a rather neat loophole. For more info on cross-border e-commerce in China check out my article for SPC Magazine from last summer.
Anyway, for the reasons I outlined above, the market entry in China can be very difficult indeed for foreign organic beauty brands. However, since Urtekram China is a registered business in China (joint venture) and its products are manufactured and bottled in China, there is no need for a product registration and thus, no need for animal testing. According to info I found online, current Chinese regulations for cosmetics testing state that cosmetics and personal care products such as skin and body care, hair care, makeup and fragrances do not need to undergo animal testing. Categories like colourants, bleaches, hair removal products, slimming products (anything quasi-medical I guess) on the other hand, necessitate some form of animal testing. The same site also mentioned that the Chinese regulatory framework for cosmetics is rather complicated and changes frequently!
So, for any of you readers who wonder about Urtekram China and animal testing; IF my estimate is correct and the product ARE manufactured in China, AND the info I found is still valid, then the Chinese Urtekram products will MOST LIKELY not have not been tested on animals.
Ok, after this lengthy preamble – let’s explore Urtekram China’s domestic product ranges!
URTEKRAM’S CHINESE PORTFOLIO
The brand’s Chinese portfolio is divided into three thematic sections and comprises at least 100 sku (i.e. products listed on www.urtekram.com.cn). Each sub-portfolio (or whatever you want to call it) has a different packaging design and offers around four to five sub-ranges. I am working my way from top to bottom on the urtekram.com.cn product listing. Product names are taken straight from urtekram.com.cn (some ranges have an English name and the product types are also listed in English. Yay!). When the range has a Chinese name only I will give Google’s English-language translation. Which is better than nothing. Also, I am posting screenshots from the urtekram.com.cn website so you can see what the products look like.
The first section is called 森语清泉美肤系列(商超)
[Google Translate renders this as “Sen Yu Quing Quan skin series (Business Super)”. I think this is something of a more high-end or professional range. Also, these product ranges weren’t available in the Watsons store. It’s a pity because they look AMAZING!]
There are four main face care ranges for women within the Sen Yu Quing Quan series. The packaging features sophisticated brown, green and golden tones; I really like this design.
The Purely Bright Radiance range includes 11 sku: cleansing cream, cleansing gel, cleansing foam, toner, pre-essence, essence, face spray, exfoliating cream, lotion, cleansing face mask and face cream. See pic directly below.
The Aquaction Hydratante Intensive line (see pic directly above) offers 13 sku: cleansing mousse, cleansing cream, cleansing gel, two types (!) of pre-essences, face spray, toner, lotion, exfoliating cream, cleansing face mask, moisturising cream, intensive cream and eye cream.
Oil Control Mattifying series includes 8 sku: mattifying cleansing gel, mattifying cleansing foam, mattifying face spray, mattifying essence, mattifying toner, mattifying lotion, mattifying exfoliating cream and mattifying cleansing mask. See pic directly below.
And Aquasource Biosensitive range (pic above) comprises 8 sku: cleansing foam, cleansing cream, face spray, toner, essence, lotion, cleansing mask and face cream.
Then there are three sheet mask variants: Purifying Firming, Purely Bright and Aquaction Hydratante as well as three hand creams: Lavender, Rose and Verbena. There is also a “Men’s Care” link which, however, isn’t clickable.
The second part of the portfolio is 活机精粹美肤系列 (健与美)
[Google Translate renders this as “Life Fine Beauty Series (health and beauty)”. These are the products that I saw in the Watson’s store (see large pic above) so this is most likely the brand’s main retail portfolio]
The packaging design of this product group is much simpler than the Sen Yu Quing Quan range – simple white background and one main colour for each sub-range. Most of the products in these ranges are listed as certified by Ecocert. Or at least that is what Google Translate gave me: “The product is certified by Ecocert International Ecology Certification Center”. However, I didn’t see the usual Ecocert seal on the packaging of the two products that I bought. The “certified by Ecocert” reference might refer to selected ingredients only, who knows! Still, the Shining Radiance toner (scroll down to the very end of the article for pics) had a little free-from product claims box which included the Ecocert logo.
It is also noticeable that almost all of the products in this product group include “Iskilde Aqua”, spring water from the Danish spring of Iskilde in the Mossø region of Denmark. The products I bought are from this part of Urtekram China’s portfolio; for more pics and crappy Google Translate shots of the INCIs scroll down to the end of the article!
There are four women’s product ranges altogether.
Perfect Intense Hydration includes 6 sku: cleansing foam, toner, lotion, cream, eye cream and cleansing mask. I bought the toner from this range. See picture below.
Bio-Epilobium Oil Free Moisturizing (see above) offers 4 sku: cleansing foam, cleansing mask, toner and lotion.
Intensive Super Extreme (see image below) includes 5 sku: essence, lotion, super moisturising cream, extreme moisturising cream and deluxe moisturising hand salve.
And Shining Crystal Whitening (see above) offers 8 sku: cleansing foam, toner, lotion, essence, face cream and cleansing mask, eye essence and hand cream. I bought the toner from this range.
Under “Men’s Care” we have two clickable links, both lead to a blank page. However, in the Watson’s store I saw a number of men’s products on the shelf. Next in line is “Special Care” which offers an Iskilde thermal water spray (a big aerosol can, much like thermal waters from Avène, Vichy et.al.), Purifying Firming Recovery Cleansing Masque (a cream mask), Purifying Energy Gentle Cleansing Oil, 7 Days Sheet Mask and Amber Energy Recovery & Replenishing Serum.
And the third section of the Chinese product portfolio is 海陆源生系列
[Google Translate renders this as “Sea and Land Source Series”). These product ranges were available at the Watsons store as well]
There are three women’s product ranges.
Original Age Reversal comprises 7 sku: cleansing foam, cleansing mask, eye essence, hand cream, purifying cream, purifying lotion and purifying toner.
And Hydrating by Nature (below) includes 8 sku: cleansing foam, cleansing cream, softening toner, soothing lotion, soothing cream, purifying essence, eye essence and “freshing” complex (another cream).
The packaging of these three ranges, incidentally, is reminiscent of Urtekram’s European packaging. This section of the product portfolio also includes three sachet face masks (not sure if these are sheet masks or cream masks) – Hydrating, Age Reversal and Original – to match the three product ranges above. In addition there is a BB cream which is available in two shades.
Phew! Ok, this was the Chinese product portfolio of Danish organic beauty brand Urtekram, as far as I could ascertain.
And here are some bad-quality screenshots (and some very creative ingredient translations! My favourite is the “big leaf drunk fish grass extract”) straight from the Google Translate Live App!
This is the Perfect Intense Hydration Toner.
And here is the Shining Radiance toner.