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the challenge

Lotus Aroma’s Jean Colas, right, and Robert P. Boisvert at their manufacturing facility in Quebec.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.

Essential oils relieve the stresses of everyday life while sharpening mental alertness and enhancing the body's healing processes. So says Jean Colas, the co-owner of Lotus Aroma, a plant-based aroma brand based in Quebec.

"Certain smells are known to affect mood, increase memory and promote wellness," Mr. Colas says at a manufacturing facility for Dermolab Pharma Ltd. in Sainte-Julie, near Montreal.

Lotus Aroma, Dermolab's primary brand, offers home fragrances, massage oils, body washes and face care products, and it has been around since 1991.

Mr. Colas purchased both Dermolab and Lotus Aroma in 2006 with partner Robert P. Boisvert. Since then, aromatherapy, the promotion of well-being through scent, has become a major lifestyle trend. Analysts predict sales of essential oils will continue to grow globally, reaching $11.67-billion (U.S.) by 2022, according to San Francisco-based Grand View Research.

To stand out in an increasingly crowded market, Lotus Aroma uses "highly selective sourcing, powerful in-house research and development and the most stringent manufacturing standards," Mr. Colas says.

Lotus Aroma says its products are 100 per cent vegan, GMO-free and contain very little water – if any at all – compared with most other brands. It's an important point. Many essential oils, Mr. Colas says, are contaminated by the addition of water and other fillers to increase their volume.

Some competitors sell manufactured oils masquerading as natural. "The bad news is that the questionable nature of these essential oils can only be uncovered through lab analysis. Worse, not only is their therapeutic effect non-existent, but they can also be toxic."

These ersatz oils are giving Mr. Colas a headache. His products, he says, are "up against low-cost imitations sold as natural products by several green-washing brands" in a market "often plagued by a total lack of integrity."

The Challenge: How can Lotus Aroma stand apart from inferior oils and broadcast its message of quality?


Dustin Brown, managing director of the marketing firm Original Inc., Toronto

Today, brands are focusing on transparency and authenticity through storytelling. Content marketing is a great way to truthfully share a brand story. We've seen success in this approach from brands like McDonald's with their "Our Food. Your Questions" campaign that took on all the negative rumours about McDonald's food, or the Simply brand of beverages and their campaign that focuses on the fact that it's made with 100 per cent real fruit and not from concentrate.

Lotus Aroma needs to lead the charge in educating and changing perceptions. They might develop video content to tell the story of how their product is made, a social media/PR campaign to raise awareness about the issue, or redesign packaging to call out the product difference. Yes, Lotus Aroma is taking on the heavy lifting by educating and raising awareness for the category, but if done correctly this should cement their brand in the hearts and minds of the consumer in the process.

Michelle Gojkovich, president and co-founder of Buhbli Organics Inc., a vegan skin care brand, in Collingwood, Ont.

Lotus Aroma must clearly identify their own unique position in the marketplace. Every business needs a USP, or "unique selling point," that makes them stand out from their competitors. What's yours? I don't see it. In creating the Buhbli Organics brand, we identified our USP right from the start. There was an obvious lack of essential oils and cosmetics in the marketplace that were both USDA-certified organic and affordable to the majority of consumers. Voila, we found our niche.

Gaining organic certification and having the easily recognizable and well respected USDA Organic logo on your label increases consumer confidence in the essential oil industry and helps eliminate confusion over whether your product is genuinely organic, free of pesticides, synthetic chemicals or GMOs. If you want to help improve the industry standards for essential oils, increase consumer confidence and stand out in the market, getting organic certification for your product line makes good sense.

Dan Wise, co-founder of the prepared-meal delivery and pickup service Otago Real Life Food, Montreal

At Otago, everything we do is about using real ingredients, no GMOs or processed food. We're competing in an industry that's saturated with companies who make some sort of claim about being the healthiest, best-tasting, and most convenient meal prep offering.

The most important brand pillar in this day and age is transparency. Mr. Colas needs to look at the packaging and website to determine what can be done to be more transparent about the ingredients used. Upon first glance of the website, the messaging that the product line is 100 per cent vegan, GMO-free and gluten-free seems to camouflage with the rest of the text.

To combat competitors, create packaging that outwardly and confidently states that products are 100 per cent vegan, GMO-free and gluten-free. These words should be right on the front of the package, or you can enlarge the ingredient list to be transparent about what is being used. Then be consistent with the labelling of each product.


Tell stories

Look for ways to tell the story behind Lotus Aroma on social media and other channels.

Seek certification

Being able to say that you are USDA-certified organic will increase consumer confidence.

Tweak your website

Emphasize the fact that your product is vegan and GMO-free upfront.

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Interviews have been edited and condensed.