Smithers Apex: Your talk will discuss the next stage of science and evolution in the products we use to care for our home and families. What challenges do you foresee 5 years down the line?
Mat Franken: As we’re getting into the next wave, my sentiment is that opinions on microbial landscapes will change and bacteria, that have often been maligned, will be actually recognized as beneficial in most cases. What we’ve been doing in cleaning is ridding ourselves of the bad bacteria, but also the beneficial bacteria and that’s changing how our bodies are functioning. Science is moving toward a better understanding of the microbiome, and education about the microbiomes of our bodies, homes, etc. will foster an acceleration in products that are either non-disruptive to the microbiome or beneficial to the indoor microbiome. Whenever you’re doing something new, there’s an exploration that takes place not only in R&D but also with the consumer and how that story is translated. It will be interesting to discover how that plays out in the real world and what people will understand as “clean”. Is clean removing dirt and grime? Or is it wiping out all bacteria in your home? Or is it removing dirt and grime while keeping the good bacteria in your home?
Smithers Apex: What does a product being labeled as “natural” mean to you?
Mat Franken: It’s really difficult to make an entirely natural product. The definition of natural, in my mind, is taking ingredients and using that ingredient in its whole form. To give perspective, today’s natural brands use synthetic or ‘plant-based’ or ‘plant-derived’ ingredients labeled as ‘natural’. Chemists literally ‘break’ the plant molecule, adding or subtracting whatever they want, creating a chemical completely unknown evolutionarily to the human body. At Aunt Fannie’s we take the molecule and leave it whole. We strive to have all of our ingredients in whole form.
Smithers Apex: What are the biggest challenges we are facing regarding products that are labeled as “natural” cleaning products?
Mat Franken: Just like everything else natural , the term is being called into question. The level of trust the consumer has, even with a well-established brand, is now coming into question. True transparency in natural, particularly in the cleaning world, means eco-friendly and plant derived currently, but plant-derived can mean synthetic ingredients. Consumers want what’s best for their health now, not just eco-friendly, and there is a fairly large distinction.
Smithers Apex: How does this challenge translate to consumers? Are they aware and how are you working to bring more awareness to consumers?
Mat Franken: Consumers are becoming more aware. Cleaning products are unregulated, at least the ones that aren’t sanitizers. When you look at an ingredient panel, most people want to have a general understanding of what the ingredients are, how they’re used, what it’s doing to the environment AND how the human body is interacting with it. Not a whole lot is being done to address the human element to date.
Smithers Apex: How did your company, Aunt Fannie’s come to be?
Mat Franken: I’m a dad with loved ones who were very sick in my household, and I started to dig into this industry in a really unsuspecting way. Due to my ill family members, the medical community advised we needed to get chemicals out of the house, as chemicals are seen as foreign agents to the human body. That’s when the lightbulb came on for me. The air in our homes can be up to 500% more polluted than the air outside of our home - of the 80,000 chemicals out there, there are less than 1000 that have ever been tested for their safety on humans. What I set out to do was figure out what makes sense for the human body; what ingredients can we use that are evolutionarily adapted for the body to understand, and how can I give clarity and transparency to products being used to clean the home? Due to my family situation, I went shopping to find products that had a clear level of transparency and I couldn’t find them, and that’s when Aunt Fannie’s was born. My hope was to shorten the learning curve for other families just like mine, to alleviate that feeling of helplessness.
Smithers Apex: What progressions do you see in the industry to better define what makes a product “natural”?
Mat Franken: Unfortunately there are lots of lawsuits happening as the term natural is being challenged in the courts.
Some companies are extremely transparent with what is in their products, while large organizations are just now starting to disclose all of the ingredients in their cleaning formulas. They are following consumer demand and the demand has been strong enough that larger companies are starting to make that change. Layer in the fact that states like California are mandating it… that’s what happens when consumer and constituent demand is heard state-wide loud and clear.
Smithers Apex: What setbacks do you see in the industry to better define what makes a product “natural”?
Mat Franken: We aren’t seeing a ton of setbacks, in fact we’re seeing forward progress. There are still folks that are a little nervous about disclosing all of their ingredients due to competitor pressure, trade secrets, etc., but that’s going to remain. However, I don’t see this as a setback. The wave for transparency is no longer deniable and companies are not going to be successful without bowing to the consumer, and right now the consumer is demanding clarity.
I think we’re in an exciting time. The science is at a place where we can take action. It’s incumbent on companies like ours and others at this conference to lead on behalf of the consumer, a consumer that is thirsty and in dire want of these types of products. They are looking at health and wellness in a way that is unavoidable and it’s no longer about what products work – it’s more about what’s good for me.
Smithers Apex: Why is this event important to the cleaning products industry?
Mat Franken: At a peer level this event will bring together the best minds to talk about what’s next in the industry. This event will bring a level of authenticity to the table as we’re sure to discuss our concerns and what’s happening in our businesses, but to also to talk about what’s next and share our best vision for the future.
Smithers Apex: What does Aunt Fannie’s hope to achieve and what can we see happening over the next few years with regards to the future of cleaning products?
Mat Franken: There’s going to be a pretty significant evolution. One that’s really exciting and one that’s focused on health and wellness. One where the consumer is really the focal point, not in just providing them with a product but with a level of education and empowerment that they haven’t received previously.
Smithers Apex: What innovations would you like to see in the future?
Mat Franken: I think we’re working on them! That’s the nice part of having a company, you get to do the things you want to see in the future. I think getting to a point where health and wellness is truly at the center of cleaning is going to be a big change. If you look at the 1950’s, a clean home was a sign of love. A clean home was the sign of a good home. These days, a healthy home is the sign of a good home. We need to keep that in mind when building our products.