Buying back access to nature in Brazil
Years ago, before the words ‘organic’ and ‘no nasties’ had passed anyone’s lips, ‘natural’ simply meant ‘basic’, ‘boring’, ‘the norm’. Brazil’s wholesome, home-cooked meals were ubiquitous and not very aspirational.
Gradually, as people in cities missed seeing and eating green so much it became the scapegoat for their growing health problems, all things natural were highly desirable. We’ve now undeniably hit a point where the obsession is no longer niche: along with health, it’s top of the agenda for every FMCG brand, even cigarette and alcohol manufacturers.
But what does ‘natural’ mean today? In Brazil, a country whose flag pays tribute to its rainforest and stars, the term now stretches beyond the physical to a much broader emotional space, providing consumers with strong feelings of identity, belonging and reassurance.
This all seems very democratic. But does everyone really have access to nature in some form, whether through the food they eat, beauty products they use or their local environment? Certainly in Brazil and arguably across the globe, to embrace naturalness is to pursue an aspirational and often high-cost lifestyle. In a concrete jungle like São Paulo, it’s not one that’s available to all.
Apart from a couple of parks like Ibirapuera and Villa Lobos, nestled between some of the richer neighbourhoods, green space is lacking. A beautifully verdant and very premium shopping mall, aptly named Shopping Cidade Jardim (Garden City Mall) attempts to redress the balance: shoppers are greeted by a plethora of vegetation, swaying in the natural breeze provided by wooden fans in the spacious circulation areas. A refreshing but exclusively luxurious shopping experience, available only to the lucky few.
In fashion too, where there was once a place for ostentatious luxury, naturalness has become the new face of premium. The December edition of Brazil’s Exame magazine featured a 2016 Ipsos study showing that more than China, South Korea and Russia, Brazil has seen the greatest decrease in the flaunting of luxury goods as a sign of success. The it beach bag of 2017? A Nannacay straw tote inspired by indigenous craftwork. Natural products offer the perfect opportunity to fuse subtlety and identity. Brands such as Farm have been leading the way here for a while. But all this comes at a price.
The food landscape certainly has its fair share of expensive natural products and buying organic anywhere can increase the cost of your weekly shop threefold. But things are beginning to change: consumer pressure is pushing naturalness onto the mainstream agenda and reasonably priced brands are following suit. Nestlé Brazil has amplified the ‘natural goodness’ in baby food by focusing on transparency. See-through labels with pictorial representations of ingredients (including traditional dishes and local vegetables such as chayote) inform consumers they’re buying into the ‘real thing’– at no extra cost.
Perhaps this is a sign that, as this obsession with naturalness filters further into the mainstream, brands across categories will work to democratize it, so it becomes accessible to all.
- Article by Emily Sheen