San Francisco, California
100 percent plant-based hair and body care products
Sharma's journey began in 2018 with an autoimmune diagnosis. "Multiple rounds of testing couldn't figure out the issues I was facing," he recalls. "Everything was bundled into autoimmune, which is kind of like cause unknown. But [only a small percentage of] autoimmune is genetic disposition. The remaining is due to environmental factors, and the bathroom is one of them."
A former engineer and MBA business consultant, Sharma decided to approach his diagnosis methodically, beginning with the field of alternative medicine. "I started to work with alternative medicine doctors, and based on their recommendations, I began to clean up what goes in and on my body. My background was very quantitative, and I have a problem-solving mindset. I jumped deeper into what makes [a product] clean and was appalled to see that there's no standard industry regulation defining natural, clean, or green."
As a vegetarian, Sharma consumes a plant-based diet, and he began to feel that plant-based hair and body care products might also be beneficial. "I think it's common sense to define natural as 100 percent from plants with no synthetics or artificial petroleum or anything," he explains. "And that was the genesis of starting Ingreendients."
During the two years Sharma spent conducting R&D and on his own -- and testing each batch of the product on his own body -- there was a lot of naysaying from others in the industry. "Everyone said that 100 percent from plants is not possible," he continues. "It's not going to be shelf stable. It's not going to suds. It's not going to be a good experience. But it's in my nature to challenge the status quo."
Finding a contract manufacturer who was willing to give production of Sharma's plant-based formula a try, however, was difficult. "I spent a lot of time researching, making phone calls, going through directories of contract manufacturers and looking for someone I could work with nationally or even internationally," Sharma says. "I ended up with a contract manufacturer in California. We went through nine different iterations of the formula and finally launched in 2020 when I felt it was ready and definitely a remarkable product."
Bootstrapped in the beginning, Ingreendients has since raised two rounds of capital and has become a top five brand on Amazon. "We're definitely punching above our weight class," Sharma says. "On Amazon, we go head-to-head with Love Beauty and Planet, Native, and Honest Beauty, which are hundreds of million dollars' worth of brands."
The company’s products -- which include shampoo, conditioner, and body wash -- are 100 percent plant based, contain no synthetic ingredients, and are biodegradable and certified reef-friendly. They're also packaged in 100 percent recycled plastic bottles that are 100 percent recyclable.
"I built an ecosystem around [my products]," Sharma says, "because I feel a natural product should also evaluate the environmental footprint." While sourcing recycled plastic resin bottles, labels, and pumps, was challenging, it was also essential to his mission. So was the utilization of earth friendly, nontoxic, vegetable-derived inks and 100 percent recycled cardboard shipping boxes.
The finished result: "We're a carbon neutral brand," Sharma adds. "We had our lifecycle assessment done in terms of our carbon footprint for each and every product. And we offset it by giving a donation to the WILD Foundation and also by supporting a program in Indonesia that protects the palm forests."
Challenges: Sharma says market education is one of the company's current challenges. "In the absence of regulation, there's a lot of greenwashing going on," he continues. "There are hundreds of plant-based personal care brands in the U.S. but we're the only one that's 100 percent from plants. What goes on the body and to the planet matters. And decisions made through emotional messaging or pretty packaging that a lot of these brands lean towards really isn't the way to go about it."
Opportunities: The market for Ingreendients' products is growing, Sharma says. The company grew 300 percent between 2021 and 2023 and is forecasting "growth in a similar range for this year as well" as more consumers make conscious decisions about the products they're putting on their bodies.
Additionally, Sharma sees opportunities for Ingreendients in shaping conversations within the beauty industry. "Should plant-based mean 100 percent from plants?" he asks. "Or are we okay with 93 percent or 95 percent plant derived? Also, what's going down our drains? Millions of people, every single day, whatever they put on their bodies is eventually going down the drain. Are they safe? Are they toxic for our waterways? And what are we doing in terms of offsetting our carbon emissions and reducing plastic overload? Right now, I think those are the conversations that Ingreendients can introduce at a larger scale through what we're trying to do."
Needs: "Distribution and getting in front of as many people as possible," says Sharma. "We're on a mission to protect the two most important homes we'll ever have: Our bodies and our planet. That's just the reality of it. If health is lost, everything is lost."