Body Language

January 23, 2008
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The bath and body care category has lost some luster, but taking a closer look at evolving trends can help this niche-based area of retail grow.

It’s common knowledge that if you’re feeling good, you’re looking good. And in our time-crunched (and often over-priced) society, it sometimes can be difficult to schedule or afford many opportunities to pamper ourselves. Therefore, a whole host of bath and body products are available to consumers through nearly every arena of retail, in an effort to make consumers feel (and look) their best. And while the bath and body care category is one that is sought after for various benefits gained by using products in the aisle, the category, as a whole, is on the decline.

For example, the overall bath fragrance category, as well as private label products such as bubble bath, have been declining at double-digit rates in food drug and mass merchandise outlets (excluding Wal-Mart) for the 52 weeks ending July 15, 2007, according to sales figures provided by Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI).

The reason is stiff competition from other trade channels. “Bath fragrances and bubble baths are the smallest bath and body segment in mass outlets. The greater bath category includes body washes and personal wash products that continue to experience sustained year-to-year penetration and growth increases,” says Charles Wachsberg, chief executive officer of Apollo Health and Beauty Care, Toronto.

“In mass-market retailers, the bath fragrances segment is often fragmented and lacks definition,” Wachsberg says. “This category is driven by a large selection and choice, trend-forward formulas and experiential assortments. These aren’t easily implemented outside of specialty outlets that focus on these offerings.”

At only 16.8 percent of the market, private label penetration in hand and body lotions leaves a lot of room for growth, according to the IRI data. Store brands grew faster than the overall hand and body segment, up 7 percent in dollar sales while the overall segment was flat. Although prices are up slightly in private label hand and body lotion, a 36 percent price gap remains for store brands vs. the overall segment.

“These products require appropriate merchandising in order to be successful,” Wachsberg points out. “Sufficient choice and selection are difficult to attain in mass merchandise given the limited shelf space The passive merchandising environment in mass retail outlets contrasts sharply to a more active selling culture, which engages the consumer via demonstrations and sampling as found in specialty bath shops and department stores,” he adds.

Kirkland, Wash.-based Northridge Gardens features a number of unusual products not often found in mass outlets, a key strategy for success in this segment. The company’s solid lotion bars are made with beeswax, cocoa butter, olive, coconut and almond oil, and melt when rubbed and massaged onto the skin. The fragrance of the bars also are unique - varieties such as mango coconut, creamsicle, papaya and lemon verbena among others make up the line.

“Our lotion candles have really caught on. The candle melts, you blow it out and use the melted lotion for a warm soothing skin treatment or massage,” says Brenda Rigby, national sales manager for Northridge Gardens.

Other subcategories of the bath/body segment include body washes and soaps. “Body washes intended for shower use have evolved significantly in the category. They’ve come to offer the moisturizing, botanical and experiential benefits desired by both decadent and the convenience-minded [consumers]. This kind of product was previously available only in bath preparations,” Wachsberg says.

“Liquid soaps show increased growth and penetration, but the bar-soap category continues to decline,” he notes. “Liquid soaps have evolved to satisfy the quality and performance expectations of today’s consumer.”

According to Wachsberg, trends today include an expansion of currently successful foaming variants and delivery systems, as well as the development of natural and biodegradable formulations that offer sulfate-free, phosphate-free and triclosan-free systems for the quality- and environmentally conscious consumer.

On the Shelf

“Having the right assortment of products to meet each consumer’s needs is crucial. For example, consumers with sensitive skin are extremely interested in sensitive-skin offerings,” says Wendy Haas product manager for Rockline Industries, Sheboygan, Mich. “Customers want to find the features that they like in branded products as private label offerings. Also important is offering high-end packaging and having a total skin care program with a premium-line look,” she adds.

Adding yet another equation into the mix, the eternal issue of shelf space doesn’t elude the bath and body aisle. To this, many manufacturers have worked with retailers do develop unique merchandising tactics in an effort to spark growth in the category.

Northridge Gardens, for example, offers a porcelain hand to display the company’s bars along with signage: “Try Me, I’m a Solid Lotion Bar.”

“The hands are a very effective merchandising device,” Rigby says.
Another idea is to offer a fragrance-blending bar. By establishing a bar, retailers can offer a highly personalized shopping experience where customers independently choose their own signature scent and create a personalized bath and body care set. “This creates a unique one-on-one shopping experience,” says Laurence Diaco, marketing representative for Nectarine Body Care, Berkeley, Calif.

Typically, a fragrance-blending bar features unscented bulk-size products, such as bath gels, hand and body lotions, massage oils, bath salts and spa treatments, as well as a range of perfumed oils. These are displayed in rows of dispensing bottles behind the bar with an assortment of matching specialty glycerin soaps. Once customers have chosen their fragrance/product combination, the blending expert pours the product and places an ingredient label with a signature store label on the back of the bottle.

“The customer is filled with positive associations by enjoying this engaging, rich and personalized shopping experience. It’s a far cry from the mass-produced, often sterile mass-retail experience,” Diaco says. To create visual excitement, stores will put up a weekly blending-bar menu highlighting new product introductions, or featuring enticing blends. “This makes shopping fun and personalized,” she adds.

Sleek and Green

The growth of the premium segment in stores is translating into improved packaging for private label. According to Gina Crespo, advertising manager for McKernan Packaging, Reno, Nev., more elegant lines of packaging are in demand. “PET jars - clear, cobalt blue and amber, bullet and teardrop shaped bottles - are moving well, as well as clear acrylic bottles that let the color of the treatment product show through.”

Crespo also has noticed a call for a more upscale look on caps and tops. “There are more requests for gold bands, and gold and silver metal shells over plastic caps.”

In addition to sleeker packaging, many private label manufacturers also are keeping the green movement in mind. “The trend is to have containers that can be recycled - products made from 100 percent recyclable materials,” Rigby says. “Instead of wasteful packaging, customers are offered bottles which they can return for refilling or recycling,” Diaco says.

“Package [products] as eco-friendly as possible - let your consumers know that the packaging is eco-friendly,” says Audrey Reed, sales representative for ProCore Laboratories, Coppell, Texas. “Use ingredients from renewable and sustainable resources and once again, inform your consumers.”

For many retailers, a change in packaging design is based more on cost efficiency than aesthetic appeal.

“Our customer is price- sensitive, so we do away with many of the additional packaging materials. For example, there are no pouches inside a box. We got rid of the box because it doesn’t add value in terms of quality. This way we offer a better presentation of value to the customer,” says Lauren Hong, general manager at Kareway Products Inc., Los Angeles.

The Marriage of Skin and Food

“The skin and body care industry’s turn toward ‘cosmeceuticals’ is the marriage of skin care and healthy ingredients that traditionally have just been consumed as foods,” Reed says “We want to be on the cutting-edge of what’s new and what’s next in cosmeceuticals.”

For example, BORBA, a cosmeceutical company based in Woodland Hills, Calif., just introduced a drinkable skin care line called Skin Balance Waters - it’s a beverage that includes clarifying, age-defying, firming and replenishing properties.

“Natural ingredients are gaining momentum and are perceived to be superior. They resonate with demanding and sophisticated buyers, and draw a more astute wellness-oriented consumer into mass outlets,” Wachsberg says.

“We’ve seen the natural/organic segment grow in grocery stores from half an aisle to two aisles dedicated to all natural products,” says Alan Gangl, vice president at Formula Corp., Seattle. “Consumers see and get natural/organic food products, so they are looking for that in their personal care products.”

Organic products are growing in popularity, but the cost of true organic alternatives and the limitations of strictly certified ingredients makes these products less compelling for manufacturers. To this, Wachsberg notes, “A successful compromise takes advantage of natural extracts and includes certain certified-organic ingredients for enhanced performance and sustained benefits. This strikes a logical balance between the concerns of the trend-forward retailer and the quality-conscious consumer.”

For example, Formula Corp. uses essential oils instead of fragrances and perfumes in its products. “There are thousands of perfumes but only a couple of hundred essential oils, which limits what manufacturers can do,” Gangl says. By using blends, more scents can be created with the oils although manufacturers can’t achieve the same notes as perfumes. “But you have the benefit of providing consumers with natural product with essential oils,” he adds.

Gangl also sees a strong trend in natural ingredients. “There is a big spike in that segment. Industry trends come from what people are reading about. They want naturally derived preservatives, ingredients that are gluten-free, and not genetically modified,” he says.

“It’s no longer enough to have a product that is, for example, a bubble bath with strawberry fragrance. It has to be marketed as a bubble bath that offers aromatherapy using natural essential oils and includes vitamin E for nourishing the skin,” Reed comments.

However, though these products are popular at the moment, they can be challenging and scarce. “The biggest challenge, from a formula standpoint, is the use of natural preservatives and raw ingredients,” adds Peter Sokoloski, private label manager for NOW Foods, Bloomingdale, Ill.

With regard to additional benefits to more common products, the wipes segment actually is making its presence known in the aisle. For wipes, benefits are delivered through the types of fabrics used and the liquids themselves, adding more advantages.

According to Mike Fitzgerald, vice president of sales and marketing for AFG Wipes, Riegelsville, N.C., “For exfoliating and chemical peels, the fabric is more abrasive. Or various ingredients such as antioxidants can be added to the liquids,” he says. “Gel technology is a kinder, gentler method of formulating, more so than aqueous emulsions. The best technology to deliver benefits determines what is used.”

“While it doesn’t have a big role today, we anticipate that organics and natural products will have more of a role in wipes in the future,” Haas adds. “We’ve seen the increases of these products in other categories, and in Europe.”

“Organics and natural products, as well as cosmeceuticals, are here to stay,” Reed concludes. “As long as our society remains interested in the ‘go green’ environmental movement.”

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