Don't Blush

November 24, 2010
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For thousands of years, women (and depending on the era men too) have applied cosmetics to their faces to enhance their beauty. They’ve stained their lips with crushed berries, outlined their eyes with kohl or soot and applied deadly arsenic and lead powder to lighten their skin tone.  Anything to help them conform to the beauty dictates of the day. 

Attracting shoppers to private brand cosmetics takes more than price, packaging and a sense of brand style play important roles.

For thousands of years, women (and depending on the era men too) have applied cosmetics to their faces to enhance their beauty. They’ve stained their lips with crushed berries, outlined their eyes with kohl or soot and applied deadly arsenic and lead powder to lighten their skin tone.  Anything to help them conform to the beauty dictates of the day.

Today, when a woman stops in front of a cosmetics display, whether she is in a tony department store or pushing her cart through the grocery store, she is faced with a dazzling and often confusing array of packaging, promises and prices. Yet all the products offer the same lure: that they will make her look and feel more beautiful. 

The recession dampened the color cosmetics industry in 2009, causing a slight drop (1.3 percent) in total retail sales, according to “What’s Next for Recession-hit U.S. beauty and Colour Cosmetics” a report published by Euromonitor International. Most notably, although premium branded or luxury color cosmetic products retained a healthy share of the U.S. market, their 2009 overall sales fell by more than 5 percent from the previous year. The U.S. color cosmetics category, which Euromonitor estimates at $9 billion in retail sales, includes lip, eye and facial make-up products but excludes skin care, hair products, perfume, men’s grooming and bath and shower products. 

Department stores color cosmetic sales declined steadily during the past two years, Euromonitor also notes. Meanwhile, grocery stores have seen their share of the color cosmetic sales rise for more than a decade. American women do love to look beautiful but fraught economic times have definitely turned them into far savvier consumers. Women who were recently unrepentant Shopaholics now proudly claim the Frugalista label (one who lives a frugal lifestyle but stays fashionable).

What does a woman want? 

At least when it concerns cosmetics, a recession-weary woman wants a good value and a multi-tasking product all wrapped up in a distinctive, appealing package. All these work together to help reassure her that her choice to buy private label color cosmetic instead of a national brand is a smart one; one she might stick with even when the economy bounces back.

Private label makers, suppliers, marketers and retailers need to understand how women buy color cosmetics. Even in a recession, women decide to buy cosmetics based on more than practicalities like price. They also decide based on the elusive intangibles that spawn multi-million dollar cosmetic brand marketing campaigns. Color cosmetic brands have definite personalities and appeal to particular market segments and demographics. There is the organic ‘only the freshest and purest ingredients touch my face’, the exotic, the understated classic, and adventurous type of buyer, to name just a few.

Choices, Choices.

So how does a woman decide? First, she notes how the product is presented. Packaging plays a huge role in color cosmetic marketing and sales. Brand label cosmetic advertisements are replete with constantly updated and distinctive takes on color and design. Private label packaging needs to focus more on this area and not be content to simply echo or mimic a national brand’s look and feel. A woman may happily buy private label tissue or snacks encased in bland packaging but as private label cosmetic customer she will seek validation that her purchase exudes beauty right from the outset. 

Cosmetic consumers gravitate towards the products that speak to them. And as retailers know, in a category as rife with competition as color cosmetics, you often have only mere seconds to catch a potential customer’s eye with vivid or intriguing packaging.  

Private label cosmetic makers are beginning to distinguish themselves from national brands via packaging, says Tom DiPietro, vice president for research and development at Cleveland-based DayGlo Color Corp., which helps companies build brand awareness via color. 

“Color trends play a significant role in the fashion and beauty world but from a marketing standpoint, this can lead to me-too packaging, where brands jump on the color of the moment, rather than creating a unique brand identity with color. What we’re seeing with private brands now is a move away from those color trends, with private labels instead building their own unique brand identities.” 

He admits that private label manufacturers and designers are “still being required to do more with less.” Mimicking the pricey luxury designs of the multi-national cosmetic brands is tough on a budget. Still he suggests that private labels break away from the pack. 

“New color schemes remain one of the most affordable and easiest ways to innovate as brands can refresh packaging without needing to change the structural design of a package or added manufacturing costs.” 

But for packaging innovation to occur, retailers, suppliers and manufacturers need to collaborate. “This is the only way to ensure the seamless integration of new materials and technologies,” he says.
What will you do for me?

Even as a woman responds to appealing color cosmetic packaging, she’ll almost simultaneously note price and utility. What does anyone consider a bargain? Getting more bang for the buck. Private label color cosmetic buyers are no different.

For example, a woman buying mascara can choose between products that promise to do far more than darken her lashes. They also purport to lengthen them, strengthen them and even help them grow. Foundations and concealers will not just even out skin tone but also contain anti-aging ingredients and sun protection. If you glanced into a woman’s make-up bag a few years ago you would have spied numerous products engineered for specific purposes: sun protection, wrinkle reducing, skin plumping and highlighting. Now, it’s possible to find all these in one single applicator. One slim instrument can distribute liquid eyeliner from one end while it cunningly encases an eye pencil on the other. 

This lightening of the make-up bag means that smart private label makers and retailers will increasingly tout their products’ multi-tasking properties. For example, Audrey Morris Cosmetics, a private label cosmetics and skin care company based in Pompano Beach, Fla., sells a “Pucker Up Lip Plumper Lip Gloss” that not only has a mineral base formulation but antioxidant Vitamin E to help moisturize lips, is vanilla scented and flavored and includes menthol, to serve as an antiseptic, a skin refresher and a blood circulation stimulant. 

Euromonitor notes that while growth for make-up kits and sets was stagnant in 2009, this category should grow as women increasing seek value. Instead of buying several single eye shadow or blush shades, women will more likely buy a range or group of colors conveniently packaged together. 
Savvier shopping also means that customers are more closely monitoring product claims. Ron Robinson, founder and CEO of and a former cosmetic chemist for several large national beauty companies, notes that private label cosmetic makers and retailers could focus more on setting themselves apart from the crowd. “They seem to simply be copying the national brands. That might change as the competition gets tougher,” he predicts.

Today’s color cosmetic shopper appreciates product innovation, he says. Retailers who want to distinguish themselves can do more claims testing and demonstrate to their customers that their products have clinically proven results and performance. “In the past five years I’ve seen real improvement in the quality and performance of private label products. Chemists now spend a lot of time breaking down the original formulas, sourcing the same raw ingredients, and reformulating them. In many cases, there may be very little difference between a (private label) and its national branded product. And there are no rules against making an exact copy, as long as the ingredient technology being used isn’t patented,” he says.

Another possible way to increase market share and retailing reach is to focus seriously on sustainability. DiPietro of DayGlo says sustainability “is no longer a trend but rather, an integral way of doing business. There is an increasing emphasis on products being compliant with global chemical legislation. It’s vital that companies choose suppliers that have extensive knowledge and can help customers unsure that they use safe materials. Today, whenever DayGlo develops new products, we always look closely at these regulations and design materials in order to make sure we address the broadest possible scope.” 
Women will likely never go back to crushed berries and soot to enhance their features but they’re also not likely to return to pre-recession spending levels any time soon. If you want to succeed in the private label color cosmetics category, focus on the fashionable Frugalista.

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