Beautiful Skin, at What Price?

November 7, 2008
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Category Review: Now that the quality of store brand bath and body products meets or exceeds that of national brands, consumers have fewer qualms about switching over.

Anyone who’s a little nearsighted knows what a risky proposition it is to get showered and ready in the morning before donning your vision-correcting accoutrement of choice.  If you’ve ever reached blindly for what you think is foaming shaving gel only to find that you grabbed a can of aerosol deodorant, then you’ve experienced the kind of confusion consumers face shopping in a drugstore.
Consumers in search of their go-to national brand body wash are likely to find a very similar - yet cleverly packaged and distinctive - store brand version.
Both bottles are likely to sport luxurious claims about moisturizing ingredients, and both are likely to feature upscale-looking packaging. If it weren’t for the distinction in price, some consumers might not notice the difference. And that’s exactly what some retailers are banking on when it comes to private label bath and body products.
Now that the quality of store brand products meets or exceeds that of national brands, consumers have fewer qualms about switching over, and industry watchers are seeing this happen in droves. They say this trend suggests that the bath and body category - especially in private label - is transforming, thanks to a multitude of consumer and marketing trends, as well as other economic factors.

Bathing Beauties

Tim Dowd, a senior analyst at Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts, says the cosmeceutical trend reigns supreme in the bath and body market. Dowd defines cosmeceutical products as those that treat or prevent conditions such as age-related wrinkles and dry or sensitive skin. Other examples are products that fight free radicals, usually through antioxidant ingredients.
But this trend isn’t new - bath and body products long have been marketed as weapons against aging, Dowd admits. It’s just that consumers are becoming savvier about which ingredients and additives are associated with those benefits.
“Right now, many of our customers are revising their formulations to be paraben-free, removing SLS (sodium lauryl and laureth sulfate) and propylene glycol, too,” Christine Lee, product development manager at Irving, Texas-based Chemolee Lab Corp., says. “There is a lot of pressure from the ‘natural and health’ trends, and more educated consumers are going in this direction. I think more and more, brands will shift this way and follow this natural trend in their formulas and the marketing of their products.”
Lee suggests the reason for the volume of anti-aging products is that more baby boomers are reaching the age of 50 - an age that tends to intensify existing vanity.
And just as retailers and manufacturers need to pay attention to the age of their consumers, they also need to take note of their ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
“True multifaceted skin care for different demographics continues to play a huge part in the health and beauty market,” Kelly McIntosh, vice president of sales and marketing at Ontario-based Body Care Innovations, says. “The biggest trend is true multicult-uralism - there is an Asian and Indian influence in fragrances such as Cherry Blossom and Saffron and Jasmine. Fragrance is also being attached to vibrant colors in products and in packaging.”
Most important, bath and body products must have value-added benefits. Audrey Reed, account manager at ProCore Laboratories, says new products in this category must be able to multitask - cleansing properly isn’t enough for many consumers.
“Products need to deliver the promise of cleansing well, or moisturizing all day, or exfoliating well,” Reed says. “Products must work. They need to do double-duty - such as moisturize and provide anti-aging benefits, or cleanse well and gently exfoliate to reveal younger-looking skin, or be a great aftershave and give a healthy dose of antioxidants.”
To that end, organic or all-natural products are the ultimate multitaskers. If a product is marketed as having organic and natural ingredients, it also can be perceived as more beautifying or luxurious.
“Along with wanting eco-friendly packaging and products, consumers are looking for natural and organic everything,” Reed says. “Organic used to mean more expensive; now that more offerings are available and price differences between non-organic and organic are being minimized, more consumers are associating natural with cost-effective, too.  Natural no longer means higher priced.”

Hitting the Bottle

Without a doubt, if retailers want to “clean up” in the bath and body category, their first consideration (after the quality of the product itself) should be packaging, and in most cases that requires a bottle of some sort.
Because consumers are looking for more product for their money, some suppliers say they are hearing more requests for larger bottles.
“I would say that dainty packaging, or smaller packages, are out,” Reed says. “Bigger bottles or jars or tubes are in, so long as the value is there to back it up.”
Reed adds that she’s seeing requests for sizes ranging from 12 ounces to 24 ounces for lotions and body washes, compared to 8 ounces to 16 ounces, which used to be the standard. Even hand washes and lotions are increasing in packaging size, she says.
But bigger packaging doesn’t mean private label body care items have to look like value-tier products. 
“I think a lot of the trick in merchandising private label right now lies again in sophisticated packaging,” Dowd says.
He adds that private label products have been moving toward the kinds of elegant and sophisticated packaging employed by national brands such as Neutrogena, which uses a quasi-medical blue-and-white color scheme for a more clinical feel.
CVS has started to do this with its Skin Effects by Dr. Jeffrey Dover line, Dowd says. The upscale look of the Skin Effects packaging and the doctor endorsement make it difficult for consumers to determine that the line is a CVS exclusive. 
Laura Craig, corporate general manager and esthetician for Essential Labs, Clackamas, Ore., says retailers must be keenly aware of what their target demographic looks for when it comes to packaging.
“Retailing in one of the fastest-growing and competitive markets is hard, so please make sure you know your demo-graphics when you create your line’s look and feel,” Craig advises. “Just because you might love the color purple, doesn’t mean you should package everything in purple. Just because you love the smell of rose, doesn’t mean you should scent everything rose. Purple and rose can remind people of their grandma, and thusly, if your demographic is younger, you won’t sell too well.”
Developing more attractive packaging isn’t limited to changing the color palette. Some consumers are attracted to a product because of its sustainability attributes and how well its packaging conveys that environmental message. Private label can take advantage of this trend, too.
“I think a great example of this is the evolution of green products and organic products in health and beauty,” McIntosh says. “We were the first to have an organic bar soap made of vegetable base. Currently there is no such [national] brand in the market-place. Body Care Innovations also ensured corn-based wraps and corn-based colors in the pack-aging, with recycled cartons to really effect a sustainable product.”

Beauty on a Budget

Suppliers and retailers have varying ideas about who the typical private label consumer is in the bath and body category, but they do agree on one thing: Everyone is looking for higher quality at lower prices.
“There is no typical private label consumer today, though there is evidence to show that higher income brackets are turning to private label, and that better-than-brands are becoming more and more important,” McIntosh says.
ProCore’s Reed says consumers also are looking for safer products under national and private label brands.
“The typical private label customer in bath and body care is one who is very concerned about where health is going, moving towards a more holistic approach,” she says.
And while consumers right now are very price-conscious, Dowd says evidence exists to support what he calls the “Lipstick Indicator.” He says industry observers noticed that when the economy took at hit after 9/11, consumers were more likely to spend more money on small indulgences such as pricey lipstick.
“Even in hard economic times, even in a mass merchandiser that caters to lower-priced goods, Americans are just determined to spend more for a luxury HBC,” Dowd says. PLB

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