Private Label Buyer
Category Review: Bath and Body Products

Private Label Awash In Bath, Beauty Products

November 27, 2012
Body chart

If you’ve ever stood near a teenage boy trailing the overpowering scent of body wash, you could be forgiven for wondering how the U.S. market for soap, bath, and shower products grew only 2.1 percent in 2011 (adjusted for inflation, only 0.5 percent) to $4.4 billion from the year before. With wildly popular TV, print and online ads and a burgeoning shelf presence, men-centric soap, bath, and shower products are the bright spots in a largely lackluster segment.

SymphonyIRI sales for total US FDMx (supermarkets, drugstores, and mass merchandise retailers excluding Walmart, club stores and C-stores) for the year that ended July 8 shows that overall liquid body wash sales rose only 2.7 percent to $925 million; private label sales eked out a 0.8 percent growth to $55 million.

Private label liquid hand soap fared better, with sales rising 4.7 percent to $89 million. Its overall sales rose 3.7 percent to $375 million. Private label’s non-deodorant bar soap saw sales jump 21.3 percent to $8 million, while the overall category rose just under 4 percent to $584 million.

The slow economic comeback, and fluctuating consumer confidence continue to convince skittish consumers to cling to their frugal spending habits, “even for

Focus on National Brands

We likely haven’t seen the end of the all-things Axe onslaught. Earlier this year the Unilever brand introduced Anarchy, a body spray for women to accompany its men’s version of the scent. The men’s Anarchy version also is sold as deodorant and shower gel. With its “Unleash the Anarchy” tag line, the company is attempting to rope in the younger female consumer, whose use of body spray runs second to their use of scented body lotion and reflects beauty advice to “layer” a scent for long-lasting effect. Because the first layer of women’s fragrance is bath products such as shower gel, the female Anarchy shower counterparts can’t be far behind.

everyday products such as soap, either trading down to less expensive store brands or making their existing products last longer,” according to Mintel Group, Ltd.

Its data reveals that private label sales growth “matched or topped all leading companies except Unilever, underscoring the importance of affordable brands during a period of slow economic recovery. Private label has particularly strong showings in the non-deodorant bar soap segment, helping achieve overall FDMx private label sales of $165 million.”

“It definitely looks like there is a shift to value-priced products,” says Steve Berry, founder of Greenblendz, in Auburn Hills, Mich. “People are not splurging on
premium offerings for this daily need.”

But Mintel’s market research shows that even today’s frugal consumers cite key attributes that they look for when they buy soap and bath products: extra moisturizing, scent and anti-bacterial properties. More than four in 10 consumers surveyed by Mintel look for extra moisturizing, which they believe will help them maintain healthy, younger-looking skin. More than a third report that they buy products based on scent, which provides them a degree of pampering via sensory pleasure, and more than one quarter say that they only buy antibacterial hand soap, as the flu pandemic of 2009 made an indelible mark on their buying habits.
An intriguing new scent can definitely give private label soap, bath and shower product a fresh take.

“Most people want value, but they don’t want to be off-trend,” says Donna Rippin, category director for personal care marketing at Sheboygan, Wis.-based Rockline Industries, of today’s savvy shoppers.

Rippin sees retailers with wide-ranging store brand lines “staying connected with the times” and trends by incorporating popular scent categories that cut across myriad consumer goods. These scent trends include timeless classics, with green tea and bergamot tones, as well as more restorative ones with clean, light floral scents, such as wild rose and hibiscus.

Berry says that scent pairing can be a great merchandising tool. He suggests bundling products and fragrances that complement each other to promote multiple SKU purchases.

“Offering a morning ‘wake up’ fragrance and a ‘chill out’ evening option can allow for a dual purpose purchase,” he says of products across this category.


Although older men prefer bar soap for their bath and showers, younger men continue to flock to liquid body washes. More than a third of men surveyed by Mintel reported using bath products designed just for men and that “cater to their unique sensibilities.” Soap just isn’t exciting any more.

“Bar soap has become completely commoditized,” Rippin says, falling prey to the onslaught of male centric body wash that’s not going away any time soon. “I see the male trend as still a big thing.”

This focus on men is only natural after decades of female-centric marketing in this category, though.

“When you’ve tapped out her, where are you going to go?” Rippin asks of the female consumer.

But beyond the sexy, younger male consumer, the private label soap, bath, and shower products market is awash in other opportunities. Mintel’s report notes that African-Americans, whose darker skin can more visibly show the effects of dryness, buy both the broadest range of soap and shower products and place the highest emphasis on moisturizing properties.

The country’s Hispanic population will increase by almost 16 percent between 2011 and 2016, and its accompanying spending power, expected to reach $1.5 trillion in 2015, is a market that deserves close attention. According to Mintel, Hispanic consumers reported “more use of a host of soap and bath products than white respondents.” It advises that, “Hispanics should be a central tenet of marketing initiatives in the coming years.”


Although sales of national and private label sales bubble bath sales are both on the wane, there are opportunities for clever marketing. Consumers are too busy to indulge in this affordable splurge, according to Mintel. However, 38 percent of the consumers it surveyed reported buying bath products such as bubble bath as a gift, and 37 percent reported that receiving gift packs of the same and gift promotion could be an opportunity for stores during the upcoming holiday season.

And Euromonitor International reports that a “natural positioning within bath and shower is increasing important, as engaged consumers seek out healthy and sustainable personal care products” It reports that naturally derived oils were popular ingredients, and certified organic products sold well in specialty grocery and health food channels.

But although natural might be important to consumers, it’s still hard to find store partners who want sustainable packaging for the private label brands, Berry says.

So how can private label buyers reach a new consumer niche? Work in tandem with manufacturers.

“Stop the reverse auctions and invite a handful of manufacturers that can produce your line in for discussions, sampling and pricing evaluation, and then pick one to work with on a comprehensive brand development,” Berry says. “Custom bottles, new fragrances and promotions will build a program and needs to be mutually beneficial.”