Natural Foods Merchandiser

Pump up the potential of personal care

Clairol may call its Herbal Essences hair care products a ?totally organic experience,? but everyone knows the ingredients aren?t really organic. Or do they? According to industry experts, naturally positioned personal care products that aren?t actually natural provide one of the biggest challenges to manufacturers and retailers trying to promote and market truly natural beauty products. The solution? Better marketing and extensive consumer education.

Kent Spalding, principle at The Touch Agency, a Scotsdale, Ariz.-based consumer and trade marketing firm with a focus on the naturals industry, gave a presentation at Natural Products Expo West in March on the potential of personal care. Using 2003 data culled from Information Resources Inc., Packaged Facts and Spins, Spalding found that the combined skin and hair care industry is a $9.5 billion-a-year business, and that naturally positioned products, like Herbal Essences and Suave Naturals, account for $3.5 billion. But only $114 million worth of skin and hair care products are sold within the naturals channel. The ubiquitous Herbal Essences brand alone has more than $200 million in sales each year. ?As a percentage of total sales, [the naturals channel] is undersold for this kind of [personal care] opportunity,? said Spalding. ?It says that the industry is doing a lousy job of differentiating themselves from the mainstream.?

According to industry interviews conducted by Spalding, as few as one in 20 natural channel customers shop the personal care section. Compare that with the 55 percent who shop personal care in conventional groceries. According to Spalding?s research, 59 percent say their reason for not buying natural or organic personal care products is that they just haven?t considered it. ?Your consumers aren?t shopping that area because they don?t see a point of difference,? said Spalding.

Herbal Essences? sales pitch—touting its products as organic and natural—is one that confuses consumers who might be truly interested in a purer product. ?There is a ton of opportunity out there,? said Tara Estabrook, co-director of Indigo Natural Marketing and Sales in San Rafael, Calif. ?But natural personal care has always been the stepchild of the industry, not because it doesn?t make money. It?s that even hard-liner organic shoppers often don?t think that personal care is as important as nutrition and organics. But what goes into our skin also goes into our bodies.? Estabrook said naturals manufacturers and retailers have to drive home to customers the important health benefits of using these products. ?We need to make clear who we are and how we?re special.?

There is debate among manufacturers as to whether U. S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for organic and natural personal care would help or hinder the industry, but Spalding said that most agree that more clarification is needed. And in the absence of such guidelines, he said, the role of the retailer is a crucial one. ?They?re the ones that have the most leverage to go to manufacturers,? he said. ?They can say, ?We?re not going to stock those items if they have certain kinds of ingredients.? ?

Retailers should create their own set of personal care guidelines, said Estabrook, and then make sure they follow the guidelines and clearly communicate them to their customers. ?Many stores have ingredients standards, which are very clear to them but not understood by customers,? she said. A few small changes will give you a bigger piece of that $9.5 billion pie.

Keep it clean
?It?s important that a personal care department is clean and visually beautiful,? said Estabrook. ?Women will not switch from shopping at the department store or drugstore if you don?t make the section attractive and inviting.? It should also be organized and easy to navigate, said Jennifer Barckley, communications and public relations manager for Weleda, a Switzerland-based body products company. ?The personal care section needs to carry a bit more of a distinguished look, a more streamlined look,? she said. ?It?s a different environment than the rest of the store. Merchandise it in a more simple and straightforward way, with low shelves so consumers can really look at the items and see what they?re buying.?

Educate about face
Longmont, Colo.-based Sunflower Markets has taken a cue from department stores. Lisa Shapiro, the chain?s director of natural living, said samples and demos are a good way to convince people to buy products that might be a bit pricier than their conventional counterparts. ?How do people know that they want to spend $10 on a bottle of lotion if they?ve never tried it?? she said. ?Everyone likes free products, and everyone wants to try something new.? Active demos, like facials and makeup application, also give retailers a chance to educate customers about the benefits of using natural products.

Hire beauty geeks
At the Williamson Street Co-op in Madison, Wis., the head of health and wellness, Lisa Stag-Tout, sits at a desk right in the middle of the department. ?It helps to be right where the products and customers are,? she said. ?More than other departments, you really need to have someone right there to answer questions. Information is about 50 percent of what customers need.? It?s important to educate your personal care staff about product ingredients and uses—and also to hire the type of person who really believes your natural products are better than what customers will find at conventional drug stores. ?Hire people who are very passionate about the category, and who are very excited about the products,? recommended Shapiro.

Get them hooked
Another way to encourage price-fixated customers to buy natural, said Estabrook, is to have a few days each year where you offer a discount on personal care. At the Williamson Co-op?s once-a-month Wellness Wednesdays, customers are given 10 percent off supplements and personal care. Stag-Tout said this promotion is ?wildly successful? and translates into increased sales all over the store. Ample staff and manufacturers? reps are on hand to answer questions.

Another way to target customers who may just be learning about natural personal care is to revolve promotions around specific beauty needs, such as skin care or men?s grooming; and product ingredients, such as lavender and vitamin E. ?Personal care is fun. People get excited about it, and it makes people feel good,? said Estabrook. ?And people will spend a lot of money on something that makes them feel good. We know that, but we?re not taking advantage of it.?

O?rya Hyde-Keller is a freelance writer in Madison, Wis.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 6/p. 68, 71

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