Natural Foods Merchandiser

Personal Care Gets All Dressed Up

A gift set sealed with a bright yellow bow; a simple strand of raffia tied around a bar of soap; a sparse, block-lettered label—snazzy packaging has hit natural products shelves. Manufacturers are rolling out at-home spa lines and bath products so attractive that they become bathroom decor. This trend is changing the face of health and beauty sections—they are losing that cluttered-pharmacy feel and looking more streamlined and inviting.

Industry veterans whose product packaging had a utilitarian, New Age or hippie appeal are relaunching with a more upscale or gift feel. Case in point is Frontier Natural Products? Aura Cacia division. The company relaunched its aromatherapy line three years ago with a new look. ?We did a lot of market research before the launch,? says Mindy Seiffert, aromatherapy assistant category buyer. ?We looked a lot at Aveda; we like their simplicity,? she says.

The Aura Cacia line is geared to women between the ages of 25 and 45 who want that at-home spa experience but have neither the time nor money to attain it, according to Seiffert. To make their point, Aura Cacia exhibitors donned bathrobes to promote their new spa products at Natural Products Expo East in October.

Seiffert believes that in five years or so natural products HABA sections will resemble a Sephora store. ?Packaging is going to become more important. Labels will become more upscale, with less text, maybe just the name of the product on the front and information on the back,? she says.

Desert Essence, a division of Country Life, has been making personal care products for 30 years. In the past year, the company launched its first upscale line (Age Reversal) and plans to roll out a spa line with 20 or so SKUs in early 2005. ?We tried to do unique products with great packaging, things that you don?t have to throw into the medicine chest when guests come over,? says Jodi Drexler Billet, a vice president for Country Life. The new line includes spa twists such as liquid soap that dispenses as foam and a mask accompanied by a mixing spoon.

Why all the emphasis on packaging? Billet answers, ?When you buy something with attractive packaging, it makes you feel good. Maybe you?re down one day and beauty products can uplift you.? She compares the HABA evolution to that of cars. ?We used to have these utilitarian, straightforward cars. Then we started looking to Europe and cars got fancier,? she says.

Her company is trying to offer a product for every type of person. ?Maybe we can tell customers that they don?t need to go anywhere else for products; they can get everything at the natural products store,? she says. ?People may be shopping for vitamins, and then they see these entire lines with great smell and none of the artificial stuff. It?s very exciting. More consumers are getting into health food stores, and retailers are paying more attention to merchandising.?

Eight years ago, when Emily Voth left her job at Sprint to pursue a career more in line with her values, she delved into personal care research. ?I wanted something between those soaps wrapped in gingham that look like they were made on a farm and the $30 bar at the Clinique counter,? she says. She also wanted something that would contrast against the brown and green that dominated packaging at the time.

Although Voth?s company, Indigo Wild, makes products that look like they belong in gift shops, they have found their niche in natural products stores. Naturals consumers are ready for them, Voth says. ?The hippies are older now and they have a lot of disposable income, and our products are very unisex, so we get a lot of men buying them. We spent a fortune on packaging and it?s paid off.?

Gift sets have done well for Indigo Wild. ?We are one of the few companies that puts together gift sets at the holidays, and they sell really well,? she says.

Clear, concise and clean were the guiding words for Aubrey Organics when it began repositioning many of its products about a year and a half ago. ?You have about one second to communicate to the consumer what the product does, and if you don?t succeed in that time, they?ve moved on to the next product—there?s so much noise on the shelves; so much competition,? says Curt Valva, general manager for the Tampa, Fla.-based company.

When Aubrey introduced its new packaging, the first thing the company heard was ?It?s about time,? Valva says. ?We were just about the last personal care company to do it. But we didn?t want to rush. Most of our products have been around for a long time and we didn?t want to alienate customers, and we wanted to be true to ourselves also.?

Valva says they wanted labels that were upscale but still looked like they belong in a natural products store. ?We didn?t want something that looked like an Estée Lauder product. We wanted people to recognize our product, but also have it look good on a bathroom counter,? he says. The new labels are color coded (a red-label shampoo goes with a red-label conditioner) and use simple buzzwords on the front panel. ?We want customers to zoom in on what the product is for and the benefits,? he says. ?You want the right amount of text and image. You don?t want to overwhelm the customer.?

The company?s spa products do stand out from the rest. ?We wanted them to look very upscale,? Valva says. The spa products are packaged in blue bottles instead of the trademark white. Several spas have picked up Aubrey?s spa line, and Valva says the company is hoping to get into more specialty and gift stores.

To help retailers display the Aubrey products, they receive plan-o-grams and visits from company representatives. ?We have weekly conference calls with four or five stores about the new products,? Valva says.

Most manufacturers see the evolution to more upscale packaging as positive and aren?t worried about alienating veteran naturals consumers. ?We want there to be something for everyone,? says Billet. ?I think consumers are ready for [high end].?

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 12/p. 39

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