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Body wash and shower gel sales soar

Thanks to decades of soap commercials, many people's notion of cleanliness involves suds, steam and showers. But more consumers are starting to score those suds from a bottle rather than a bar.

Vicky Uhland

April 1, 2011

4 Min Read
Body wash and shower gel sales soar

Thanks to decades of soap commercials, many people’s notion of cleanliness involves suds, steam and showers. But more consumers are starting to score those suds from a bottle rather than a bar.

Customers spent $18.4 million on natural body washes and shower gels (manufacturers say the terms are interchangeable) in conventional stores between November 2009 and November 2010, compared with $19.4 million on bar soaps, reports Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm SPINS. Although bar soap sales still top those of liquids, washes and gels are closing the gap.

In natural foods stores, bar soap still cleans up—SPINS reports $16.5 million in sales compared with $8.8 million for liquids. But again, wash and gel sales could soon outpace soap sales, as both categories netted an 8 percent increase over the 52-week period. “I feel like it’s the evolution of cleansing,” says Lewis Goldstein, vice president of marketing for Gardiner, N.Y.-based Kiss My Face, which makes shower gels and bar soap. “People who use shower gels have graduated from soap at some point.”

Manufacturers believe natural body wash and shower gel sales are driven by a broad range of consumers, including:

Teens and 20-somethings. “Body wash has a coolness factor” for impressionable youth, says Wendy Cockayne Lucas, vice president of sales and marketing for Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Desert Essence, which makes body wash and soap.

Men. Multitasking guys use shower gels for shaving and shampooing, says Hugo Saavedra, cofounder of Hugo Naturals, a Chatsworth, Calif.-based soap and shower gel manufacturer.

Families or roommates. For people who use the same shower, bottled washes have less of a yuck factor than a single “house” bar of soap.

Gym rats. It’s easier to pack a bottle than a bar for post-workout showers.

Check out our gallery of product picks.

Formulation boosts

It doesn’t take much to make a body wash or shower gel: a liquid base, a sudsing agent, fragrance and a preservative. But most natural personal care manufacturers ensure that the base consists of purified water or aloe juice, the sudsing agent is made from a natural product like coconut oil or vegetable glycerin instead of sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate, the fragrances come from essential oils rather than chemical additives, and the preservatives don’t contain parabens, which can disrupt the endocrine system.

Manufacturers are also adding a variety of natural or organic ingredients designed to seduce the senses and pamper the skin. Hot ingredient trends include:

Luxurious scents. Goldstein says fragrance is a key sales driver for Kiss My Face shower gels. “The shower can be a special time—it’s some people’s only relaxation of the day, and they associate that with certain scents.” He believes fragrance is so important that many shoppers buy shower gels based on smell more than price, functionality or even brand. Many companies are moving beyond the usual lavender and citrus scents—look for bergamot and white cassis in Denver-based Mineral Fusion’s Mineral Body Wash and mandarin ginger lily in Kiss My Face shower gels.

Condition-specific formulations. Tea tree oil, willow bark, rosewood, lavender, comfrey and chamomile in products like Desert Essence’s Bulgarian Lavender Body Wash and derma e’s Very Clear Problem Skin Body Wash combat acne on the back, shoulders and chest. There are also washes and gels for sensitive skin, like derma e’s Psorzema Body Wash with neem, burdock, bearberry and chamomile, which soothes eczema and psoriasis symptoms such as itchy, flaky and irritated skin.

Moisturizers. Many washes and gels contain the antioxidant vitamins C and E, but a growing number are adding antiaging and skin-softening ingredients. The sea botanicals in body washes from Denver-based Depth enhance the skin’s hydration abilities, says Tim Schaeffer, senior vice president of marketing. Hugo Naturals shower gels get a moisturizing boost from shea and cupuaçu butters.

Check out our gallery of product picks.

How to sell the gel

To increase your body wash and shower gel sales, remember the two S’s: suds and size.

Many natural manufacturers opt for foaming agents that are less harsh than sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate but also less sudsy. This can cause a merchandising headache because Americans often associate foam with cleanliness, says Tim Schaeffer, senior vice president of marketing for Denver-based Mineral Fusion. Even natural products consumers buy into this myth, he says, so it’s important to educate shoppers about the various types of surfactants.

Body washes and gels also tend to cost more than soap, which can turn off price-
conscious customers. Companies like Gardiner, N.Y.-based Kiss My Face are combating this with 32-ounce “value size” products that can be as economical per wash as bar soap.

Check out our gallery of product picks.

About the Author(s)

Vicky Uhland

Vicky Uhland is a writer and editor based in Lafayette, Colorado.

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