Hair today, profits tomorrow

Merchandise. Promote. Get repeat purchases. That is the formula supermarkets are hoping to follow when it comes to hair care products.

By Craig Levitt

Like the hair styles they maintain, hair care products are trendy. What is “hot” today is “not” tomorrow. The category’s unpredictable nature, along with the sheer number of products, can make retailers—pardon the pun—pull out their hair trying to figure out how to best present the category to consumers.

One thing is certain, trends inspire new products and new products drive sales. If there is one thing the hair care category has, it is a plethora of new products. Hair care manufacturers are constantly introducing products designed for different hairstyles, textures and colors.

According to Mintel, a Chicago-based research firm, hair care innovation can be divided into three general categories: products that promise beautiful hair, products that use natural/organic ingredients and products that promote convenience. Mintel estimates that nearly 1,200 hair care products were introduced between February 2010 and February 2011. Of those, 607 claimed to use botanical/herbal ingredients, by far the most popular attribute. Moisturizing/hydrating (483) vitamin/mineral fortified (320), ethical toward animals (294) and damaged hair (294) rounded out the top five.

“Hair is a trend category and innovation drives trends,” says David Rubin, marketing director, hair care category for Unilever, based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. “At Unilever we continually strive to meet the needs of our consumers and are always looking for new and innovative ways to help them achieve the looks they want.”

High-end products have become even more popular in the hair care category as many consumers have less discretionary income to visit hair salons as frequently as they did in the past. Fewer visits to hair salons has meant a greater interest in salon-quality products—and manufacturers have taken notice.

“We are seeing a trend toward salon-quality products becoming more accessible to the masses,” says Rubin. “Tricks and products once available only to industry experts, celebrity hairstylists and ultra premium salons are now becoming available for everyday use—at the same quality, but with affordable prices. For example, the Suave Professionals Dry Shampoo has been a huge hit for us this year.”

Rubin says the Suave Professionals line has been reinvented with improved formulas, sleeker packaging and new products. The collection now includes 23 shampoos and conditioners as well as 10 styling products. The reinvention is part of a complete revamp of the Suave brand (nearly 175 beauty care products across all categories), the largest and most significant re-launch in the brands history, he says.

Quick touchups at home

For many women, a trip to a salon does not always involve a hair cut. Sometimes all that is required is color touchup to hide the gray or revitalize a dull sheen. Officials for Garnier, a division of L’Oréal USA, say consumers looking for salon-quality color and shine can turn to Garnier HerbaShine Simply Shine, which was created to provide the look of an expensive salon gloss treatment with the ease and affordability of an at-home product.

Officials add that Garnier HerbaShine is a new generation of hair color that takes technology one step further, as the ammonia-free product not only helps to defy damage but it redefines the hair color category. Exclusively formulated with natural bamboo extract, avocado oil and shea butter, HerbaShine is created to respect hair’s natural shine and softness.

With the recent addition of six deep brown shades to Garnier HerbaShine (darkest natural brown /cocoa, deep warm brown/chocolate martini, dark golden brown/sweet lager, dark gold mahogany/ root beer float, medium mahogany brown/cinnamon sprinkle and light warm brown/toffee taffy) there are now 24 colors available.

Procter & Gamble has expanded its Natural Instincts brand with the addition of Week 2 Color Refresher to every shade. Officials from the Cincinnati-based company say the new color treatment is specially formulated to revitalize hair color with a boost of radiant color two weeks after coloring. They are also adding 12 shades that are designed to provide a longer lasting color formula.

P&G has also recently reformulated several collections within its Herbal Essences shampoos and conditioners with water-activated silkening ingredients. Officials say the new formulation “gives women soft and shiny hair after only one shower.”
Beyond the traditional hair care items, industry observers say retailers have an opportunity to generate increased sales with hair care accessories and maintenance items such as brushes combs and other style keepers. A real growth opportunity for grocers seems to be with ethnic-centric products.

“We have found that ethnic hair accessory items that are maintenance driven, such as our satin sleep caps, relaxers and liquids are important drivers of sales for supermarkets,” say Joni Odum, director of marketing for Houston-based Firstline Inc. “Also fashion driven items, such as our silky scarves, headbands and pillowcases, are an impulse opportunity for grocery chains. And they are best positioned for the consumer in the hair accessories section, due to their mass appeal.”

As the popularity for hair care accessories increases, Firstline has expanded its Evolve Deep line to include 100% natural boar brushes and silky scarves, which Odum says are an alternative to everyday hair styling available in fashion-forward prints, including wildlife, geometric, metallic and polka dots with bursts of color.

In an effort to drive traffic to the category Odum says it is important to get involved in grassroots efforts. She says Firstline has recently partnered with a production company that will bring “soul-stirring plays” to the national stage this autumn. “The stage plays include Marriage Material and cast some of Hollywood’s hottest stars,” says Odum.

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