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Groundbreaking HBW Products Meet Emerging Consumer Needs

Smart retailers expand their selection in key categories that are experiencing the most product transformation
Barbara Sax
HBW Products
Period care and wellness brand Cora took cues from beauty care brands when it recently redesigned its products to make them more shoppable.

Innovation is the fuel that drives health, beauty and wellness (HBW) categories. New and improved products bring consumers down the aisle and through checkout with higher-priced products. Even with limited shelf space, smart retailers are finding ways to expand their selection in categories that are experiencing the most product transformation.

For instance, feminine care, a once stagnant category, has seen tremendous innovation over the past few years as consumers migrate to more natural, organic and eco-friendly products. 

All-cotton items are gaining share, and the absence of dyes and chemicals is a driving force in the category. Helen Robinson, co-founder of Torrance, Calif.-based Organic Initiative, says that consumers are “more and more savvy about what they are putting in the most sensitive part of their body.” Organic Initiative’s 100% certified-organic cotton tampons, pads and panty liners have no toxic chemicals, chlorine bleach, fragrances or pesticides. 

Sensing opportunity in the natural segment, Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble snapped up L., a line of tampons, pads, liners and wipes made with organic cotton, in 2019. The brand is currently one of the fastest-growing brands in the category. Rael, another line of products made with 100% organic cotton and packaged in sustainable material, includes reusable organic cotton pads and underwear in its portfolio.

HBW Products
Playtex has reduced plastic in some of its tampons to increase sustainability.

Sustainable Period Products 

Reusable products are becoming a more viable alternative as sustainability becomes a bigger concern for consumers. These products are likely to experience greater trial as consumers find workarounds during the tampon shortage that has been plaguing retailers.

The New York-based Thinx brand recently launched an affordable collection of reusable period underwear, Thinx For All, now in 558 Walmart stores, and Cora, a leading period care and wellness company, says that its reusable products are growing 75% year over year at retail, driving a quarter of the brand’s growth. Last year, San Francisco-based Cora introduced a reusable menstrual disc, which sold out three times at launch.

The use of reusable menstrual cups is also growing through a number of technologically advanced launches with innovative designs and features. London-based market research firm Technavio Research forecasts growth for this segment to accelerate at a compound annual growth rate of 5%. Major players in the menstrual cup category are Anigan, Diva International and

Earth Care Solutions 

Leading brands are finding their own ways to address sustainability. Future Market Insights, a market research firm based in Valley Cottage, N.Y, reports that sales of non-applicator tampons are already gaining traction and are expected to see continued growth as manufacturers introduce products with a lighter eco-footprint.

In an effort to reduce plastic waste while still appealing to consumers who prefer plastic tampon applicators, category heavyweight Playtex, based in North Bergen, N.J., recently introduced Clean Comfort, a tampon that combines a plastic tip with an eco-friendly cardboard plunger. The result is a tampon with 40% less plastic, made of 100% organic cotton, and free from chlorine, fragrances and dyes.

HBW Products
The men's hair color category is growing, and new products are meeting the demands of consumers.

Expanding Personal Care

Brands are increasingly expanding across category segments to position themselves as total period care brands. Considering that a recent study from Chicago-based Mintel found that women are seeking products that address multiple aspects of menstruation, such as pain, odor and other issues, and 43% say that they have difficulty controlling menstruation symptoms, there’s plenty of opportunity to be mined.

Joan Driggs, VP of content and thought leadership at Chicago-based IRI (and onetime editorial director at Progressive Grocer), cites The Honey Pot Co., a plant-based, black-owned feminine care brand, as an example of an innovative niche line that’s had a huge impact on the category. The Atlanta-based brand’s portfolio includes natural washes, wipes, tampons, panty sprays, pads, lubricants and other herbal products.

[Read more: "IRI, NPD Officially Merge"]

This past spring, Cora took its cue from beauty care brands when it launched a rebrand designed to make the category more shoppable. The brand introduced a number of new products, including a Restorative Vulva Balm moisturizer, a Stay Well Period Patch with chasteberry extract and black cohosh, and a Balancing Boric Acid Suppository to promote pH balance.

Among larger brands, Summer’s Eve, part of Irvington, N.Y.-based Prestige Consumer Healthcare, launched a new spa collection of feminine care products, including Spa Luxurious Wash and Spa Intimate Skin Serum to hydrate, smooth and soften skin.

Retailers can expect continued innovation in this once sleepy category. Sequel, a startup engineering better health-and-wellness experiences for women, starting with a leakage-preventing tampon, will introduce tampons with a spiral design that absorbs fluid more evenly and prevents leaks. Company co-founders Greta Meyer and Amanda Calabrese say that San Francisco-based Sequel is focused on “elevating the standards for products long left behind.” 

HBW Products
Cutting-edge ingredients, hassle-free formats and 'clean' options are driving the men's grooming segment.

Men’s Grooming Gets a Boost

Innovation is also driving the men’s grooming category. Dara Busch, CEO of New York-based 5WPR, believes that the category, transformed by the rise of male influencers on social media who are drawing attention to the importance of good grooming, has pivoted from “practical to aspirational.” Notes Busch, “It’s opened the doors to a whole new consumer base who now feel comfortable and confident looking for more than bar soap.”

She adds: “Most of the innovation we are seeing is in the form of upgrades to core shaving, moisturizers and deodorant products. Cutting-edge ingredients in hassle-free formats and ‘clean’ options have proven successful for our brands.” 

In response to consumer feedback, Pacific Shaving Co. recently introduced a three-step fragrance-free skin care routine, Uppercut Deluxe is launching a range of targeted pre-styling products that address several hair care concerns, including oiliness and dandruff, and Monat recently introduced a Matte Styling Clay specifically designed to create thicker-looking, textured definition. “All of these launches are targeted and specific, speaking directly to the newly invested interest stemming from men consumers,” adds Busch.

Further, brands once viewed as female-positioned are finding success with male consumers. Londonderry, N.H.-based SmoothSkin, the at-home hair removal brand, and self-tanning brand St. Moriz, based in the United Kingdom, are targeting men with new products, to name just two.

The men’s hair color category, which saw dollar sales spike 10% over the 52-week period ending June 12, according to IRI data, continues to flourish as new products enter the market. This summer, Clichy, France-based L’Oréal introduced L’Oréal Paris Men Expert One-Twist Hair Color, the brand’s first permanent hair color technology created specifically for men. The Colorsmith brand of men’s custom home hair color, based in El Segundo, Calif., recently expanded into hair care with three new products: Protect Shampoo, Protect Conditioner and Anti-Yellow Shampoo.

IRI’s Driggs notes that the pandemic helped fuel sales of products like hair clippers, as men were forced to delay trips to the salon or barber and turned to at-home tools. Many were happy with the results. “Sales of Wahl clippers were through the roof,” she observes. 

In fact, products that allow consumers to have what Driggs calls “a professional experience with a product they can use at home,” are stoking growth across the oral care category as well.

Pro Performance Drives Oral Care

Driggs notes that in the oral category, “Crest White Strips were a game changer for the category” that allowed consumers access to professional-quality whitening products at home. It’s been a boon to retailers. “Whitening products tend to be higher-priced, and people are willing to pay for it,” she says.

Products continue to make at-home whitening easier and more convenient. Category leader Crest, a brand of Procter & Gamble, recently expanded its lineup of leave-on teeth-whitening treatments with Crest Whitening Emulsions + Overnight Freshness, taking innovation one step further with the added convenience of before-bed application. 

One of the most innovative companies in the category is Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Quip, whose Smart portfolio products link to an app that tracks consumers’ brushing routines and reminds them when to brush. The app also offers tips on how to improve effectiveness and keeps users motivated and engaged by allowing them to earn points for two-minute twice-daily brushing sessions. These points can be redeemed for products.

Introduced in 2020, Quip has since added an eco-friendly Refillable Floss Pick and a Children’s Smartbrush. Additionally, the brand recently acquired Toothpic, a leading telehealth company offering also based in Brooklyn, in a move to create a “360-degree suite of personal and professional oral care products and services.”

More typical line extensions also provide novelty in the oral care section. St. Louis-based SmartMouth has debuted a Mouth Sore Oral Rinse that prevents bad breath and soothes oral pain, while Davids Natural Toothpaste recently launched a Kids + Adults premium toothpaste to appeal to those who can’t tolerate the taste or strength of mint, which is associated with many adult toothpastes.

“New flavors are important for the oral care category, because it creates newness that consumers crave and helps take some of the mundane out of brushing our teeth,” asserts Eric Buss, CEO of Temecula, Calif.-based Davids Natural. “Consumer feedback from our own customers told us that many adults cannot use mint-related products.” 

According to Driggs, more innovation is on the horizon in HBW. “Unilever has identified a new hand care segment that addresses cleaning and nurturing at the same time,” she says. The Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based company’s Dove brand will likely add products with these claims to the segment. As Driggs observes, “Since hand sanitizers and frequent washing can do a number on your hands, and people still do wash their hands a lot, there’s potential there.” 

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