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NONFOODS: Hair care: Hair today, gone tomorrow

The "perfect" hair care consumer, according to ACNielsen Homescan's Consumer Facts Report 2004, is a 35- to 44-year-old Hispanic female head of household, who makes more than $70,000 a year and has kids in the 13- to 17-year-old range. While finding one consumer exhibiting all of these traits may be difficult, it's certainly feasible that consumers within a given supermarket's trade area exhibit at least one of them.

The important thing is that grocers should pay close attention to these figures, lest they give up their hair care sales to competing channels. While the supermarket channel still leads the way in hair care, according to the Homescan report, which covers the 52 weeks ending Dec. 25, 2004, the other channels are rapidly catching up.

According to the report, 55.4 percent of consumers who purchased a hair care product did so in the traditional grocery channel. These Homescan panelists for the most part sought the basics: Men's and women's hairspray, shampoo, and conditioners were purchased by at least 60 percent of these shoppers. (In other research, most of those polled in the customer intercepts conducted by Kit Moss Productions for Progressive Grocer's Consumer Expenditures Study in the Sept. 15 issue also saw the supermarket as a convenient source for these hair care basics, which they picked up while food shopping. For more specific needs, such as treatments, they sought other channels or salons.)

Mass merchandisers weren't too far behind, grabbing 45.3 percent of hair care product buyers. This channel was often sought for more specific items, including coloring, treatments, and home permanent kits, according to the data.

The drug and supercenter categories were neck and neck, each sought by 34.2 percent of panelists shopping for hair care. This is a strong achievement for the supercenter channel, since there are fewer stores in the channel compared with others. The grocery and mass channels should take heed, as the drug channel and Wal-Mart have each seen growth in the category, according to ACNielsen Strategic Planner annual data for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 13, with total hair care sales growth climbing out of the red to 1.8 percent. Wal-Mart's growth matched the drug channel's, at 1.8 percent.

Wal-Mart's growth, however, represented a huge figure -- $35.7 million across its discount stores and supercenters, to be exact. In fact, the company's total hair care sales of just over $2 billion were more than those of any other channel's combined stores, according to ACNielsen's Wal-Mart Channel Service figures. The drug channel sold $1.6 billion in hair care for the year ending Aug. 13, and grocery represented $1.65 million.

Who are these shoppers?

Retailers can always count on household income as a good sign that they've got a good hair care shopper. Household income of $30,000 is the dividing line: Those Homescan panelists with a household income of less than $30,000 indexed under 100, with that number decreasing as the income level continued to drop. On the other hand, families with household income of $40,000 indexed at 103, and the index climbed alongside incomes, with a $70,000 income indexing at 130. Bottom line: More income means more hair care purchases.

The age of the female head of household showed some interesting results, particularly because the high-indexing items varied greatly from one age category to another. Female consumers under 35 and from 35 to 44 indexed consistently high across multiple categories, in particular with creme rinses and conditioners, and shampoos. As these consumers aged, the high indexes shifted to coloring and growth products.

Once the female head of household hit 55, though, home permanents were where it was at -- the previously high-indexing categories dipped, most below 100, while home permanents jumped past the 200 mark, reaching an index of 252 for age 65 and older. From this we can assume the younger females were spending more time grooming their hair than the seniors were.

Not surprisingly, households with children indexed progressively higher in all hair care products as the kids grew into their teens. One exception, however, was in the costume hair coloring category, which encompasses all temporary hair coloring that's for costume use, including glitter or colors not normally found in typical women's coloring products. These indexed in the mid-200s once the kids passed 6 years of age.

Ethnicity probably exhibited the greatest variation from one of its subgroups to another, compared with the rest of the Homescan demographics. The Caucasian segment indexed at 101 for total hair care and didn't stray too far from that number across all hair care categories. African-Americans didn't buy a large variety of hair care products, indexing at only 59, but in the categories that they did purchase, they were particularly strong. For this group, men's hair coloring indexed at 150, and hair preparations other than men's, which include items such as straighteners, frizz reducers, and other hair treatments, indexed at 209. Asian-Americans indexed over 200 for hair growth products and shampoo combinations.

Hispanics comprised by far the most active ethnic group when it came to hair care; this is because there are so many subgroups within the ethnic group, each with particular hair care needs, experts say. This is evident in the numbers, which indexed over 140 in every category except hairsprays, home permanents, and hair growth products.

It's clear from the data that while there's no "ideal" hair care consumer, there are specific traits within each demographic group indicative of a consumer who would likely be close to perfect. While this data merely scratches the surface of what's provided by Homescan, it offers some direction to HBC buyers for developing further research to start planning or -- perhaps more importantly -- to start a dialogue with shoppers.
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