Supermarket NONFOODS Business: A good hair day

Curly hair, straight hair, fine hair, thick hair, color-treated hair, permed hair, ethnic hair, dry hair, oily hair--pick any random group of supermarket shoppers, and you'll find a huge variety of hair types and styles. There are just as many kinds of hair care shoppers. Some seek salon-quality products, while others want value. Some shop by brand, while others mix and match. Then there are those elusive consumers whose shopping habits are dictated by the last television commercial or magazine advertisement they saw.

To attract all of these shoppers and meet their disparate needs, grocers must carry a product range that is broad as well as deep. Managing such a vast array of products can be difficult, to say the least. "Hair care is a very dynamic, competitive category," says Kim Vollbrecht, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble Beauty Communications in Cincinnati. "Consumers have many different needs and desires, which drives constant change in the category."

Indeed, P&G has dealt with these needs by assembling a complete line of brands. Pantene, Head & Shoulders, and Herbal Essences play in the premium/performance segment; Aussie, Pert Plus, and Renewal 5x cover the mid-segment; and Daily Defense shampoos and conditioners are the company's latest entries in the value tier.

With the growth of dollar stores and of consumers' concern about the state of the economy, it's no surprise that manufacturers are developing value lines and offerings in larger sizes. Although Procter & Gamble directly targets value customers with Daily Defense, the company has also addressed the value issue within its other product lines by adding eight new SKUs to Herbal Essences Intensive Blends with no changes in pricing, and by offering Renewal 5x in four large sizes.

Johnson Parker Care Products, Inc. in Ocean, N.J. was built around the value concept. The company helps supermarkets better compete with dollar stores by enabling them to set up dollar sections in their HBC departments. "We make merchandise that has high perceived value, but it just happens to sell for a dollar," says company spokesman Sam Mizrahi.

Key factors in creating a strong value product line, says Mizrahi, are attractive packaging, affordable pricing, and jumbo sizes. Johnson Parker products are created in an American-run factory located in China, allowing the company to create upscale packaging and large sizes while maintaining a one-dollar retail price point. Its Radiant Shampoo is available in a 27-ounce bottle, and the company plans to launch a new line of shampoos and conditioners under the Luster brand. The line will contain a shampoo, conditioner, balsam pro shampoo and balsam pro conditioner, each available in six fruit scents.

Since the launch of the company, sales have taken off dramatically, according to Mizrahi. Wal-Mart will feature Johnson Parker products beginning this month, and Winn-Dixie plans to expand its dollar section from four feet to 12 feet over the next few months, he says.

This is not to say that premium products are being left out in the cold. In fact, according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), for the last 52 weeks ending April 20, four of the five top-selling shampoo brands are among Procter & Gamble's premium products: two Pantene products, Head & Shoulders, and Herbal Essences (see the chart on this page). It seems that the economy isn't enough to deter consumers from trying to look good—no matter the cost.

That's why Tijeras Enterprises, Inc., a mother/daughter-owned salon based in Albuquerque, N.M., has brought its salon-quality hair care products to the mass market. "Baby boomers are now in their prime," says president Jacqueline Asher. "They are concerned about aging; they are concerned about their looks. Appearance is very important to them, and they will pay for it."

Tijeras tapped into its 25 years of salon experience in the high-altitude desert climate of the Southwest to develop its products. "We took the worst hair environment we could think of and created products that perform well in it," says Asher. "Plus we have the experience of working with customers in our salon every day, which has helped us develop a product mix for all types of hair."

The company's product lines include Clary & Cucumber Daily shampoo and conditioners, Unscented Daily shampoo and conditioners, and Crimson Clove revitalizer, each employing upscale packaging and labeling.

Tijeras wanted to create a product that not only performed well, but also was as natural as possible, so the company uses cleansers derived from herbs and plant essences in all of its products. Asher is eagerly awaiting the development of organic standards for personal care products, so she can make any necessary adjustments to meet those standards.

Dennis Sepp, president of Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Shikai, is also keeping a close watch on the organic standards for personal care products. As a member of the standards committee for the Certified Organic Trade Commission, he is helping to create them. According to Sepp, creating organic standards for personal care products is much more difficult than creating such standards for food. "We are trying to work out some sort of interpretation of what 'organic' means in terms of cosmetics," he says. "This is a real quagmire, because cosmetics are made mostly of water, and there is no such thing as organic water.

"But the goal is the same: We want to give the consumer something they will believe [in], that is clean, something that will put at ease those consumers who are concerned about what they are putting on their skin. There are some brands that call themselves organic, but there is no real certification yet. The same is true for products that are labeled as natural; the consumer believes that natural is safer. I don't know if it is or not, but that is the general idea behind why natural is popular. You can call anything natural. You just need the smallest certification, such as the product may smell like banana."

In addition to being Shikai's president, Sepp—who has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry—is also the company's formulator. He has developed shampoos based on the powdered fruit of the shikakai plant, which grows in the Far East. "It is a natural sudsing agent that is neither a soap nor a detergent," says Sepp. "The Shikai line of shampoos and conditioners were developed around the extract of this plant."

The Shikai line includes a volumizing shampoo, which includes soy protein; and a moisturizing shampoo with panthenol and glycerin, which aid in the retention of water. For his color care shampoo, the pH is adjusted to avoid washing off any hair colorants.

Shikai's Henna Gold shampoo and conditioner use a neutral, non-coloring henna to add shine. "Henna contains polysaccharides that have a very long [molecular] chain, and we break it up into smaller chains," says Sepp. "The smaller chains have an affinity to hair, and when they stick to the hair, they behave like cellophane, reflecting light brilliantly."

One area where hair care manufacturers have gone completely high-tech is on the Web, providing interactive services that reinforce their brands and educate consumers on the best products for them. Many companies also offer product samples via the Web.

Garnier has created a unique and fun method of spreading the word about its new Fructis brand through the brand's "Hair Intervention" page, which allows users to e-mail friends who need help with their hair.

Procter & Gamble has an online services section for its hair care brands, in which it offers an online "Strand Test" that helps consumers evaluate their hair, and a "Get Profiled" section that determines which mix of products is ideal for them. This ties into P&G's regimen merchandising strategy (see sidebar on this page).

P&G's Herbal Essences brand, as the exclusive provider of hair care products to Fox's American Idol TV program, provides unique offers on its Web site tied into the show, such as "Top Ten Tips on How To Look Like an American Idol," a free "Insider's Guide to American Idol," and audition video clips. The site also held a sweepstakes in which one contestant won a trip for four to see American Idol live in Los Angeles.

Web sites such as these provide entertaining outlets for consumers as well as develop a grassroots brand awareness that builds as fast as e-mail can travel. Add to this television advertising and in-store signage, and the resulting traffic is something any retailer will welcome.

Just how well do such promotions work in driving sales? While it's impossible to track how much they add to total sales, P&G's No. 1 brand spot, according to IRI's rankings in the charts on page 80, should provide some insight.
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