Supermarket NONFOODS Business: Nature's lip service

This winter consumers are getting a harsh lesson in the physical effects of cold weather. Record-setting low temperatures in many regions are leaving people with dry skin and raw, chapped lips.

Fortunately, because of its compact size, lip balm is easy to find in most retail stores, regardless of the channel -- it's often right in front of a consumer's face as he or she checks out, or on clip strips throughout various departments, or in a countertop merchandiser at the pharmacy department.

At the same time, consumers have grown more environmentally conscious and are on the lookout for earth-friendly HBC items. Seeing this, lip care manufacturers are developing products to address both needs and creatively placing items all around the supermarket. "Lip balm is definitely an impulse buy, because of its size and the way that it's merchandised," says Kathy Swanson, president of Plainfield, Mass.-based Kathy's Family, a manufacturer of natural bath and beauty products.

All in the family

Kathy's Family Rx Lip Treatments are made from a blend of certified-organic oils and calendula -- an antiseptic remedy for burns and sores that's a soothing treatment for irritated or inflamed skin. The lip treatments come in three varieties: Simple Sunny Citrus, Refreshing Mintasota, and Soothing Cinniminnie.

What's unique about Kathy's Family products is that they're packaged with labels containing witty anecdotes and descriptions of Swanson's relatives in Tyler, Minn., allowing customers to become vicariously acquainted with a large and lively farm family.

Another natural lip balm manufacturer taking advantage of the marketing value of packaging is Seal Beach, Calif.-based Eco Lips, Inc., which looks to bridge the gap between traditional and natural HBC products in mass retail, according to president and c.e.o. Steve Shriver. He does this by creating a product that uses certified-organic beeswax and jojoba oil, but has a suggested retail price of only $1.49 per tube.

Shriver developed a variety of display options to allow retailers a range of merchandising choices, including a 48-unit reach-in display, a 24-pack eco-carton, and a 24-unit wire rack display. He also created Eco-Clip packaging, which consists of a clip affixed to the lip balm tube cap, allowing easy portability for consumers. "We're trying to get the soccer moms and young kids to carry these," he says. "It reminds them to protect their lips and also helps promote the product."

Shriver sees Eco-Clips being increasingly sought after by consumers who often engage in outdoor sports, such as biking and skiing, during which lip protection is important.

Although Shriver sees the highest sales in supermarkets with strong natural product sections, he expects the new packaging to generate more mainstream business. "We're like the ChapStick of the natural products industry," he says.

It appears that ChapStick has been paying close attention, because just two months after Eco Lips announced the launch of its products in June 2003, Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, the maker of ChapStick, launched its ChapStick All Natural lip balm, making it the "official" ChapStick of the natural products industry. "We wanted to address the consumer trend toward all-natural products," says ChapStick spokesman Fran Sullivan. "So in ChapStick All Natural you find ingredients like mango butter, beeswax, and natural vitamin E. It's completely natural; traditionally our products are classified by the FDA as an OTC product, because that's how their active ingredients are classified. ChapStick All Natural, because it's made from all-natural ingredients, is classified as a cosmetic."

That's not to say that consumers won't find it wherever ChapStick is sold. According to Sullivan, "It will be merchandised with all of the other styles of ChapStick and will sell for the same price points."
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