FIT FOR THE SUN

Sports/fitness, a lifestyle niche well represented in many health and beauty care categories, is providing supermarkets' HBC departments with impressive incremental sales.The proliferation of sports-related formulations invading categories such as deodorants, sun care, vitamins, first aid and analgesics is generally viewed by retailers like Kim Botkin, director of nonfood at Gerland's Food Fair, Houston,

Sports/fitness, a lifestyle niche well represented in many health and beauty care categories, is providing supermarkets' HBC departments with impressive incremental sales.

The proliferation of sports-related formulations invading categories such as deodorants, sun care, vitamins, first aid and analgesics is generally viewed by retailers like Kim Botkin, director of nonfood at Gerland's Food Fair, Houston, as "just another flavor, more than anything else."

Yet manufacturers' attempts to cash in on a recognized trend of proactive consumers trying to stay healthy through a regular regime of sports and leisure activities is paying off at retail.

It was in 1986 that Gillette repositioned its Right Guard deodorant brand by giving it a stronger fragrance and adding the word "Sport."

The result is that today, Right Guard Sport is the No. 1 brand in the country for men and its share of the $1.4 billion deodorant and antiperspirant industry has risen to 10.1% -- $145.3 million for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 23, 1997, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. The Right Guard Sport line has grown to 24 products, including rollons, sprays and sticks.

Company marketers credit the five-letter word with keeping Right Guard on top.

"We saw there was a niche for the man who is very athletic and very active," said Eric Kraus, a spokesman for the Boston-based Gillette Co.

Gillette may have been one of the first health and beauty care manufacturers to pick up on the sports movement, but a lot more suppliers have entered the arena.

"Now everyone has a sports suntan lotion," said Botkin of Gerland's.

Five of the top 20 suncare products at Gerland's last year were sports products, including Banana Boat Sport, Panama Jack Supersport and Coppertone Sport.

"The sports segment has been one of the fastest-growing in the suncare category," said George Pastrana, senior product manager for Schering-Plough Healthcare Products, Liberty Corner, N.J., which makes Coppertone products.

Sales of the sports suncare segment have grown $34.4 million in sales, according to IRI. Sales for the segment have grown at a rate of 22% during the first four months of 1997.

The demographics of sports and fitness enthusiasts made them an ideal market, said Ken Meeker, vice president of suncare marketing for Banana Boat, a division of Playtex Products, Westport, Conn.

"There's a direct correlation between education, income level and the use of suncare products," he added. "Those types of people tend to be into sports."

Although this trend has been especially visible and successful in the suncare and deodorant categories, other manufacturers also have created formulations designed for rigorous activity, from Irish Spring Sport soap with deodorant protection, to Almay Sports Formula makeup.

This year Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products, Skillman, N.J., introduced a first-aid kit for active lifestyles. The line includes kits designed specifically for camping and water sports. Each lifestyle kit features a different set of products, such as motion sickness pills for the marine kit and insect repellent for the camping kit.

"Consumer research shows that 50% of the time, a first-aid kit is needed outside the house," said John Healey, J&J's first-aid kit product director.

The company reports its wound care sales jump by one-third during May to September, when consumers are most active in sports activities.

Since Right Guard reformulated and renamed its brand 11 years ago, nearly every brand of deodorant has added a sports scent to its line. Offerings include Dry Idea Ultra Sport, Speed Sticks Active Fresh, Degree Active Fresh, Arm & Hammer Baking Soda Sport and Mitchum Supersport.

Although the efficacy of these sports formulas is the same as that of other deodorants and antiperspirant products, they tend to have a stronger fragrance designed to withstand rigorous physical activities.

The differences between the sports-oriented sunscreens and their nonsports counterparts tend to be more than skin deep, Botkin said. He believes the growth of the suncare sports segment can be attributed to what the products do, rather than their sports orientation.

"Coppertone Sport formula is characterized by being ultra-sweatproof," Pastrana said.

Coppertone Sport also is designed to be nongreasy to provide a no-slip grip for golfers and tennis players, Pastrana said.

When Schering-Plough introduced Coppertone Sport in 1991 in three formulas, it was the first product of its kind, according to Pastrana. The Coppertone Sport line, which now has six products, has grown to sales of $19 million last year, 61% of the segment's sales. Coppertone Sport now accounts for 15% of Coppertone's sales, Pastrana reported.

"We really think we're tapping into lifestyle changes," he said.

Banana Boat developed its sports line of products four years ago because consumer research showed that active people were dissatisfied with suntan products. They complained that the products ran in their eyes when they perspired and were too sticky.

Banana Boat responded with its first three Action Sport formats in SPF 15, 30 and 50 levels. Based on the success of these products, Banana Boat added an Action Sport spray gel SPF 25 this year, targeted toward men who prefer gels to creams.

The products are sweatproof, rubproof and waterproof and are formulated without oils to eliminate the greasy, sticky feeling, said Banana Boat's Meeker.

The sports segment is the fastest-growing part of Banana Boat's business, with sales increasing by 30% to 40% a year. Meeker said he believes the growing popularity of the sports segment is a function both of the education level of active people and changes in consumer-buying trends.

Sports and fitness participants tend to be better educated and more health conscious, he said. Therefore, they are more concerned about the dangers of sun exposure, such as skin cancer and premature aging. They want products that will protect them while they exercise.