HERE'S TO YOUTH

With aging baby boomers and a younger, more looks-conscious generation of professionals, skin care has developed into a lucrative investment for supermarkets.Gone are the days of customers waiting until they hit a certain age to take better care of their skin. Now, they are being proactive in their approach to skin care while still in their younger years. The whole health approach includes vitamins,

With aging baby boomers and a younger, more looks-conscious generation of professionals, skin care has developed into a lucrative investment for supermarkets.

Gone are the days of customers waiting until they hit a certain age to take better care of their skin. Now, they are being proactive in their approach to skin care while still in their younger years. The whole health approach includes vitamins, enriched products, and brands that consumers trust.

"Currently, the industry is witnessing an increased demand for anti-wrinkle and anti-aging products as a result of the growing aging population," said Amy Santucci, category buyer, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh.

"A lot of the growth in the skin care category is coming from the middle-aged and older consumer rather than the young," said Dan Spears, HBC/GM merchandising director, Ingles Markets, Asheville, N.C.

Skin care sales in supermarkets have risen from $4.1 million in the 52 weeks ending Jan. 29, 2000, to $5.9 million in the 52 weeks ending Jan 29, 2004, according to the Strategic Planner of ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill.

"Now, it's not just 'fight wrinkles,' but an ambiance of look beautiful and take an offensive measure against wrinkles," said Diane Garber, analyst for Insight Communications, Buffalo Grove, Ill. "[Retailers and manufactures] are showing beauty in a whole health perspective."

Customers are looking for more information and better products, said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill. For example, special-purpose skin cream sales in supermarkets experienced a 17.2% increase in the 52 weeks ending Jan. 29, vs. the previous year, according to the Strategic Planner of ACNielsen.

"Life stage marketing is key right now. The baby boomer generation is not buying the fundamental products anymore," Wisner said. "They are willing to experiment, to fight aging kicking and screaming."

The majority of anti-aging skin care sales come from returning consumers who know what products they want, said Linda Taylor, health and beauty care buyer for Sherm's Thunderbird Markets, Medford, Ore. Sherm's carries high-end products in addition to lower-priced products like Suave.

"Our sales are mostly from the repeat customer," Taylor said. "If they need a face cleaner or a lotion, there's a lot of product loyalty."

Price is not always an issue. Taylor notes that for certain products like hand lotion, the cheaper items do better than the more expensive. However, that is not always the case. "On the hand lotions, it's price-driven. But I also have Aveeno, Neutrogena, Pond's and Oil of Olay. It's all what the customer is looking for. They all sell well."

At Ingles, the sales of higher-end products are increasing, Spears said. "All the items that we are showing growth in are primarily the higher-end items -- for example, the Oil of Olay items and anything that has wrinkle-reducers or skin-smoothing, firming lotions." The prices of new skin products can be double what older products cost, noted Garber. That doesn't always deter a buyer. Getting a consumer to try a new product can sometimes be a challenge, however.

To gain first-time buyers, Giant Eagle has offered discounts, incentives and promotional offers with manufacturers whenever possible, Santucci said.

Women aren't the only ones who are affected by aging. Both analysts and retailers feel there is a growing male market that does not have products to meet their demands. "Men's products have been well received, and there is tremendous growth potential in this category," Santucci said. "The ability to maximize this growing segment will be largely a function of the manufacturers' marketing efforts."

One of the women's higher-priced skin care franchises will launch a men's line later this year, predicted Garber. She said the arrival of the "metrosexual" in suburban areas explains the shift from addressing men's shaving needs to focusing on wrinkle reducers. "Men sag, sink, wrinkle and have crow's feet just as much as the rest of us," Garber said. "It's always been something women want to avoid, but so do men."

Skin care for teenagers is seeing "explosive" growth as well, said Bill Mansfield, a nonfood supermarket executive formerly affiliated with Tom Thumb, Harris Teeter and, most recently, Marsh Supermarkets. He also is the immediate past chairman of the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo.

The growth of teenage skin care is due to the onset of adolescent acne and teenagers' willingness to eradicate it at any cost, Mansfield said.

"Today's products seem to offer the teenager a better remedy for teenage acne, and they want to take advantage of it."

However, he also noted that anti-aging products are big sellers. "The baby boomer segment of the population is certainly emerging and is well educated and willing to do whatever is necessary to remain as youthful as possible."