PARTED IN THE MIDDLE

There's a great divide in supermarket hair care aisles. Indulgent teens reach for the faddish, pricier gels and shampoos, while older consumers tend to be more price-conscious about their locks.Retailers are selecting their assortments based on their demographic mix and their overall health and beauty care strategies."The younger kids are going for the trendy items while the older consumers are going

There's a great divide in supermarket hair care aisles. Indulgent teens reach for the faddish, pricier gels and shampoos, while older consumers tend to be more price-conscious about their locks.

Retailers are selecting their assortments based on their demographic mix and their overall health and beauty care strategies.

"The younger kids are going for the trendy items while the older consumers are going for the sale items," said Kathleen Murdoch, health and beauty care buyer for the seven-store independent Shop-N-Save, Hazel Crest, Ill. "The younger [consumers] aren't conscious about money."

Joanie Bauer, health and beauty manager at a St. Paul, Minn., Kowalski's Market agreed.

"[Consumers] either go for the very low or for the very expensive," she said. "College kids want the best and most updated products, and families go for the Suave."

She said top sellers at the higher price range in her store included Pantene, Physique and Neutrogena hair care products.

Jon Hauptman, vice president, Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill., said he was not surprised that teens purchase the more expensive hair care brands.

"Teens are wealthy today and where are they going to spend it? They're going to spend it on indulgences for themselves," he said.

Retailers said new products or revamped versions of long-standing brands are driving the category.

"With hair care, what drives the category are new items," said Susan Spring, health and beauty care buyer, W. Lee Flowers & Co., Lake City, S.C., which serves 55 IGA stores.

An anonymous hair care category manager at Bruno's, Birmingham, Ala., agreed: "Consumers are always looking for new and different things, there are always new shampoos and conditioners, and they're always going to try them."

According to figures from Information Resources Inc., Chicago, sales in the shampoo category totaled $1.3 billion in drug, mass and food outlets during the 52-week period ending Dec. 2, 2001, a gain of 3% over the same time period the previous year. The supermarket channel lathered up $686 million during the recent 52-week period, a increase of 3.3%. During the same 52-week period, hair conditioners reached $789 million in sales for drug, mass and food retail channels altogether, with supermarkets capturing $368 million in total sales.

Hauptman noted that particularly in a soft economy, stores can enhance their price image by offering a wide selection of economy brands in many categories.

"During a downturn in the economy, consumers are shopping on a value basis and paying more attention to cents per pound," he said.

He said that carrying a few extra stockkeeping units of private-label hair care products, off-brand items and larger "value size" bottles keeps retailers competitive with discount stores without lowering prices.

"You want to present the image that 'if you're a smart shopper, you can do well in my stores,"' said Hauptman. "This is a variety issue and not a price issue, and having a value offering as opposed to lower prices will compete with Wal-Mart."

However, Ralph Blessing, Suave masterbrand director, Unilever home and personal care division, Chicago, suggested that retailers would be better served by offering fewer brands but more selection within those brands.

"Each supermarket chain has to know its consumer and offer the right mix of the leading brands and varieties," he said. "Given the consumer interest in hair care for specific varieties, our customers know that it is better to carry fewer brands with more key product offerings than to provide many brands with a very limited number of [stockkeeping units]."

To lure consumers away from discount competitors, the source from Bruno's said that supermarkets should be first in the market with new items and make sure their prices are comparable with competitors.

Bruno's doesn't try to match Wal-Mart on price head-to-head, but instead tailors its hair care offerings for "convenience and variety," the source said.

Spring of W. Lee Flowers & Co. said the retailer frequently advertises bargain prices on hair care products.

"We're mainly in rural areas, so we do really well on value brands," she said.

To capture the high-end brands and the teen market, the retailer recently bowed products by got2b, produced by FatBoy Concepts, a division of Advanced Research Laboratories, Costa Mesa, Calif., in the stores' 8-foot hair care sections.

Bauer of Kowalski's said she focuses on variety and aims to bring in the latest products.

"I try to be a step ahead and be one of the first to get products out there," she said.

Product trends in the hair care category include the incorporation of botanical and natural ingredients and fragrances and the use of clear bottles to enhance visibility.

In one of the biggest moves on the supplier side, Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, expanded its product portfolio when the company acquired Clairol, Stamford, Conn., last November. The takeover added the Clairol, Herbal Essences and Nice n' Easy brands to P&G's Pantene, Pert, Head & Shoulders and Vidal Sassoon brands.

Last week P&G said it would eliminate 1,440 jobs to integrate the Clairol operations.

The company relaunched the Head & Shoulders brand with new, sleeker packaging, a new fragrance and new technology last fall.

The Pantene brand will introduce the Daily Moisture Renewal line of separate shampoos and conditioners, as well as Complete conditioner line and new conditioning styling aids early this year, according to Anita Walter, manager, hair care communications, P&G.

"Styling and conditioning are two areas that will continue to grow, and salon products are showing up more in drug and mass, which shows the competitiveness of the market," she said.

Meanwhile, White Rain Co., Danbury, Conn., will roll out two new scents to the White Rain Naturals collection in the freesia and pearberry fragrances in March. The new fragrances will cover shampoo, conditioners, hair spray and hair gel.

Spring agreed that hair care products are trending toward more natural ingredients. "Maybe it's because the baby boomers like them."

Mary Manning, partner, Manning Abelow, a New York-based marketing consultcy , said consumers tend to be drawn toward attractive pricing but, "people are looking for products that perform in their hair."