A SHADE BETTER

Color enhancers are casting bright glints for future sales and profits in the hair color category at supermarkets.These new enhancing products are attracting new consumers to an established base of users of semipermanent coloring, according to retailers and wholesalers polled by SN.Health and beauty care buyers said color enhancement products have tapped into a pool of consumers who hope to revitalize

Color enhancers are casting bright glints for future sales and profits in the hair color category at supermarkets.

These new enhancing products are attracting new consumers to an established base of users of semipermanent coloring, according to retailers and wholesalers polled by SN.

Health and beauty care buyers said color enhancement products have tapped into a pool of consumers who hope to revitalize rather than color their hair.

"These items reach a new audience that hadn't even thought about coloring their hair before," said Gay Odsather, cosmetics coordinator at Carr Gottstein Foods, Anchorage, Alaska. "A lot of these people are trying to rev up lackluster hair rather than cover up gray."

Wally West, product manager for McKesson Service Merchandising, Harrison, Ark., agreed, saying these products

attract a younger audience that is "merely seeking a new look or to add some new dimension to their fashion image."

Marketing experts and HBC buyers credit the enhancers' success to a combination of consumer appeal and manufacturer support.

According to Towne-Oller & Associates, New York, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Information Resources Inc., supermarkets' sales of hair coloring products rose by 19% during the 12-month period ended Nov. 30, 1993 -- making coloring the only hair care category to post a positive annual growth rate in 1993.

"To say color enhancers are the fastest growing segment of the hair color market is an understatement," said West. "These brands have gone from launch to over 14% of our hair color sales in a remarkably short period of time."

This profitable subcategory is dominated by products such as Clairol's Glints and Brights as well as Castings and Advantage from L'Oreal. Marketers and supermarket buyers do not classify color-enriching shampoos as color enhancers because they usually appear with other shampoos rather than with hair coloring products.

Odsather said the popularity of enhancers is bolstered by the strains that many consumers place on their hair. "Perming or relaxing your hair tends to leave it less shiny," she said, "and people have begun to look at these products as a way to help offset that."

Several other buyers added enhancers have augmented the sales of other hair care products.

West reported that 90% of those purchasing enhancers in supermarkets will buy additional hair care items, spending an average of $35 on related products.

Others use enhancers in tandem with conventional semipermanent treatments. "If consumers buy their normal coloring every four weeks, the manufacturers are hoping that they'll also buy this product every two weeks for use between color treatments," said a wholesale buyer.

Although color enhancers appeal to a variety of users, these new items usually experience relatively slow turns. "Coloring products will never be a quick-moving item," explain-ed Renee Seaman, HBC buyer for Roger's Markets, Fort Wayne, Ind. "People only need to buy them every four to five weeks."

As a result, supermarkets typically secure profit margins by setting price points between $3.99 and $5.99. "There's always a very good profit with these products," said Jim Key, HBC buyer for Community Cash Stores, Spartanburg, S.C. "That's the only way we can afford to keep them around."

HBC buyers said the expense of salon color enhancement products enables them to maintain their price points without harming sales volumes.

"People used to buy these types of products through their beautician," said Seaman. "But now they recognize we have comparable items at much better prices." "The manufacturers are really trying to help us sell more of these products," said Odsather. "Some coupons are up to $2 off, and that really encourages a customer to at least try a product."

HBC buyers agreed the distribution of manufacturer coupons via freestanding inserts in publications has introduced color enhancers to a larger audience.

"The coupons that have appeared in women's and even teen magazines have done a great job of drawing customers into the store looking for these products," said Mike Kilgallon, nonfood specialist at Genuardi Super Markets, Norristown, Pa.

Despite the popularity and profitability of color enhancers, these products appear almost exclusively in larger supermarkets that can allocate the necessary space to an entire spectrum of hair colors. "Variety is the name of the game," said Dave Holz, HBC buyer for Gateway Foods, LaCrosse, Wis. "You can't just carry the top five because they might all be blond. As a result, a lot of stores don't get in the game."

"We can't give coloring products the 8 feet they give in a drug store or mass merchandiser [outlet]," said Jim Miller, nonfood director at Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tenn. Still, manufacturer support for enhancers has encouraged a growing number of smaller supermarkets to experiment with a limited selection of stockkeeping units.