SPRAY DAYS

Kids are spraying it on, and smart retailers are cleaning up.Within the $474 million sun care category, children's products have become a robust specialized subsegment, posting 20% sales growth this year, according to supplier sources. However, most of those sales are made in other classes of trade besides supermarkets. The key product trend in kids' sun care is a move to sprays and away from lotions.Regardless

Kids are spraying it on, and smart retailers are cleaning up.

Within the $474 million sun care category, children's products have become a robust specialized subsegment, posting 20% sales growth this year, according to supplier sources. However, most of those sales are made in other classes of trade besides supermarkets. The key product trend in kids' sun care is a move to sprays and away from lotions.

Regardless of the positive total category growth, supermarkets need to close the opportunity gap. "Supermarkets have made tremendous strides," said Burt Flickinger, managing director of Reach Marketing, a Westport, Conn.-based marketing and consulting firm. "But they are still way down the track in taking advantage of the critically important child sun care category."

With a 9% jump in total sales volume and a 5% jump in total volume to nearly 74 million units, grocery stores held just under a quarter ($114 million, or 24.1%) of total sun care category sales for the 52-week period ending July 18, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. At the end of the same period, drug stores took a 35.6% share, or $168 million in sales, and mass merchandisers had the lion's share, 40.3%, or $191.1 million in sales.

Appealing to parents -- consumers who are now more conscientious than ever about their children's health and safety -- is one way to start. Ralph Blanchard, merchandising coordinator at Macey's Food & Drug in Sandy, Utah, spoke of never wearing sun block when he was a kid, but noted that his grandchildren "always wear it." Said Blanchard, "Publicity about the harmful rays of the sun causing skin cancer has made parents more aware that they should protect their kids from ultraviolet rays when they're young."

"In supermarkets, sun care products need primary placement in the skin care section and secondary placement in infants and babies," he said. "Also, there should be primary end-aisle rack-display placement from before Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Products targeted for infants should be located adjacent to baby food and formula, diapers, baby wipes or infant and skin rash products, he added.

This season, Macey's subscribed to that philosophy, said Blanchard: "We did a little cross merchandising in the baby section. We put some of the items that have the high SPF 40 or 50 over in the baby section, near wipes and lotion."

Although the overall children's sun care segment is growing, some brands have declined, according to market researchers. "Kids' products represent about 11% of the total sun care category, as defined by ACNielsen [Schaumburg, Ill.], which is in-sun, after-sun and sunless," said Trish O'Connell, product manager at Playtex Products, Westport, Conn., marketer of Banana Boat. "And the category is up about 20% this year." She said her numbers did not include products targeted for babies.

Kids products make up a quarter of IRI's top 20 total sun care brands. Coppertone's Water Babies ranks highest, or ninth, with $18.6 million in sales for the 52-week period that ended July 18, 1999, an 8.8% jump compared to 1998. With the No. 10 spot occupied by a Banana Boat product targeted for adults, the number 11 and 12 spots, respectively, are Coppertone's Kids Colorblock and Kids Suntan Lotion.

But sales of two of these products are down. For the year ended July 18, Kids Colorblock and Kids Suntan Lotion dropped 23.2% and 29.4% respectively, according to IRI. Officials from Schering-Plough, Liberty Corner, N.J., which markets Coppertone, refused to discuss sales figures, but observers said shifts in consumer preferences may have caused the declines.

"What's probably happening is a shift from lotions to these innovative spray products," said O'Connell. The trend to sprays may have caused an overall drop in sales volume for products like the Kids Colorblock line, which consists of sprays and lotions. Sprays may have cannibalized sales within their own lines, as well, she suggested. Flickinger speculated that "rampant out-of-stocks in the stores" could have hurt sales as well.

"I don't think it's lived up to their expectations," said Leslie Umemoto, HBC buyer for Honolulu's Star Markets. "Hawaiian Tropic also has a color sun care product, but they haven't brought it in because the color block has not done all that well in Hawaii."

Sun care "is seasonal," even in Hawaii, Umemoto said, "because during the summer we sell more sun care. The kids are out of school.

As it does with the total category, region also affects kids' sun care sales.

"Overall, it's been a lousy year," said Denny Voight, nonfood buyer/merchandiser, Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash. "We don't have a lot of kids' stockkeeping units, and we didn't have summer here until about mid-July. This year there's going to be a lot of returns."

In terms of merchandising, he said it was too early to determine plans for next season. Macey's Blanchard also said it was too early to know what next year will look like. "Because of the skiing industry here. We try to keep some of the high SPFs on the shelf through the winter. Here in Utah the kids start skiing when they're really small, so we keep those sun-block items up there, too, for them."