SUPERMARKETS SOAKING UP ALPHA HYDROXIES

Higher-ticket skin care products with alpha hydroxy acids have established a foothold in the skin care sections of most supermarkets.Retailers merchandising products that fall into the age-defying segment continue to see double-digit growth. The products also enhance the one-stop shopping experience, they said.Most of the products contain alpha hydroxy acids, which exfoliate dead skin cells and help

Higher-ticket skin care products with alpha hydroxy acids have established a foothold in the skin care sections of most supermarkets.

Retailers merchandising products that fall into the age-defying segment continue to see double-digit growth. The products also enhance the one-stop shopping experience, they said.

Most of the products contain alpha hydroxy acids, which exfoliate dead skin cells and help expose a new skin layer.

"This category is growing in leaps and bounds," said Tom Perry, category manager for 900 nationwide A&P stores. "Aging baby boomers are pushing the trend." The Montvale, N.J.-based chain's age-defying products retail from $7.99 to $9.99, with a few items priced at $13.99, he said. Sales of alpha hydroxy items have grown by $100 million nationwide in the past three years, according to Margie DeLong, a health and beauty care category manager at Millbrook Distribution Services, Leicester, Mass.

"Women are expecting to see these products on supermarket shelves because of the whole concept of one-stop shopping," said DeLong, "and supermarkets are becoming more sophisticated in their product selection."

Retailers said consumers have become more educated about alpha hydroxy acids since 1992, when one of the first such products, Avon's Anew, was introduced. They now realize these products are increasingly available at lower price points than the expensive department store brands -- and from companies whose products they are already familiar with.

For example, L'Oreal's Plenitude line "is comparable to Lancome and other high quality lines," said one HBC West Coast buyer, who asked to remain anonymous. "Some consumers are loyal department store people, but many others are going to discount drug stores, mass merchants and supermarkets. They know they don't have to pay $40 to get a treatment," she said. Higher-end products sold at this grocery chain retail at $10.99, which gives the consumer a chance to try them out, the buyer said. The retailer will average about 20% margins on age-defying products, but some will go as high as 30%, she said.

Popular brands retailers said were selling well at supermarkets included Chesebrough-Pond's Age Defying Complex, L'Oreal's Plenitude Excel-A3, Oil of Olay's Renewal and Alpha Hydrox from Neoteric Cosmetics. An age-defying skin-care line usually includes moisturizers, cleansers, toners, eye gels and serums, and can also contain foot and body lotions. Lubriderm, Eucerin, Vaseline Intensive Care, Suave, Neutrogena, Nivea and St. Ives Swiss Formula are other mass market brands that have added alpha hydroxies to their lines.

The West Coast buyer explained that many people are going back to familiar brands that now carry skin care items with alpha hydroxy acids. The more educated consumer is also looking for brands that add vitamins and nutrients, which are perceived as creating healthier skin. "Consumers want something that can cleanse, tone and moisturize, but they don't have time for a lengthy skin care regimen. They want something with three or four steps included that they can use," she noted.

A&P carries the entire range of age-defying lotions and creams, although some stores carry a limited selection, said Perry. "We can compete against anybody. I think many people have converted to one-stop shopping and they are buying these products in the supermarket."

Ralph Chiodo, director of HBC at A&P's Super Fresh division, Florence, N.J., which has 69 A&P stores in the Delaware Valley, also stocks a number of alpha hydroxy products.

"Growth comes from new items," he said. His stores run special promotions almost every week, in which a hand care or face care product is featured. Consumers also get the benefit of temporary price reductions. Like almost all the buyers SN spoke with, products are promoted in newspapers and circulars.

Millbrook's DeLong said these items are designed and marketed with the mature woman in mind, although younger women also have been targeted by some manufacturers.

The West Coast buyer agreed that it's not just women over 50 who are interested in alpha hydroxy acids. "Women in their 20s are more concerned and aware of what they need to do to prevent aging, while women in their 40s and 50s are trying to correct a problem. The industry is learning to target both groups," she said.

Bill West, director of nonfood at 43 Seaway Food Town units, Maumee, Ohio, and 23 discount drug stores, said increasing interest in age-defying skin care "had to come along with the graying of America." Seaway sells Oil of Olay, Ponds, Clean and Clear, Suave, St. Ives, Neutrogena, Acid Mantle, Plenitude, Almay, Alpha Hydrox, Esoterica and Revlon alpha hydroxy products. He said that L'Oreal's Plenitude line sells particularly well.

The West Coast buyer noted that L'Oreal was heavily promoting the line, which might account for Plenitude's strength. She said that manufacturers generally allow her stores to overprint coupons, which is another way she promotes sales of these products, along with wings and sidekicks. Since supermarkets don't have the fixturing for counter displays, she uses these instead.

DeLong explained that the company advises stores to use power panels and off-shelf displays, as well as feature ad pricing in circulars and newspapers to let customers know that stores carry these items.

However, not all buyers surveyed stock age-defying products. Chuck Witt, director of general merchandise, HBC, at Certified Grocers Midwest, Hodgkins, Ill., said such products are not a significant item for his customers. His stores mainly carry Oil of Olay. Certified is a cooperative that provides product to 300 stores in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa. Similarly, Wanda Lovelace, an HBC buyer and advertising coordinator for 11 Jons Markets in downtown Los Angeles, does not stock alpha hydroxies. Her stores are in less affluent areas and people can't afford the products, she said. "We stock Ponds Cold Cream and Nivea lotion." Margins on these products run about 35%, she said.

The consensus among most buyers, however, was that this category continues to grow at supermarkets. "Age-defying products represent a real opportunity for retailers today," said DeLong.