When it comes to beauty care, supermarkets are expected to carry the latest and greatest without confusing shoppers.
But the latest in the category has been flanked by two distinct if not contradictory product approaches — the natural and the scientifically advanced.
At one end, brands like Burt's Bees, Jason and Tom's of Maine tout natural ingredients with minimal processing. On the other, brands like L'Oreal Dermo Expertise and Olay Regenerist highlight results with product names like L'Oreal's Transformance Skin Perfecting Solution, and science, by using ingredients like Olay's essential glucosamine complex.
Caught somewhere in the middle often is the supermarket customer, retailers and consultants told SN.
“At Publix, we try very hard to keep a balance of products and varieties for our customers to purchase,” said spokeswoman Maria Brous.
To do so, Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets carries traditional HBC as well as a natural/organics section that includes HBC products. Exactly how natural/organic HBC items are merchandised depends on the size of the store, Brous said.
“In some locations, the organic items are displayed in the HBC aisle, but in a natural/organic section. Yet in other [larger] stores, we have a complete area devoted to all natural/organic items,” she said.
This sort of organization ensures that Publix's customers will find what they are looking for in the ever-advancing world of beauty care. “This category is always evolving and new products, both organic and scientifically advanced, continue to surface,” Brous said.
Bashas' Markets, Chandler, Ariz., has had a store-within-a-store concept to merchandise natural and organic products for over five years. The Natural Choice section includes natural and organic groceries, supplements, and health and beauty care items.
Close to eight months ago, however, the company began testing the “aggregated integrated approach,” said Paul Howland, buyer/merchandiser for Bashas' Natural Choice department.
“We take a section of natural products and place them next to conventional products of the same type, with special signage,” he said.
The philosophy behind this method, which is being tried in about six stores, is to go after the potential transitional customer. “They may want to try more natural products but aren't familiar nor comfortable enough to go into the section where everything is natural.”
The segregated approach, such as having a separate Natural Choice store-within-a-store, groups the natural products together so people wanting those products know exactly where to look.
One reason to call out the natural variety of beauty products either with signage or unique merchandising is because “there is a large degree of overlap and confusion in regards to what's natural and what's not,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a New York-based consultancy.
The United States currently has no federal regulations regarding the term “natural” when it comes to cosmetics and skin care products, nor does the Food and Drug Administration conduct pre-market safety testing on such products.
So, while Morrisville, N.C.-based Burt's Bees is lobbying for a set of industry standards that require 95% natural ingredients with “no processes that significantly or adversely alter the purity/effect of the natural ingredients,” according to the company's website, brands like Aveeno Active Naturals seem to skirt the line between what's natural and what's not.
Aveeno, owned by Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J., uses the marketing tag, “Discover the science of active naturals,” on its website, which describes active naturals as “ingredients derived from nature and uniquely formulated by Aveeno.” But with no standard measure, there is no simple way for consumers to tell how natural the ingredients remain after processing.
“Aveeno is a popular traditional brand in supermarkets,” said Tom Verhile, director of the Productscan online database, owned by Datamonitor, Naples, Fla.
“There is a predisposition for consumers to give products that have the name ‘natural’ the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “If people read that something has natural ingredients they may think it is more efficacious and better for you.”
Olay Regenerist Anti-Aging facial products from Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, are the top-selling brand in facial anti-aging for food, drug and mass market channels, excluding Wal-Mart, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, for the 52 weeks ending June 17, 2007. The line is sold in futuristic red and black packaging, and Olay's website claims it will “regenerate your skin's appearance at the cellular level.” Ingredients in the line's Serum product include cyclopentasiloxane and PEG-10 dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer.
In beauty care, customers are always concentrating on how effective the product will be, said Passikoff. “People will buy what they believe has the highest likelihood of working.”
It's up to retailers to know what products their customers think work best, retailers said.
For Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas, natural and organic HBC isn't a part of the mix. “We carry conventional HBC items and aren't really looking into natural,” said Mike Bevel, HBC category manager.
The decision is based on customer demographics, he added.
Although Bashas' is learning the best natural product fit for its demographics as it tests the new integrated approach, “in my opinion, areas that have a higher income tend to do well with stores that separate the natural products into one area, while more moderate-income stores do well with integrated sections,” Howland said.
An edited selection of natural HBC products is carried in-line at Modesto, Calif.-based Save Mart Stores, a source familiar with the chain told SN.
This fall, Publix will open its first GreenWise Market, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where shoppers will find natural, organic and environmentally friendly food and nonfood products. “This will give us another opportunity to carry an extended line of natural and organic HBC products,” Brous said.
CUSTOMER KNOWS BEST
For Publix, the customers ultimately decide the HBC selection, Brous said. “If an item does not sell within a particular location after a certain allotment of time, the product is deactivated. Just like with most items within the store, moderation and variety are key.”
It is always hard to balance natural items with traditional ones, said Terry Roberts, president of Merchandising by Design, a Carrollton, Texas-based consulting firm.
“The real answer for any supermarket is that it's our job to provide a choice, not to make a decision for the customer.”
However, this can be a big challenge where shelf space is concerned, she said. “Many stores do customers a disservice when they have too small of an HBC selection. Emergency shopping is gone. Everything is open 24 hours, so supermarkets need to be more careful about what they represent,” she said.
The best option, Roberts said, is to be dense and broad in selection. Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., where Roberts worked for 12 years, is able to do this because of the size of the stores.
“Wegmans has 80,000- to 130,000-square-foot stores. They are able to add natural to their HBC selection in a strong way. Most retailers need to decide to be similarly strong in the natural category or not to do it.”
Publix offers another way to look at the challenge: localization. “We have local customization of our stores,” Brous said. “Each store is stocked to meet the expectations of its customers and the surrounding community.”
The Safe Beauty Movement
Despite recent moves by a handful of states, the U.S. lacks federal beauty product regulations.
On Jan. 1, 2007, the California Safe Cosmetics Act, the first of its kind, went into effect.
The act was signed into law in October 2005 following a two-year campaign by Breast Cancer Action, the Breast Cancer Fund and the National Environmental Trust.
Washington and Oregon are introducing similar legislation this year, and New York and Maryland introduced bills last year.
Washington's bill, the Washington Safe Cosmetics Act of 2007, states, “Neither federal or state laws requires pre-market safety testing, review, or approval of cosmetic products … under the federal food, drug and cosmetic act, cosmetics and their ingredients are not required to be approved before they are sold to the public…”
In California and, if passed, in Washington and other states, cosmetics manufacturers must disclose to the state any product ingredient that is on state or federal lists of chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects. In addition, the states' Department of Health Services could demand manufacturers to supply any health-related information about cosmetic ingredients.
Just as Washington's bill was being introduced, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, San Francisco, reported that more than 500 cosmetics and body care products companies promised to eliminate toxic ingredients from their products worldwide. Signers include a few big names like The Body Shop, Littlehampton, U.K., and Burt's Bees, Morrisville, N.C., as well as smaller manufacturers.
The names of all signing companies can be found at www.safecosmetics.org/companies/signers.cfm .
Burt's Bees is also lobbying for “The Natural Standard,” under which all products labeled “natural” must:
- Be made with at least 95% truly natural ingredients.
- Contain no ingredients with any suspected potential human health risks.
- Use no processes that significantly or adversely alter the purity/effect of the natural ingredients.
The proposal also states that a non-natural ingredient can be used when there is no alternative and no human health risk. A list of ingredients the company proposes never be used includes: parabens, sulfates, chemical sunscreens such as Parsol 1789 and Oxybenzone, petrolatum, mineral oil and paraffin.