When the H.E. Butt Grocery Co.  contacted Melissa Cleaver last year and asked her to serve on its Beauty Panel, the blogger didn’t think highly of supermarket beauty products.
“I naively assumed that the products they did offer were generic or a lesser quality,” Cleaver told SN.
She quickly changed her mind after learning that the retailer stocked a wide variety of high-quality, brand-name products.
H-E-B sends Cleaver and other panel members a “Beauty Pick of the Month” for free to review.
The first product Cleaver reviewed was H-E-B’s Orchid private-label facial products. She tried all four products in the line: Firming Lift Face Serum, Anti-Aging Eye Roller, Acne Spot Treatment and Thermal Clay Mask. A gift set of the four costs $20.
Cleaver posted a rave review on her mom blog, mommylivingthelifeofriley.com .
“I appreciated how quickly my skin soaked up the face serum, and how light it felt,” Cleaver wrote.
Cleaver was so impressed that she now uses Orchid Firming Lift Face Serum and Anti-Aging Eye Roller every day.
“They’re two of my favorite beauty products,” she told SN.
Cleaver serves on H-E-B’s Beauty Panel with nine other bloggers and a handful of H-E-B employees, including an H-E-B ad account manager, beauty buyer and heb.com  content administrator.
The beauty panel reviews one product/line a month. Over the last year, the panel has evaluated national brands like Pantene Pro V, Essie nail polish and Revlon CustomEyes.
Just as visible on the panel is Orchid. In May 2011, the panel reviewed Orchid antibacterial hand soaps and sanitizers; in August, Orchid “professional nail lacquer”; and this past January, Orchid facial care products. H-E-B declined to comment.
As it does with all its “Beauty Picks,” H-E-B sends each panel member the featured item for free, plus lets them give away two additional ones to their readers. H-E-B does not pay the bloggers or preview what they write.
H-E-B’s partnership with bloggers is a smart move because it provides an external endorsement of Orchid, said Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Retail Marketing/MarketHealth, Libertyville, Ill.
Instead of simply telling consumers how good its products are, H-E-B leverages the Beauty Panel to say, “Here are people like you who are using this product,” he said.
Wisner predicts that more retailers will tap into the power of bloggers over the next few years.
“This is an early glimpse of an approach we’ll see growing dramatically,” he said.
Such a strategy is especially useful for a highly competitive private-label category like beauty care. While retailers once wouldn’t dare launch their own beauty lines due to the national-brand stronghold, that’s no longer the case. Along with H-E-B, other food retailers have tapped into the beauty care sector. Kroger, for instance, offers Mirra Daily shampoos and conditioners and Mirra Renew skincare products.
“The barriers are getting broken down,” Wisner said. “Private label is now fair game in any category.”
While bloggers are apt to be grateful to the retailers for sending them free products, retailers can’t control their reviews.
“So, the product better be good,” Wisner said.
But if it’s a high-quality product and the blogger gives it a positive write-up, the retailer can reach more consumers than they would by using traditional advertising methods.
“It’s a great way to get your brand talked about,” said Wisner.
Indeed, bloggers have a big following. H-E-B Beauty Panel member Dian Farmer runs the couponing website groceryshopforfree.com . The site gets up to 200,000 page views a month. Farmer has about 20,000 Facebook fans and 10,000 Twitter followers.
When H-E-B first contacted her last year about becoming a panel member, she had no idea its stores had such a large beauty care selection.
“I didn’t realize the variety of products was so extensive — they have everything you would need,” Farmer told SN.
She never would have tried Orchid if she weren’t a blogger, she said. She was pleasantly surprised about the quality of the line.
“The products deliver much more than I was expecting of them,” Farmer said. “The Orchid brand has exceeded my expectations every time I try another product.”
Some products are even superior to their national-brand counterparts, “better than any others on the market,” she said.
Aligning itself with Farmer and other bloggers is a clever way for H-E-B to build the Orchid brand, added Willard Bishop, chairman of Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill.
Consumers view bloggers as a trusted source of information, deals and reviews.
“People hold them in high esteem,” said Bishop.
While “blogger marketing” is a strategy that’s just taking off, Bishop expects to see many more retailers follow suit because it’s an effective, yet low-cost form of promotion.
Several other retailers are also doing so. Take Wakefern Food Corp. ’s ShopRite, which has recruited bloggers to write about its store brands.
About a dozen food and mom bloggers are part of Potluck, ShopRite’s new online blog. Located at blog.shoprite.com , Potluck includes recipes, reviews and cooking demonstrations — all featuring private-label products.
Price Chopper  also has aligned itself with bloggers. It asked blogger Lauren Greutman, who runs the coupon blog www.iamthatlady.com , to write a column on the Price Chopper blog about how to save money in its stores.
Greutman also contributed a story to one of the retailer’s in-house publications.
“There’s the product and consumer … and bloggers are in the middle,” said Bishop.
A Bouquet of Bloggers
SAN ANTONIO — H-E-B has partnered with 10 bloggers to review a beauty care item each month.
“Real women. Real moms,” H-E-B writes in promotional materials. “All joining us on this journey to test new beauty products and tell the real story behind beauty within our Texas families.”
Following are excerpts of their reviews on Orchid, H-E-B’s private-label beauty line:
• “I am in love with the mask. It is heat activated, and unlike some others I’ve tried, it doesn’t leave your face all red and irritated.” — frugalreality.com 
• “The dry air really does a number on our skin, but that can all change with the help of Orchid face products.” — frugalthrifty.com 
• “The mask is awesome. This one has a warming sensation when you put it on. You don’t have to leave it on to dry—you just wet your face apply it and then rinse it off! Easy and quick!” — groceryshopforfree.com 
• “Orchid, which is an affordable skincare line that carries products which treat an array of skincare concerns — from acne to dark spots.” — lashgirl.me 
• “I loved how smooth and supple my skin felt after using this beauty product and recommend it highly to anyone needing a quick facial pick-me-up!” — mommylivingthelifeofriley.com 
• “My favorite was the eye roller! It has a little metal ball on the end to make the treatment glide right on!” — mycrazysavings.com 
• “Overall, I think Orchid Facial Care Products are an affordable choice over department store brands.” — simplybeingmommy.com 
SAN ANTONIO — Orchid is blossoming at H-E-B.
Following is a timeline of when bloggers reviewed newly launched Orchid products as a “Beauty Pick of Month.”
• JANUARY 2012: Orchid Facial Care. Available in four products: Firming Lift Face Serum, Anti-Aging Eye Roller, Acne Spot Treatment and Thermal Clay Mask.
• AUGUST 2011: Orchid “Professional Nail Lacquer.” Available in 64 shades, this chip-resistant polish is free of ingredients such as formaldehyde, tolunene and DBP.
• MAY 2011: Orchid Antibacterial Hand Soaps & Sanitizers. Available in exotic fragrances like Vanilla Cream & Apple Blossom, Jasmine Tea & Basil and White Lavender & Mint.