Supermarket sales of sun care products are on the rise, and health and beauty care managers have fear to thank for it.
More than any merchandising strategy, say HBC buyers now plotting next season's assortments, a proliferation of studies showing what the sun does to skin has driven consumers to sun-protection shelves.
"There's more and more information out there every day about skin cancer," said John Amell, HBC buyer for Bi-Lo Wholesale Grocers, Albany, N.Y. He added that managed-care organizations are becoming more vocal in advocating exercise as an important aspect of preventive health. "This is extremely good for this business."
Jeff Maxwell, HBC category manager at Supervalu, Minneapolis, agreed. "Consumers are becoming more educated about the aging process, what the sun does to your skin, and they're looking to slow that process.
"[Sun care] is kind of a steady performer, dominated by a few brands, but there will be growth just from new users," Maxwell added.
According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, sales of suntan lotions and oils -- including the sports and children's segments -- totaled $416.2 million for the year ended Oct. 12, a 6.9% rise from the year earlier.
Sun care sales by mass merchants and drug outlets were about even, at $159.5 million and $157.4 million, respectively, compared with $99.3 million in supermarkets.
But supermarket sales for the period grew by a healthy 10.8%, outpacing both mass, at 7.6%, and drug, at 3.9%. (Unit sales of sun care products in the drug channel actually shrank.)
"The advantage for food is it's still an impulse category," said Ted Taft, a partner at Meridian Consulting Group, Westport, Conn. His advice to supermarket retailers is to simplify their sun care assortments and, during the peak tanning season, to display them in highly visible areas to take advantage of foot traffic.
"Upwards of 75% of sun care purchases are impulse," said Maxwell. He said Supervalu urges its retailers to cross merchandise sun care with other HBC items -- lip care and hair-removal products, for example -- during the all-important summer months. Such a display "doesn't have to be near the register, just in a prominent position."
During the summer, Byrd Food Stores, Burlington, N.C., devotes a 3-foot-wide roller rack to sun care products, positioning it near the front of the store, said Randall King, HBC buyer. Stores near beach towns use a 4-foot rack, plus additional off-shelf displays and manufacturer-supported giveaways, to promote the category.
"It draws attention to the product," he said. "It lets people know you're in the business. You can't have it in a corner somewhere."
In its Oahu units, Star Markets Ltd., Honolulu, gives 8 feet to sun care as part of its in-aisle lotion section, said Leslie Umemoto, HBC buyer. In summer months, Star, whose stores are between 32,000 and 35,000 square feet, cross merchandises sun care items with beach accessories like umbrellas and ice chests in a seasonal display area.
Umemoto said HBC departments in the outer Hawaiian islands, which draw more tourists, offer more sun care variety and generate higher sales. Those stores install a 50-stockkeeping-unit sun care endcap during the summer.
Star places ads devoted to the category in its weekly circular only during the summer, Umemoto said. In addition, the retailer includes sun care items in its summer "Value Book" of coupons, which are good for three weeks. Coppertone, Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic, the best-selling brands nationwide, according to IRI, are also tops at Star, Umemoto said.
Bi-Lo's Amell places his sun care orders mid- to late January and receives shipments just before the onset of spring, in time to capitalize on State University of New York/Albany and Cornell University students leaving on spring break trips. Amell noted that high-end products, especially Bain de Soleil, sell well in these areas.
He said his sun care margins are between 30% and 40%, higher for the low-priced No Ad brand.
According to Meridian Consulting's Taft, specialty items like children's and sports lotions are driving sales.
"The children's items are really becoming important and pushed a lot more," said Amell. "Even people who won't take care of themselves will take care of their children."
Citing the manufacturer's strong direct-to-consumer advertising push, Amell said Coppertone's Water Babies (SPF 45) is "far and away" the best seller among children's sun care products in stores supplied by Bi-Lo.
Supervalu's Maxwell, for one, thinks sun care has become as specialized as it can get. "I believe the category's already been segmented out," he said. "I don't see a lot of change with the SPF factors."