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Products touting age-defying benefits continue to fuel much of the growth in the skin care category for supermarkets, capturing the attention of older consumers as well as younger generations.Ongoing advances in technology are enabling manufacturers to produce upscale skin care products that promise to regenerate skin cells, balance skin tone and even moisturize while offering a radiant, sun-kissed

Products touting age-defying benefits continue to fuel much of the growth in the skin care category for supermarkets, capturing the attention of older consumers as well as younger generations.

Ongoing advances in technology are enabling manufacturers to produce upscale skin care products that promise to regenerate skin cells, balance skin tone and even moisturize while offering a radiant, sun-kissed glow.

Rivaling the quality of department store brands, these new products have given rise to a new age of consumers who are willing to pay double, even triple what they paid for skin care items in supermarkets just a few years ago.

"Premium skin care is where the majority of new sales are coming from, including new technologies like Regenerist" from Procter & Gamble, said Mike DeJulio, manager of health and beauty care, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y. "People are willing to spend up to the $15-to-$20 range for these higher-end products."

"Upscale products continue to leverage the technology and ingredients of department store brands, but they're now available in other retail outlets like supermarkets," said Jeff Lowrance, spokesman, Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C. "Consumers are able to see the value of trading over to a brand that is available in supermarkets."

Together, consumers' never-ending desire for newer, better skin care products and the advent of higher-priced items are driving supermarket skin care sales skyward.

Skin care sales in supermarkets have risen another 1.4% from $438 million in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 29, 2003, to $444 million in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 29, 2004, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago.

Sales in every body care category within Wild Oats Markets' Holistic Health departments showed double-digit growth over last year in the same period, said Kathi Danaher, spokeswoman, Wild Oats, Boulder, Colo.

"Skin care sales continue to grow in Food Lion stores, primarily due to shift toward newer technology products," said Lowrance.

The hottest upscale, high-tech products on the market today are made with amino peptide complex components, shea butter, and a slew of organic and natural ingredients. Some actually stimulate the body's natural chemical reactions to produce a desired result.

P&G, for example, recently introduced its new Olay Quench Radiance Reviver body lotion to consumers, a product that promises to moisturize skin while imparting a sun-kissed glow upon repeated use.

Anti-aging face and body products by companies like Neutrogena, Roc, L'Oreal and Nivea Visage are also likely to boost sales throughout the year, along with the growing number of natural selections making their way into supermarkets.

"Burt's Bees continues to grow and we just got Oil of Olay's new product Quench, which we expect to do well," said Toby Nelson, director of nonfood operations, Dahl's Foods, Des Moines, Iowa. "Oil of Olay's Regenerist and L'Oreal's upscale products are doing well overall and recently, we've noticed that shea butter is being introduced to almost every product out there."

Whatever the ingredients, young and old consumers alike continue to shell out money for skin care products that promise to stave off signs of aging, said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill.

"Baby boomers are driving the skin care category, but there's a better understanding amongst consumers of all ages of how skin care is important from a health and wellness standpoint," he said.

"Baby boomers and young Gen X-ers seem to have something in common: Both are looking for the latest and greatest in anti-aging cosmetics," said Danaher. "While some customers are seeking products that claim to turn back the hands of time, reversing fine lines and wrinkles caused by years of sun exposure and environmental damage, younger shoppers are taking a more proactive approach and purchasing these same products to maintain the long-term health of their skin."

While most supermarkets are reporting an interest in anti-aging products by consumers of various ages, Price Chopper's younger consumers are looking for one thing in particular, said DeJulio. "The older population is focused on looking younger and better while younger consumers are mostly interested in acne products," he said.

Along with the age of most female consumers, Wisner expects other demographics to impact the category in the near future.

"Men's skin care is a big category to watch in the future because there's a younger generation of consumers who are comfortable looking at products without attaching sexuality issues to them," he said.

"Along with the younger male consumers, another component is the baby boomer generation and the male consumer who is using skin care for vanity purposes, trying to make the middle-aged years longer, more pleasant or to look more appealing," said Bill Bishop, president, Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill.

Manufacturers are beginning to create products with male consumers in mind, some that are strictly made for men and others that are marketed to both male and female consumers, he added.

Supermarkets should also keep an eye on skin care products specifically created for ethnic groups, Wisner said.

As the skin care category continues to grow, supermarkets are learning how to artfully merchandise the multitude of products, imparting soothing waves of color that create a flowing, yet obvious distinction between each brand.

In Price Chopper stores, skin care is merchandised using a detailed planogram that breaks the entire category into segments and sub-segments. "We have the upscale segment with products like L'Oreal's Dermo Expertis and Oil of Olay's Regenerist. Then we have an acne segment, a sun care segment and another segment for products like Lubriderm," said DeJulio. "We also have a value skin care segment or bottom shelf products like Jergens."

The skin care products in Highland Park Markets, Glastonbury, Conn., run the gamut from low-cost brands like Vaseline and Johnson & Johnson to upscale items made by companies like L'Oreal, Neutrogena and Oil of Olay. "We separate our regular soaps and body washes from our upscale skin care products, which are merchandised alongside our finer hair care products like Biolage and Paul Mitchell that are salon-quality brands," said Tim Cummiskey, Highland Park store manager. "This creates more of an upscale feel for our skin care section."

Dahl's Foods strategically places the more expensive lines of skin care products at eye level, with mid- to low-range items in separate segments within the skin care aisle. "Manufacturers are making it easier for us to merchandise skin care and for consumers to find specific brands quickly by focusing on the color of their products and packaging," said Nelson.

Supermarkets should be concerned about ambiance, but convenience is still a factor in the minds of hurried shoppers, said Wendy Liebmann, president, WSL Strategic Retail, New York. "The skin care department must be pleasing to the eye, conducive to the products carried, but more importantly, it needs to be shoppable quickly," Liebmann said.

Skin Care Goes Natural

As consumers express a greater interest in health and wellness, "natural" products are quickly becoming mainstays within the skin care category. This is true of supermarket chains and natural food stores alike.

"Consumers are considering a more holistic definition of wellness, a look-good, feel-good sort of thing," said Bill Bishop, president, Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill. "They're willing to buy products that promote this concept, particularly upscale products like those made with natural ingredients."

Because of the quality of ingredients used in natural body care products, many consumers are even willing to pay extra for items that they feel will cause fewer allergic reactions or potentially hazardous health risks after an extended period of use, said Kathi Danaher, spokeswoman for Wild Oats Markets, the 108-store natural food chain based in Boulder, Colo.

Wild Oats experienced double-digit sales growth over the last year in its Holistic Health departments, thanks in large part to new introductions within upscale product lines.

Many of the upscale skin care lines like Zia, Sun Country, Mychelle Dermaceuticals and Lamas, have brought products into the natural market with ingredients formulated to penetrate deeply into the skin for better results, said Danaher.

These companies, and many others in the natural channel, are working with the latest scientific advances in anti-aging skin care to make products that are as elite as those found in most department stores.

"While historically, over-the-counter department store skin care products were deemed to hold all the 'magic in a bottle,' today we find that the personal care shopper in our stores can also have it all," she said. "More crossover customers are willing to try the high-end natural skin care lines, due to an expanding awareness that natural products can be formulated with ingredients that work."

Each of Wild Oats' stores opened since 2001 has a Holistic Health department designed with lower profile shelving and wider aisles to enhance the shopping experience.

Danaher expects the natural skin care market to expand in the near future as manufacturers continually increase the marketing dollars they spend each year targeting readers of trendy health and lifestyle magazines.

Powerful antioxidants like alpha lipoic acid, Co Q10, Vitamin C Ester, dimethyl-amino-ethanol (DMAE), carnosine and hyaluronic acid, have proved effective in reducing even deep wrinkles while stimulating collagen production for healthy skin repair.

Natural alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) derived from fruit and vegetable sources also work very effectively as exfoliants. All of these components promote youthfulness, a sure sign that fighting the signs of aging is also a trend among consumers who prefer naturals.

"Customers are becoming increasingly demanding in their desire for results-oriented anti-aging products, and the 'naturals' industry is responding with more offerings each year," said Danaher.