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With product innovations that focus on health benefits, this season's sun care offerings have captured the attention, and the shelf space, of supermarket retailers.Consumers will have the freedom to match their precise sun care needs to any of an array of inventive new products featuring everything from fast-drying aerosol, continuous-spray delivery systems to soy-enhanced formulas and gradual sunless

With product innovations that focus on health benefits, this season's sun care offerings have captured the attention, and the shelf space, of supermarket retailers.

Consumers will have the freedom to match their precise sun care needs to any of an array of inventive new products featuring everything from fast-drying aerosol, continuous-spray delivery systems to soy-enhanced formulas and gradual sunless tanning products, retailers and other industry experts told SN.

"We plan to merchandise new sun care items in prominent shelf space, using New Arrival shelf talkers," said Roxanne Brodheim, national category manager, body care, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo.

Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa., plans to capture impulse sales of these new "hot" items with off-shelf displays in addition to in-line merchandising, according to Denny Hopkins, spokesman for the Ahold USA chain. "We also ensure that these products have speed to market to tie in with TV advertising and national freestanding-insert activity," he said.

"Increasing sales equates to more space being devoted to higher SPF [sun protection factor] and sport-type products in this category," said Maria Brous, spokeswoman for Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla.

Dollar sales for the sunscreen/insect repellent segment are up 7.7% from the previous year for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 25, 2005, according to food, drug and mass data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Unit sales were up 8.1%.

Vendors are working more closely with supermarkets to assist with uniformity in product selection and to determine the percentage of space for major brands including Hawaiian Tropic, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Banana Boat, owned by Playtex Products,

Westport, Conn.; and Coppertone, owned by Schering-Plough, Kenilworth, N.J., which together make up 80% of the business, one Southern retailer told SN.

Sue Vodika, HBC buyer/category manager, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., told SN that to attract customers to the new products, Bashas' runs "a lot of ads," but once in the store, "the customers just go straight to the shelf." Vodika thinks the new bottles and graphics say it all. "One bottle actually says, 'Spray-Dry Oil,' which is very clear and appealing, and customers look at those descriptions. The sun care manufacturers have done a great job on descriptions."

Continuous Spray

Continuous spray - which is an aerosol application using oxygen as a propellant, making it less flammable than old delivery systems - is going to be one of the most prominent and promising technologies this year, retailers said.

"With the Coppertone Continuous Spray introduced last year, most of the large companies are following suit with their own sprays," the Southern retailer said. "The Coppertone item was the No. 1 item last year in the category. This will be one segment that will continue to grow the sun care business due to the innovation of the product and the ability to spray the can in all directions on the body."

"Everything is coming in aerosol," Vodika said. "The aerosol cans are so different, the convenience is going to be huge. This year the application is really going to sell the product."

"We are seeing more varieties and brands of spray-type items," Brous said.

Continuous spray was a big hit last year, leading to a re-growth in the spray segment, according to a spokesman for Food Lion Salisbury, N.C. "We are seeing the trend continue this year with more manufacturers coming out with this type of application."

It has always been about convenience, according to Vodika. "The more convenience, the more likely customer recognition becomes," she said, referring to sunblock sticks that came out last year, which "did very well."

This is especially true with children, Vodika said. "It can be troublesome and inconvenient to try rubbing sunblock on the kids, but now customers can probably run around and chase them with a spray."

Advances in application systems are "an intensification of last year," said Diane Garber, president, In Sight Communications, Buffalo Grove, Ill.

This year, the fast-drying and continuous-spray sunblock products will provide even coverage and safeguard users from missing a spot, Garber said. "We have all been at the beach or pool and had some of our or our children's suntan lotion accidentally rub off."

Last year's key chain-style tube or stick of sunblock is still great for people on the go, especially people who want to be able to protect their kids at any time, Garber added.

Next to convenience and comfort, consumers' attraction to products that stay on complements a continuing trend to strong coverage and high SPF, retailers said.

"SPF 45 is now the best-selling SPF in general protection, and high SPF coverage and broad-spectrum coverage are very popular," Hopkins said.

A new product carried by Giant of Carlisle this year is Neutrogena sunscreen with Helioplex technology, a new formulation that is designed to cover the full spectrum of UVA/UVB rays by harnessing two types of sunscreen, avobenzone and oxybenzone, Hopkins said. Neutrogena, owned by Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J., has found a novel way to stabilize avobenzone, a Food and Drug Administration-recognized sunscreen that normally loses its effectiveness quickly with exposure to the sun, he said.

One advanced product carried by Publix is SunSignals UV Sensor from SunHealth Solutions, Naples, Fla. The product, an adhesive patch that changes color to signal when it is time to protect the skin, was released last year and is now partnering with Kimberly-Clark, Irving, Texas, to offer free samples of Huggies Little Swimmers disposable swimpants beginning in April.

KID Friendly

"Kids are most susceptible to skin damage from the sun. One bad burn at a young age doubles the chance of melanoma," said Tom Laughlin, president and chief executive officer, SunHealth Solutions. "Moms today really explore the opportunities they have to protect their kids in the sun."

"Banana Boat has added tear-free enhancements to its high-SPF kids and baby products," said the spokesman for Food Lion. Manufacturers say most sun care product purchases are made by a female head of household under 44 years of age, the spokesman said.

"Tear-free is the biggest urgent need for moms in a product today," said Jean Fufidio, vice president of marketing, Banana Boat.

Although the number of natural sun care consumers is increasing, it isn't just moms that are driving the market.

Wild Oats has seen an overall increase in personal care sales from 2004 to 2005, likely affected by baby boomers and generation-Xers, Brodheim said. "I would expect this to continue for 2006 in sun care products as well."

Baby boomers and age-conscious gen-Xers are looking for products that are easy to use and provide protection and promote healthy skin, Hopkins said. "As the population grows older, the demand for higher SPFs has grown. Meanwhile, younger generations are using self-tanning products, in lieu of the in-the-sun tanning products, for health reasons."

Just a few years ago self-tanning migrated from "fancy expensive department store lines down to grocery, drug and mass market stores," Garber said. This season, the self-tanner formulations and packages are far more attractive and upscale, she added.

"Since [Cincinnati-based] Jergens came out with its bronzing lotions last year, there is an even bigger demand for these items in the sunless segment. This will be a huge growth segment for 2006," said the Southern retailer.

Self-tanners with gradual tan elements have increased, Garber said. "You can control the way you look much more than before, and the consistency of the formulas is no longer going to be oily or crumply, its going to be the right texture."

The importance of skin's health combined with a desire to avoid harsh chemicals is being reflected largely in Aveeno's sun care line this year, which will incorporate natural soy and antioxidants, Hopkins said.

"Aveeno is launching a line of sun care products that looks to be very good for this category," Brous said. Aveeno will be the only new brand at Publix this year, she said.

The "key natural brands" will be big at Wild Oats, said Brodheim, naming: Alba, Nature's Gate, Kiss My Face, Jason and Zia. Any formulations that are paraben-free will also be received well, she said. "We prefer to carry those lines that use the most natural ingredients available."

Students of the Sun

A gradual rise in consumer education about sun safety is healthy for both consumers and sun care sales.

Wild Oats stores see an increase in customer questions and requests regarding sun care as April approaches and many people begin to vacation on spring break, said Roxanne Brodheim, national category manager, body care, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo. This period of consumer education usually lasts through July, she added.

At Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa., the questions begin rolling in during February, said spokesman Denny Hopkins. "With consumers being more aware of the negative effects of exposure to the sun, they are beginning to educate themselves on healthy sunscreens and sunless tanners."

"Moms today are much better students than the moms of 30 or 40 years ago," said Tom Laughlin, president and chief executive officer, SunHealth Solutions, Naples, Fla. "There is more concern about protection from the sun these days with ozone depletion, higher UVs and the well-known occurrence of skin cancer."

Underlining the need for retailers to provide consumer education, a study conducted by Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill., in 2005 illustrates that the availability of health and wellness information in a drug store setting - through in-store kiosks provided by Healthnotes, Portland, Ore. - increased sales over the entire store.

Over 40% of shoppers interviewed had purchased a product directly as a result of information they had obtained at one of the kiosks, the study said.

"Retailers are putting a lot more complicated and sophisticated products in their stores," said Schuyler Linger, CEO of Healthnotes. "Stores with one or two products for sun care years ago now have one or two shelves of products. With so much selection, the consumer gets confused and the axiom of retailing is, 'A confused mind always says no.'" Education helps consumers sort through all of the choices and make an informed decision about what they will buy, Linger said.