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Cosmetics for girls in their teens and younger have emerged as a major beauty category in the mass market, with new lines from manufacturers and destination departments in discount, drug and specialty stores proliferating steadily.Supermarkets, however, are the slumber in the slumber party.Most nonfood executives surveyed by SN said they devote little, if any, space to teen-specific products in their

Cosmetics for girls in their teens and younger have emerged as a major beauty category in the mass market, with new lines from manufacturers and destination departments in discount, drug and specialty stores proliferating steadily.

Supermarkets, however, are the slumber in the slumber party.

Most nonfood executives surveyed by SN said they devote little, if any, space to teen-specific products in their cosmetics aisle. At best, these retailers said, they try to incorporate some of the wilder colors and styles from the likes of Revlon and L'Oreal within the footage already staked out for these well-established companies.

But for chains that have been willing and able to carve out the space, promote regularly and experiment with new products, the payoff has been worth the effort.

"We're suggesting that our accounts take a look at this area and expand it," said Al Jones, vice president and market manager for health and beauty care at Imperial Distributors, Auburn, Mass. Imperial supplies Big Y Foods, Victory Super Markets, Price Chopper Supermarkets and Stop & Shop, among other Northeastern chains.

Jones said Imperial carries a limited number of teen and preteen cosmetics, with its planograms incorporating, at most, 6 feet within a larger cosmetics set.

"It's a fairly hot area right now, but I think supermarkets are behind the times on it," he said.

"Big Y recognized the potential of the teenage market a couple of years ago," said Jan Winn, the Springfield, Mass.-based retailer's HBC and general-merchandise director. Winn said Big Y stores carry four teen-oriented brands: M Professional, Fetish, Bonne Bell and Wet 'n' Wild. The chain, however, devotes only 4 feet to them.

Chainwide, Acme Markets, Malvern, Pa., has an average allowance of 20 feet for cosmetics, said a store official. Although Acme, a division of American Stores, is upping its cosmetics sections from 36 feet to 40 and even 48 feet in its largest stores, the official said, it does not have a committed space for teen-specific products.

"We are always adding more stockkeeping units as we get the space and we add more stores, but we don't really have a devoted section [for teen and preteen cosmetics]. It's a developing market, but right now I think it's a question of space."

Acme currently stocks Bonne Bell and Wet 'n' Wild, the official said, adding, "They are not the hottest commodities going."

"We don't do a whole lot of business in cosmetics and carry just the basic necessities" said Jim Paterni, HBC and general-merchandise director at Glen's Markets, Gaylord, Mich. The chain's average cosmetics set totals 4 feet and is dominated by Maybelline products, he said.

"We've had larger sections in the past, but the numbers just didn't support them."

According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, supermarkets posted cosmetics sales of $345.4 million for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 27, a 5% increase from the year prior. (Unit sales, though, dropped 1.8%.)

Mass merchandisers, according to IRI, generated $1.2 billion in cosmetics sales for the year ended Sept. 27, which represents a 13.6% increase. Drug stores did even better, with $1.3 billion in sales, an 18.2% increase.

IRI's figures put the category as a whole at 14.6% over its comparable 1997 performance.

Among IRI's Top 10 cosmetics brands, three -- Wet 'n' Wild, Bonne Bell and Jane Cosmetics, at Nos. eight, nine and 10, respectively -- are teen-focused.

Right now, Jane is perhaps the biggest story in mass-market cosmetics. In September of last year, Cardiff, Calif.-based Sassaby, which manufactures Jane, was bought by cosmetics and fragrance powerhouse Estee Lauder. Jane hit $35.3 million in sales for the year ended Sept. 27, 1998, a 53.9% increase from the year prior, according to IRI. (In 1997, Jane had performed similarly, registering $27.2 million in sales for the year, a 54.6% increase from 1996 revenue.)

But many supermarkets don't carry Jane, which first came to prominence in Wal-Mart Stores, because they can't afford the space. One retailer told SN she had met with Jane sales representatives but ultimately was unable to buy the line because the manufacturer insisted on having 6 feet in every store.

Officials at Sassaby could not be reached for comment.

"The giant combo stores do a fantastic job with the category, and obviously the traditional stores have less space to work with," said William Prelli, executive vice president of Minnetonka Brands, Eden Prairie, Minn., a manufacturer of cosmetics for teens and preteens. "It's really driven by the amount of space available and how they want to prioritize that."

Minnetonka's products are now sold by Meijer, Albertson's, larger Kroger stores, and American Stores, as well as Walgreen, Rite Aid, Eckerd, CVS and Shopko, which Prelli singled out for its commitment to the category and to teenage customers in general.

"Shopko is creating a multiproduct teen center in their stores that is really quite exceptional," he said. "They've set a specific goal of building their teen-oriented business across a variety of categories."

It is important "to signal to that teen that they are a valued shopper" by creating some sort of destination, even if it's only an endcap, Prelli said. "Teens, by and large, do most of their own purchasing." He added that teens, according to Minnetonka's research, spend $6.3 billion annually on personal care.

Minnetonka's latest product launch is Jellybeans, a two-month-old line of colored and scented nail products and accompanying lip balms and glosses. Designed for preteens, they come in plastic, jellybean-shaped containers that girls can wear as (breakaway) necklaces. Prelli said Minnetonka expects Jellybeans eventually to become a $5- to $10-million brand.

"You only have so many feet, but every line is growing. It's a real challenge for us," said Toni Jackson, fashion merchandise coordinator for Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa. "And it's so hard to figure out what kids are going to like one day as opposed to another."

But even though it devotes an average of only 4 feet -- within a 48-foot section -- to teen cosmetics, Hy-Vee has done well with the category, Jackson said, because the retailer experiments freely and promotes often.

"It's very important to test new things because you just don't know. I think it's a grave mistake when there's something new and different out there not to give it a chance," she said. "I always watch the Gap and Old Navy, I'm not ashamed to say, and ask myself what do they know that I don't?"

A typical test lasts four to six weeks, during which the chain "gives it our all," Jackson said. It is important to promote the item both before and during its run, and if it isn't selling, "ask your customers, 'What is it? Why hasn't it gone?"'

Jackson said Hy-Vee runs a teen-cosmetics ad in each month's circular and one every two weeks in the flyer for its freestanding Drug Town drug stores.

Even in Hy-Vee's smaller, traditional grocery stores, where it stocks only big, established brands, it works in youth-oriented items from those manufacturers -- Revlon's Street Wear, for example.

"We're always so glad that Revlon and L'Oreal do things to go after that customer," Jackson said. "It helps us shift our wall to cater to [teens] as well, and we have great sell-through."

Hy-Vee also does a strong business in prepacks, designed for kids who want to buy multiple colors of a single style, or a nail product along with a lip gloss, for example. Prepacks make great gifts, Jackson said, and the price points, as with most teen cosmetics, are quite affordable.

"Every time I think [the category has] reached a peak, something new comes out and it goes higher. I see it continuing to grow, but we're going to have to be great managers. We're going to have to get the most bang for the buck for our 12 feet or whatever and promote heavily," she said.

"This is a cluster of customers to pay attention to."