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The Imperative Relevance of Ethnic Hair Care
By: Liz Grubow and Elle Morris
Posted: June 22, 2010, from the July 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.
Do you know what your consumer will look like in 2013? From an efficacy perspective, what will she need from her beauty products? How will your brand speak to her most effectively? If you think she will be the consumer she’s always been (Caucasian with traditional hair needs), you’re in for a surprise. More than likely, your beauty consumer will be African-American or Hispanic—the groups the beauty industry and country have typically labeled “ethnic.”
The ethnic-specific beauty market has experienced a growth surge. Annual retail sales have increased to nearly $3 billion in the U.S., according to a study by Packaged Facts, a leading publisher of market research in the consumer packaged goods sector, and this indicates an even greater potential for brand marketers. By the end of 2010, ethnic consumers will account for more than 30% of the U.S. population, with a combined spending power in excess of $4.2 trillion by 2013. Traditionally within the U.S., ethnic hair care products represent a market compiled of niche brands specifically designed to address the needs of a smaller demographic, mostly described as African-American or Hispanic. However, the beauty industry is now seeing more ethnic hair care products heading away from niche and into mainstream via increased multicultural branding and inclusive product strategies.
Different Markets, Different Needs
The most notable challenge this beauty consumer continues to face is finding products to address her specific needs. By addressing the unmet needs of this growing group of consumers, brand marketers can uncover substantial opportunities to further innovate both in brand strategy and product development, enabling beauty brands to reach out and communicate directly with underserved consumers.
According to a 2009 study by the General Merchandise Distributors Council, African-Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, but account for one-third of hair care sales. Similarly, according to global research firm Mintel, Hispanic consumers continue to exhibit higher consumption rates for personal care products, including hair care, and are even outspending non-Hispanics. The importance of hair maintenance and its relationship to beauty within the black and Hispanic communities in the U.S. is a tradition often instilled at an early age, and can be associated with a sense of community and womanly rites of passage. Both groups enjoy the “beauty experience,” opting for products that incorporate ingredients to stimulate the senses, such as fragrance and color, as well as products that deliver a more holistically experiential result. African-American women and Latinas view hair as a form of expression and a statement of personal style, and seek out products to address the specific needs associated with varying hair types and textures, in addition to products that help them achieve a certain style. Because women in both of these groups tend to change hairstyles frequently, there is an increased need for styling products that work with their hair types.
African-American hair can be prone to more damage due to the shape of the hair follicle and its high degree of curliness. This natural fragility is often accelerated by the frequent use of straightening products and appliances, a practice used by 70–80% of African-American women, often beginning as a monthly ritual as early as the age of 5. Straightening hair with alkaline cream relaxers damages hair bonds permanently, leading to hair fiber loss of 40–60%. Many African-American women report issues such as thinning hair, baldness and scalp irritation. Therefore, in their daily regimens, they tend to look for products that address the needs associated with extensively damaged hair, including damage protection and conditioning. Recently, more black women have been embracing natural products that either straighten or enhance the natural texture of curly hair, rejecting the chemicals found in many traditional relaxers.