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Balancing on a Bubble

By: Carrie Lennard, Euromonitor International
Posted: September 3, 2009, from the September 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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In North America, the share of private label in bath and body products climbed one percentage point in 2008 to 6% of total sales, with only four major brands individually accounting for a larger share. Recession-induced retailing trends are largely to blame for this. In crucial markets such as the U.S. and the U.K., more and more consumers are opting to shop in less-expensive grocery discounters, where private label toiletries are often the only choice available. Even where branded goods are available, discounting has become far more prevalent. Given the low level of consumer brand loyalty in the segment, this is a problem—with many consumers willing to simply buy whichever brand happens to be on sale.

This is a real problem for brand owners, who have tried to overcome these challenges through innovation and marketing strategies. Private label products are becoming increasingly sophisticated, often mimicking the style of branded bath and body care. Because of this, brands are increasingly offering both value-added products and combination products that claim to offer numerous added benefits in one go.

Antibacterial, firming, antiaging, sun protection, whitening and exfoliating are some of the most commonly found added benefits. In April 2008, Colgate-Palmolive introduced the Softsoap Spa Radiant line to the U.S. market. The line consists of three types of body washes—Purifying (with aromatic botanicals), Exfoliating (with mineral sea salts) and Moisture Wrap (with essential oil).

In deodorants, a similar trend for value-added products has emerged, with the likes of hair minimizing, antiaging (both seen in Unilever’s Dove range) and underarm whitening deodorants.

Targeting Consumer Groups

Introducing segmented products to target different consumer groups is another tactic to maintain market share. Men have become a key focus, and much of the recent new product activity from brands has centered around male consumers—as evident in P&G’s 2008 launch of the Gillette body wash range. Male-specific body lotions are becoming more common, and in 2009, Vaseline launched the Vaseline Men Hand and Body range in the U.K.—with specific claims such as “fast absorbing” and “extra strength” to stave off private label imitators.