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Time for Sun Care to Come Out of the Shade

By: Rob Walker, Euromonitor International
Posted: March 24, 2014, from the April 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Multifunctionality has been one of the big themes in beauty care during the last five years, driven by consumers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for products that save time, money and hassle. As such, sun protection factor (SPF) is now almost a norm in skin care and facial makeup—a must-have feature in a market crowded with multitasking brands.

Traditional sun care has been squeezed, but not as much as one might think. Indeed, given the emergence of a new generation of SPF-touting beauty products, as well as evidence in Western European markets that people are skimping on the amount of sun protection they use, the global sun care category has actually proven remarkably resilient.

Yes, global growth slowed in 2013 to about 5% at fixed U.S. dollar prices, down from 6% the previous year. But sun care has still been one of the beauty and personal care industry’s best-performing categories during the last five years—even outperforming rivals skin care and facial makeup, which have both grown at less than 5% annually.

Sun care’s outlook going forward is promising, not least of which because sun care has barely scratched the surface of innovation-led growth. The tentative rollout of brands that flex their own multitasking benefits—anti-aging, moisturizing and tinting, for example—is a prelude to the category’s probable strategic direction, along with tailored products for babies, young children, adolescents with acne and even people with tattoos.

In short, this is not a category in the throes of crisis—it is one on the cusp of realizing untapped opportunities.

The Global Playing Field

Global spending on sun care products summed a little less than $10 billion last year, which is double the amount of a decade ago. Two markets, the U.S. and Brazil, generate annual sales in excess of US$1 billion in sun care in their own right, and in the next five years, they will be joined by a third, China. Across the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America, there are a cluster of markets showing strong upward momentum for sun care, including Indonesia, India and Mexico.

The big challenge for the sun care category is in reinvigorating Western European markets, where growth during the last five years has been virtually flat. This is precisely where the surge in multifunctional beauty products—often with SPF features—has been most pronounced. Middle-class consumers in Western Europe are feeling cash-strapped too, hence they are cutting back on vacations—a key purchase occasion for sun care.

Also, even when Western Europeans do buy sunscreen and sun care products, there is evidence they are using less of it. In a recent survey carried out in the U.K. by retailer Tesco, three quarters of respondents said they deliberately try to make a bottle of sunscreen last longer by applying less protection than they know is adequate.

High prices are the problem. For a two-week vacation in the sun, a U.K. family of four typically needs to spend about £100 ($164) on sunscreen. This can account for a sizable chunk of their vacation budget.

Getting the Right Messages Across

Education will be key going forward. There has been no shortage of warnings about excessive UV exposure in the last decade, but manufacturers of sun care products and sun care brand owners have not been vociferous enough in getting their messages across. This is particularly relevant in the current operating environment where brands need to play up their health care credentials compared with the type of low level SPF offered by skin care and makeup brands.

Ramping up the usage of sun care for more occasions also is going to be important. According to the Tesco survey, 85% of respondents said they only buy sunscreen when they travel abroad. Via this data, it is a clear signal that sun care brands are not engaging effectively with British consumers, and that lesson likely can extrapolated for consumers in the rest of Western Europe and North America.