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Time for Sun Care to Come Out of the Shade

Rob Walker, Euromonitor International
  • While global growth for sun care slowed in 2013 to about 5% at fixed U.S. dollar prices—down from 6% in 2012—it is still one of the best-performing categories during the last five years, even outperforming skin care and facial makeup.
  • The U.S., Brazil and China lead the pack in terms of sun care consumption, but markets in the Asia-Pacific and Latin American regions (such as Indonesia, India and Mexico) are quickly growing, as well.
  • Reinvigorating Western European markets is another key for sun care, as growth there during the last five years has been virtually flat.
  • Baby- and child-specific sun care products are a huge opportunity. Baby- and child-specific skin care products are big business, and sun care can likely take a cue from this category.
  • Ultimately, the sun care market needs an injection of innovation to help excite consumers and get them reacquainted with the many benefits of regular sun care product usage.

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.

Beyond education, another big challenge is to scale back costs so sun care brands can be positioned at more affordable price points without compromising efficacy. Small-size travel packs have become popular, but there is a risk they are working against the category. Indeed, in markets such as the U.K., travel packs help foster the notion that, first, sunscreen is only for vacations and second, that sunscreen is something to be used conservatively. These are the opposite of the messages the category should be promoting.

Sizing Up the Demographics

Building stronger positions in countries in the midst of baby booms also makes sense for sun care. The global baby- and child-specific beauty and personal care market was worth about $15 billion in 2013, of which sun care accounted for only 5%. Given parents’ natural predisposition to protect the health of their children, baby- and child-specific sun care brands need to be targeting a bigger share of that market.

Currently, there are only four countries in the world—the U.S., Brazil, Italy and the U.K.—where the baby- and child-specific sun care market is worth more than $50 million a year. In contrast, there are 13 markets where baby- and child-specific skin care is worth more than $50 million. The latter also generates more than three times as much value globally. The sun care category can realistically narrow that gap, but currently, it is an opportunity going begging.

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

The time is ripe for sun care brands. One of the world’s biggest sun care brands, Merck-owned Coppertone, is likely to be sold in 2014, possibly to Reckitt Benckiser. That type of high-profile deal could help fast-track innovation in sun care. A move like this would likely hugely benefit sun care, helping it shake up with an injection of new ideas, including in terms of the way sun care brands are advertised and marketed.

Crucially, sun care brands need to find ways to recruit new consumers and get current consumers to use their products more regularly. Segmentation and multifunctionality could be the way forward. Ultimately, successful product innovation would help change consumers’ perception of sun care. It would be little short of a game-changer for the category.

Rob Walker, senior fast-moving consumer goods analyst, Euromonitor International, can be contacted at

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