NEW YORK— Almay, the skin-conscious sister brand to Revlon, aims to freshen up the specialty bath category with the introduction of a spa collection this holiday.

Almay will launch the collection of seven gift sets exclusively in Target and Walgreens stores this October, and then expand its distribution to all of mass at the start of next year. The gift sets — featuring a varying assortment of spa items such as body wash, body lotion, body mist, loofah, bath salts and a fragrance stone — range in price from a $9.99 chrome bath caddy to a $14.99 balsa box.

Almay spokesperson Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp will unveil the spa collection at the opening party of the Telluride Film Festival, which kicks off Sept. 3. Almay will also set up a spa, called Almay Oasis, at the festival. The spa, located on Telluride’s main drag, Colorado Avenue, will be staffed by aestheticians from the Golden Door spa at the Wyndham Peaks Resort in Telluride, Colo.

Almay’s entrance into specialty bath marks the brand’s first strategic movement to expand outside its core cosmetics offering, explained Kevin Kells, vice president of marketing for Almay.

“We are looking at ways to better connect with our consumers,” said Kells, adding, “We’ve done a lot on the looks side with cosmetics, so now we’re dialing up the feeling side of the equation. The spa collection was an obvious next step.”

Industry sources estimate that Almay’s spa line will generate approximately $5 million at retail in the first year.

The collection aims to bring what Kells calls a “luxury sensibility” to the mass channel and, in doing so, build an emotional connection with consumers.

To create the line, Almay recruited licensee Burlington Toiletries, maker of private label bath products for retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Walgreens.

While business might be booming in day spas, the sector’s growth has yet to translate to the specialty bath category in the mass channel.

A number of brands have put elbow grease into reviving category growth, such as Coty Beauty’s retooled The Healing Garden line and the recent entry of White Rain’s Te Tao.But despite this flood of newness, specialty bath continues to experience soggy sales. The category dragged more than 6 percent to $95.4 million in the food, drug and mass channel (excluding Wal-Mart) for the 52-weeks ended July 11, 2004, according to Information Resources Inc.

The Almay collection aspires to build a bridge between the burgeoning day spa trend and the specialty bath category, declared Kells.

He noted that Almay’s spa collection departs from the category’s current flavor-driven strategy. “There is an oversaturation of fruity and floral scents in this category,” commented Kells. The Almay collection relies on two naturally derived fragrance stories: a holistic thai and lily scent called Relax, and a lemongrass and mint scent called Rejuvenate.

“Consumers are looking for a product mix that is upscale and has prestige branding at the mass level. And that is really what’s missing in the specialty bath category,” said Avery Kaufman, vice president of sales and marketing for Burlington.

Following Target and Walgreen’s exclusive holiday window, Almay will begin rolling out the collection as individual stockkeeping units to retailers’ bath planograms next spring. The initial launch on this front includes core specialty items such as body lotion, body wash and a body mist. True to Almay’s healthy beauty heritage, products are formulated with mild ingredients, such as aloe vera, silk and oat protein, and are infused with antioxidants and vitamins.

Once consumers have acquainted themselves with the line, Almay will introduce more benefit-driven products, such as a firming body serum, containing ingredients such as glycerin, evening prim rose oil and olive oil, explained Kaufman.

Almay is intent on growing its brand, and already has another category extension in the works for next year, reported Kells, who is currently keeping details of that launch close to the vest.

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