NEW YORK -- Elizabeth Arden has such ambitious sales expectations for Alpha-Ceramide, its upcoming skin care introduction, that it has given the product a nickname: The White Diamonds of skin care.With an unusually large advertising and promotion budget of $9 million, Arden hopes Alpha-Ceramide, an alpha-hydroxy-acid-based exfoliant, will soar into the volume range normally reserved for blockbuster fragrances like White Diamonds, the Elizabeth Taylor scent that has been a bestseller since its introduction in 1991. According to sources, it did around $60 million at wholesale last year.Alpha-Ceramide will be introduced in Arden's 3,000 U.S. doors on Feb. 20, and rolled out throughout Europe and Asia by the end of May."We're giving this launch an unprecedented level of support," said Mark Loomis, vice president of retail marketing. "The amount of advertising and collateral material in stores is on the level of a major fragrance launch."Loomis noted that the $100 million mark in worldwide wholesale volume had been reached last year collectively by the first three products in the Ceramide category: Ceramide Time Complex Capsules, launched in 1990; Ceramide Eyes Time Complex Capsules, launched in 1991, and Ceramide Time Complex Moisture Cream, which contains AHA, launched in 1992. The line did almost 20 percent of the company's sales, estimated at near $500 million.Alpha-Ceramide, which is expected to become the company's top-selling treatment item, is projected at reaching a first-year worldwide wholesale volume of $50 million, Loomis said. He also emphasized that Arden's heavy investment in the product will eventually pay off through customer loyalty."We're trying to reinforce the notion that Arden has a strong skin care heritage," he said. "You can no longer just deliver packaged snake oil these days."This is going to be a locomotive pulling along the entire Arden business," Loomis continued.The new product is an anti-aging regimen that has four steps, each containing a different dosage of L-lactic acid, a variety of alpha-hydroxy.The first three steps -- containing 3, 4.5 and 6 percent acid, respectively -- are meant to be used for two weeks each to allow skin to adjust to the concentrations.Under the regimen, consumers are expected after six weeks to graduate to step four, a product that contains 7.5 percent acid. The step-four product is then meant to be used exclusively, unless there's a break in the routine of at least a monthin which case the firm recommends repeating the starter steps.The products for the first three steps, packaged in 0.25-oz. bottles, will be sold together for $45. Step four, sold alone in a 0.88-oz. jar, will retail for $55."The fourth step will have the highest percentage of alpha-hydroxy acid of any product sold in department stores," said Joanne Essig, marketing manager for skin care. She claimed that other acid-based products on the market were usually in the 2 to 3 percent range.Most companies, including the divisions of EstÄe Lauder Cos., decline to reveal the acid percentages in their products, but Essig said Ceramide Moisture Cream carries less than 3 percent. La Prairie says its Age Management Serum and Cream, claimed by sources to have the highest doses currently on the market, each carry 5 percent."The progressive-step system allows us to offer this high dosage without risking irritation, which a lot of customers have experienced with AHA products," Essig added. "With the step system, the skin becomes acclimated to the ingredients gradually."The product also contains ceramides, ingredients that nourish and build up the skin's natural moisture barriers to prevent loss of hydration, according to Essig: "Ceramides are the bonus, because they not only prevent irritation through moisturization, but they boost the AHAs."According to the company, another way irritation is prevented is through the emulsion in which the ingredients are housed."It's a micro-emulsion, which means the particles in it are very small," said Tony Vargas, group manager for treatment in research and development. "Because of their size, the particles break gradually over time, which means the lactic acid is released slowly. The skin is then able to adjust to the dosage without being overwhelmed."To insure that Alpha-Ceramide gets into the hands of consumers, Arden is taking a direct approach: giving it away.During its first six months on counter, the three-step starter kit will be free to customers who purchase step four."We thought we should make a full commitment to drawing people in," said Loomis. "Giving it away also eliminates the complexity of the product, which could be intimidating."A print ad campaign will first appear in March editions of beauty, health and lifestyle magazines, according to Loomis, and will run throughout the year. The ad carries the line, "Ten Years Younger? You Be the Judge."With heavy advertising and constant in-store promotions and visual displays, Arden hopes to cut through the rash of AHA-based products that have been crowding the market for the last year."We're hoping people will regard this as the next level for AHAs," said Essig. "The progressive system is a strong point, as well as the pharmaceutical approach, which is the image. And the ceramides are an added attraction."According to Jane Scott, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Bloomingdale's, Alpha-Ceramide should hold its own amid the AHA glut."I'm very excited about it," she said. "Their method of presentation, which is to give it away, should be very well received. It should really get the customer going and get people interested."My sense is that in giving the maximum amount of the acid, they're giving people what they're looking for," Scott continued. "It's a strong selling point. What they have to do is ease the fear of irritation by being very clear in the information they give to the customer."
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