NEW YORK — Creme of Nature is pumping up Colors, its newest brand. It’s also a means by which the company hopes to win back market share winnowed away by the encroachment of big players into the ethnic hair color category.

A subsidiary of Barcelona-based Colomer Group, Creme of Nature has committed product launches and a 2003 advertising campaign for Colors, which bowed with the introduction of 12 women’s hair color shades earlier this year.

With its latest Colors launch, Creme of Nature is addressing a different hair color consumer — men. The company introduced three shades for two segments of multicultural men last month: "Natural Black" and "Medium Brown" for ages 35 and up, and "Red Clay" for ages 18 to 34. A fourth blond shade targeting the younger set is due early next year. Each item is priced $5.99 at retail.

Creme of Nature executives believe now is the time to go after men.

"Despite the fact that the overall [ethnic] hair color category is declining," said Creme of Nature brand manager Dawn Phillips, "men’s hair color sales are steadily increasing, so we want to capitalize on that growing market. The big portion of that [decline] is general market brands targeting African Americans," Phillips added, mentioning brands like L’Oréal Feria and Clairol Natural Instincts.

Sales of men’s hair color products from ethnic brandsgrew in mass channels 7 percent to $11.8 million for the year ended in mid-July, according to Phillips. She cited Information Resources data, which excludes sales in Wal-Mart. The size of the overall ethnic category for men and women, however, declined 18 percent to $26.6 million. Sales of women’s hair color products from ethnic brands took the biggest hit — 31 percent — and ended the same period at $14.8 million.

The women’s Colors assortment, which launched in early spring, will end the year with roughly $2.3 million in wholesale sales, according to industry sources. That number is expected to increase by more than 56 percent next year. Colors for men is seen generating wholesale sales of $500,000 in its first year.

Colors comes in a gel formulation — as opposed to liquid — and employs a "liquid crystal" technology designed to penetrate down to the root for uniform, rather than two-tone, color, Phillips said.A print advertising campaign featuring the women’s shades is scheduled to run from March to November next year. It’s the second such campaign for Colors and the ad budget for next year is said to exceed $1 million. The effort will include ads in nine magazines, including Essence, Ebony and Vibe, as well as billboards in 10 cities, including Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, New York and Philadelphia.

In February, Creme of Nature plans to launch hair care, including shampoo and conditioner, under Colors. "It’s part of the whole branding strategy," Phillips remarked.

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