By  on February 29, 2008

HAMILTON, N.J. — Ascendia Brands Inc. is hoping The Healing Garden can sprout again.

Ascendia, which also owns Lander value products and kids' icon Mr. Bubble in the bath category, acquired The Healing Garden and Calgon from Coty in February 2007 for $125 million.

In just one year, Ascendia has reworked The Healing Garden in hopes of rebuilding the wildfire success the brand achieved following its launch in 1997. The Healing Garden sales exceeded $90 million at its zenith from 2000 to 2003. The brand's sales have sunken as low as $40 million in recent years.

The new line, shipping now to 25,000 doors, has fresh packaging and new formulations aimed at shoppers who have higher demands than when Coty initiated the category more than 10 years ago. Ascendia hopes its efforts can exceed the lofty sales of the original lineup, while injecting new life into the mass bath category.

When Coty unveiled The Healing Garden a decade ago, the company promised it would invent an entirely new category. It did just that, a category now known as specialty bath, and also siphoned business off from traditional fragrances. But the bath bubble flattened as retailers added too much space to these items and shoppers became unimpressed with "sameness" in the market. Subsequently, last year Coty decided to unload The Healing Garden and Calgon to focus on traditional fragrances — especially its burgeoning celebrity stable.

At the same time Ascendia was expanding and buying brands that didn't fit the corporate mold, such as Playtex's Mr. Bubble and Ogilvie brands. Ascendia's portfolio now includes Lander, The Healing Garden, Calgon, Ogilvie, Binaca, Mr. Bubble and Baby Magic — all names with equity.

When Coty sold The Healing Garden and Calgon to Ascendia, it propelled the newer company's sales beyond $200 million in one financial transaction. Ascendia, infused with backing from Prentice Capital, saw the addition of the Coty brands as a way to stretch profit margins beyond commodity bath.

Steven Scheyer, president and chief executive officer of Ascendia, joined the firm in March and quickly assembled his own team to invigorate The Healing Garden in time for spring 2008 replanograms. While the category has run hot and cold over the years and retailers have tried everything from European brands to private labels to make sales rise, Scheyer maintains women still find bathing a relaxing part of their day. Statistics from ACNielsen do show that the bath additive category is down 8 percent to $73 million for the 52-week period ended Jan. 26 (excluding Wal-Mart), but that doesn't take into account skin lotions and mists not measured in the category. "There may have been shifts to more shower gels, but the bath category is very healthy," Scheyer said.Under Scheyer, a former executive with Newell Rubbermaid, Ascendia hired beauty care consultants who probed every aspect of consumers' bath preferences to figure out how to identify separate positionings for The Healing Garden and Calgon. Even former Coty executives who saw the germination of The Healing Garden were pulled in to ensure success. And Scheyer himself went into the retail trenches to hear what buyers had to say about the rise and decline of the original The Healing Garden.

The new line has 85 stockkeeping units, including body lotions, scrubs, washes, mists and a new cream bubble bath. Like the original, ingredient messages are key. Since consumers expect more today, however, this incarnation features an Herbal Nutrient Complex that is touted to nourish the skin and soothe the soul. Eight flavors tie an emotion to an ingredient's message. For example, Balance is linked with White Tea and Inspire serves as a description for Jasmine. Ascendia also has maintained the Organic line launched under Coty, which Scheyer said performs well.

The Healing Garden prices are in line with original tickets ranging from $2.35 for 1.85-oz. travel sizes to around $14 for gift sets.

Advertising, the first in some time behind the logo, will bow in May publications. Advertising spending of about $10 million is earmarked for the launch and then again to support holiday sales events. One retailer familiar with the launch said he hoped The Healing Garden could return to a healthy line. "They certainly did their homework and I think customers will be happy with the new look," the buyer said.

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