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Critical Mass: Food Stores Plan for Makeup Sales Gains

PRINCETON, N.J. — At a six-month-old Whole Foods Market here, shoppers can find all of their beauty needs in one location. Not only can they buy freshly baked organic breads, they can procure all-natural cosmetics and hair care in a large beauty...

PRINCETON, N.J. — At a six-month-old Whole Foods Market here, shoppers can find all of their beauty needs in one location. Not only can they buy freshly baked organic breads, they can procure all-natural cosmetics and hair care in a large beauty care department located in the center of the store.

Over the past few years, health and beauty has become a bigger part of the 169-store Whole Foods equation. But Whole Foods isn’t the only supermarket fattening up on beauty. At a time when drug chains are shrinking cosmetics departments, supermarkets are beefing them up.

Manufacturers also are putting more effort into the trade channel. Revlon, for example, is continuing on the success of what it dubs the Revlon Express program, a condensed and convenient offering of the brand’s most popular lip, face, eye and nail products. Revlon Express was introduced in 2004 in a four foot wall configuration. New for 2005 is an Express Spinner, which contains the same full category assortment as Revlon’s 4-foot Express wall, but on a spinning rack. “Now any retailer with four empty tiles in their store can offer a complete cosmetic category to their shoppers,” said  David Gugino, vice president, customer marketing for Revlon.

Revlon Express and other manufacturer-driven programs are designed to tempt shoppers while they are on food-shopping trips. Even with these efforts, however, supermarket sales lagged last year.

Face makeup sales dropped 4.1 percent to $136 million in supermarkets for the 52-week period ended Jan. 23, according to Information Resources Inc. Nail dipped 5.3 percent to $99 million, lip declined 10.3 percent to $84 million and eye was off 4.2 percent to $134 million for the same period. All cosmetics categories declined across all mass outlets except eye, according to the IRI statistics. 

Vowing to reverse the drop, supermarkets are adopting three different philosophies for surviving in beauty. The basic strategies are selling exclusive natural products, convenient selections or full-blown beauty presentations.

Whole Foods represents the natural route — a collection of natural beauty products are housed in the all-natural food setting. Most of these products are only available at stores such as Whole Foods or Wild Oats. Whole Foods calls its beauty area Whole Body. One store in Manhattan has a freestanding area devoted solely to beauty. Last week, Whole Foods unveiled a new unit in Union Square with a makeup station featuring a testing area where consumers can select samples to take home. According to a Whole Foods spokesman, plans call for another New Jersey store to open in Middletown this summer.

The natural beauty products industry has become more sophisticated in the past five years. For example, ShiKai makes natural hair care inspired by John Frieda with formulas to enhance brown and blonde hair. There are also C.O. Bigelow-style products under the Maxwell’s Apothecary logo.

New marketers have joined natural staples such as Burt’s Bees, Ecco Bella, Jason and Kiss My Face. The shelves at Whole Foods also feature Desert Essence, Aura Cacia, Nature’s Gate, Bach and Masada. Capitalizing on its food heritage, Whole Foods merchandises beauty adjacent to nutritionals and distributes coupon books linking beauty and vitamins.

Convenient cosmetics departments are represented at the bulk of the nation’s supermarkets. In these stores, the selection is tight and features mostly Maybelline, Cover Girl and Sally Hansen nail care. With Revlon’s push into food, more and more stores have added Revlon. In these stores, beauty only represents one aisle and the products are rarely promoted. The best examples of convenient sets include ShopRite, Kings, Publix, Winn-Dixie and Safeway. Sometimes within these chains, however, there will be certain stores that fall into the full-blown category. “One thing you have to remember is that cosmetics are a slow-turning category that the supermarket industry is not used to,” said Gary Crawford, who oversees nonfoods at United Supermarkets. But, he said, when done right, beauty can boost margins.

Supermarkets with extensive beauty care departments such as Wegmans and HEB sell almost every brand offered to the mass market. In some cases, these stores have more beauty inventory than competing drugstores. One retailer, Kowalski’s, even has an Aveda salon situated in one of its stores. Many experts think these chains will be the next to follow in chain drugstore’s footsteps and add upscale skin care selections.

“There are plenty of opportunities for supermarkets to make a bigger connection between women’s health and beauty,” suggested Roy White, vice president of education for the General Merchandise Distributors’ Council. “When that’s accomplished, the food channel will show positive cosmetics gains.”

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Ice Box Inc. signed a deal last week for the rights to distribute Tinkerbell Cosmetics. Created as a safe “play” cosmetics line for children, Tinkerbell has been used by three generations of girls. The brand was phased out by Dana after it acquired Renaissance Cosmetics. Now, Ice Box’s Isaac Gindi plans to resurrect the line, which includes princess-themed beauty products such as peel-off nail polish.