By  on May 13, 1994

NEW YORK -- As Tsumura International continues its push to become the premier bath company in department stores, Vitabath, the company's lead brand, is getting a makeover.

The classic Vitabath gelees and lotions will be repackaged in an effort to create a uniform look, according to Jean Brackenbury, vice president of marketing at Tsumura.

The new packaging is a white-on-white wave pattern with Vitabath printed in a different color for each of flavors. The change from the old packaging -- some of which was striped, some floral -- will take place at the end of June and beginning of July. "This repackaging updates Vitabath for a new generation," said Alfonso Lopez, president of Tsumura's Consumer Products Group. "There is still a lot of impulse buying in this category, and you have to telegraph to the consumer that this product is great."

Visual consistency is a key factor in attracting a customer, Lopez said, noting that in its quarter-century-plus on the market, Vitabath has been repackaged a dozen times. Tsumura acquired the brand five years ago.

In addition to giving Vitabath a new look, Tsumura is adding a new flavor, Vitabath Fresh, which -- as with the Vitabath Gold and Vitabath Sensitive lines -- will be in limited distribution to department stores. Fresh is intended for all skin types and has a floral scent.

Thomas Day, vice president of sales, said that with the repackaging and the new scent, "a 50-percent increase would not be unreasonable" for Vitabath's volume this year. In 1993, the four existing flavors together did about $25 million at retail, he said.

Day noted that the Vitabath is running 27 percent ahead year-to-date, despite a 5 percent decline last year. The industry's recent focus on the bath and body category, Day said, has helped revive the brand, which he said is the only prestige bath brand to have unaided recall among consumers.

The July introduction of Fresh in Vitabath's 2,500 prestige doors is part of the company's strategy to build the brand's department store business, Brackenbury said.

The original Vitabath and Vitabath Plus are also distributed in 7,500 drugstores, Day said.Tsumura's image-making effort also has encompassed the 1993 introductions of VitaSpa and VitaNaturals with limited prestige distribution. VitaSpa, which did about $4 million at retail last year, is in 400 doors and may be rolled out to a maximum of 600 doors this year, Lopez said.

VitaNaturals, a line developed to go head-to-head with the specialty bath chains, is in 1,250 doors.

"We're really maintaining the distribution very tight and very clean," Lopez said.

VitaNaturals did $10 million at retail in 1993, Day said, adding that he expects it to grow to $15 million this year. "The introduction of Naturals was like a shot of adrenalin," Day said.

In July, four floral fragrances will join the four fruity scents that have comprised the VitaNaturals line since August. The company is also adding a fifth fruit flavor, Luscious Pear, as well as bath salts in every scent. The pastel-colored products are in clear bottles and have a younger appeal than the Vitabath lines and VitaSpa.

Even with the additions, though, Brackenbury said the company is keeping a close watch on the inventory turn and is limiting the number of stockkeeping units in each line.

Although the "Vitabath Family" will have some advertising support in the fall, Lopez said, the company is focusing on in-store promotions and displays.

Tsumura will promote the Fresh launch with a packaged sampler at all accounts. The sampler, which will include the gelÄe, lotion, vitabar and bath oil beads, will retail for $5 and come with a $5 coupon.

The company is also shipping samplers of Gold and four Vitabath gelees, each priced at $5 and containing a $5 coupon. In all, Tsumura will ship 250,000 samplers this year, Lopez said.

He summarized Vitabath's business plan by saying, "The message to retailers is that you're not in bath if you're not in Vitabath."

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