By  on August 31, 2007

NEW YORK — Walgreens is leading the chain drugstore industry's push into natural products. This month, the retailer set up planograms in 4,500 stores with eight established natural lines that have strong natural food store followings.

Among the names added is Weleda, the world's largest natural skin care brand. Others include Alba, Avalon, Derma, Jason, Nature's Gate, Burt's Bees and Giovanni. Swiss-based Weleda was founded in 1921 and formulas are free of synthetic preservatives, fragrances, colorants and parabens.

"We are pleased to be partnering with Walgreens," said Erk Schuchhardt, president and chief executive officer North America for Weleda. He said he was impressed with Walgreens' efforts to do "natural right."

Walgreens' desire to serve the growing demand for natural products dovetailed with Weleda's interest to expand in a United States pharmacy chain. Weleda is already available in select supermarkets, such as Whole Foods and Wegmans. Target will start selling some Weleda items, as well. "Walgreens is taking the lead in bringing natural products to the masses," said Schuchhardt.

The new natural skin and hair department is near Walgreens' European Beauty Collection, created last year. Within it, the Weleda brand is being presented on the top two category shelves. To help consumers learn about Weleda, there will be testers affixed to the shelves.

According to Schuchhardt, Walgreens is in the unique position to help educate shoppers about the benefits of the natural line thanks to its trained beauty consultants in all stores. Also, Walgreens will use marketing tools such as weekly circulars that penetrate half of all U.S. homes. Weleda has its own advertising planned for the line, too.

As part of the rollout, Walgreens' shoppers will have access to the Weleda Wild Rose Facial Care and Almond Facial Care lines, which have been sold exclusively to licensed aestheticians and spas. New to the market will be Creamy Body Washes, as well as the Sea Buckthorn Hand Cream and Body Lotion. Prices range from $10 for hair oil to $25 for a facial masque. That shouldn't be a stretch for Walgreens consumers who are already shelling out $20 for other skin care items.

Walgreens will have a chain drugstore exclusive with Weleda for two years, adding to its list of items that can only be found at the chain, such as IsaDora. "With Walgreens' huge presence in the marketplace, we estimate that Weleda retail sales will total approximately $10 million in the first year," Schuchhardt said.He said he thinks offering these items in a chain drugstore format will help introduce them to shoppers who may not be already frequenting a Whole Foods. They also could entice consumers not buying mass skin care to give the natural lineup at Walgreens a try. This is the latest step in moves by Walgreens to upgrade its skin care offerings. Last year, the chain installed the European Beauty planogram with many leading items from abroad. Industry sources said it is still too early to judge the success of the foreign brands. However, beauty blogs on the Internet already have shoppers writing in that they've discovered Weleda at Walgreens and that they appreciated being able to buy it at the local drugstore.

Drugstores are undergoing a major push into natural. However, many buyers are leery of the flood of items since not all are truly natural. There is a movement to call for a label that shows shoppers products have passed natural standards.

Schuchhardt welcomed the efforts in the U.S. to regulate the natural industry — especially since a new line claiming to be natural appears almost daily. "The standard being worked on here is not that different from what we've been meeting in Europe for 20 years," he explained.

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