Beauty Business Thriving in Italy

Report shows that in spite of the ongoing fiscal woes, pharmacies are enjoying a surge in popularity and the country’s cosmetics exports continue to grow.

MILAN — What financial crisis?

That seems to be the conclusion of a report on the state of the Italian beauty business issued Wednesday by Unipro, the Italian association of cosmetics companies, in collaboration with Ermeneia, a research agency in Rome. The report showed that in spite of the ongoing European fiscal woes, the beauty business is doing well in Italy, pharmacies are enjoying a surge in popularity and the country’s cosmetics exports continue to grow.

“The cosmetics sector is one that I call anticyclical,” said Unipro president Fabio Rossello in a phone interview. “These are products that help us to live a bit better. Cosmetics have an important social role, and at this time people need to find their balance again. Cosmetics help with that.”

According to the report, Italian cosmetics performed better than other nondurable consumer goods for the entire 2007 to 2011 period. In 2011, cosmetics consumption grew 4.4 percent while nondurable consumer goods were down 3.4 percent.

Seventeen percent of consumers interviewed spent more in 2011 than in the previous year, and 39.4 percent agreed with the statement “the crisis has not substantially affected my spending habits for cosmetic products because you cannot and should not renounce personal care, well-being and aesthetics.”

Of companies polled, 80 percent said they are choosing to invest rather than cut back on expenses in 2012, compared with 70 percent in 2011. Nearly sixty percent of companies said they “were in fact little or not at all affected by the current crisis” or that in spite of the crisis, they were experiencing “a continuous transformation necessary to remain competitive.” Still, beauty enterprises have not uniformly done well in the midst of Europe’s economic turmoil, and 79.1 percent agreed that “the crisis was felt differently based on the type of products” sold.

According to Rossello, body wash, shampoo and aftershave are all considered necessary purchases even when consumers reduce spending, while nail care products provide an inexpensive splurge. Makeup is a category performing well with teenagers, who increasingly have access to low-cost, good quality brands as well as numerous fashion blogs that teach them how to apply color.  “Bloggers have helped a lot,” said Rossello.

In Unipro’s report, 80 percent of cosmetics companies said pharmacies stand out for their quality counseling services, while eight out of 10 pharmacists said they would like to collaborate more with cosmetics companies to promote business. Pharmacists also wanted to have more say in choosing suppliers, improving product layout and training staff to meet consumer needs.

Rossello noted pharmacies are “growing every year” as destinations for cosmetics purchases. “It’s a special realm,” he said. “Perfumeries have struggled to define themselves, while pharmacies offer a concreteness that is very important right now.” He added that people rely heavily on the advice of pharmacists, whom they trust, while retail chains’ uneven success is due to a lack of clarity and service.

Cosmetics exports are a growing business in Italy, and Rossello cited Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, where there is an existing “culture of care and well being,” as the cornerstone regions for business. Between 2009 and 2011, exports of Italian cosmetics nudged up from an average of 25.3 percent to 29.8 percent of total company revenues.