Kanebo Set to Roll Out Sensai Moisturizer

Brand is rolling out a new product it bills as a “first-step moisturizer” to the U.S. and 41 other countries.

TOKYO — Japanese women are famous for their intricate multistep skin care rituals involving several products, while their counterparts in the Western world are more likely to go for the simpler, quicker route with fewer items.

Japan’s Kanebo is out to change that. This week, the company’s Sensai brand is rolling out a new product it bills as a “first-step moisturizer” to the U.S. and 41 other countries in Europe, the Middle East and South Africa.

Sensai Prime Solution, which carries a pretax suggested retail price of $170, or 120 euros, for 2.5 ounces, contains a signature ingredient called Koishimaru Silk EX as well as hawthorn extract. Kanebo claims that Prime Solution will boost the skin’s production of hyaluronic acid, which keeps skin hydrated and elastic, and will help other moisturizers and creams applied to the face work more efficiently.

Japanese women often use lotion as a first step of their skin care regime and subsequently apply emulsion and face cream. Kanebo executives said the concept of lotion in the Western world is more closely associated with cleansing products like tonics or astringents rather than with the moisturizing process. To that end, Kanebo opted to not call this new product a lotion. It also made its consistency thicker and less watery than traditional Japanese lotions.

Kanebo has been trying to lure Western women into the habit of double moisturizing for decades using standard Japanese-style lotions. Executives said they have made some gradual progress, but it’s time to alter the company’s strategy with a new first-step product.

Yuji Naito, Kanebo’s senior manager for the Sensai brand, said the new product is a “special flagship item” aimed at boosting brand awareness. “We’d also like to acquire new customers with this product.”

Hirohisa Yamazaki, senior manager for Kanebo’s international marketing group, said it’s clear that the Western skin care market, still heavily based on demand for face cream, is starting to change as more Western women incorporate more products into their regime. He noted the market presence of products like Dior’s One Essential and Lancôme’s Genifique as evidence of the trend.

“It’s obvious that customers are changing their routine,” he said.

Although Kanebo has been present in Europe from as far back as 1979, the company’s efforts to internationalize its business have lagged that of its rival Shiseido. Kanebo, a part of Kao Corp., does not disclose sales figures but Kanebo only does about 10 percent of its business outside of Japan compared to Shiseido, which does about 41 percent abroad. Kanebo is hoping to lift that percentage to 15 percent as soon as possible, according to a spokeswoman.

It is shaping up to be a tough fiscal year for both companies.

Just earlier this week, Kao Corp. said its net profit for the nine months ended Dec. 31 fell 3.6 percent on the year to 49.38 billion yen, or $635.1 million at an exchange rate provided by the company. The company blamed the drop on the rising cost of raw materials.

Net sales for the period grew by 2.2 percent to 934.8 billion yen, or $12.02 billion. Kao’s beauty care business —  which beyond Kanebo, includes Molton Brown, Jergens and Bioré — saw sales growth of just 0.3 percent to 410.7 billion yen, or $5.28 billion.

Over the same period, Shiseido saw its net profit plunge on charges linked to a change in Japan’s taxation policy. Net profit fell 35.9 percent to 5.77 billion yen, or $73.27 million at average exchange rates for the period.

Shiseido’s net sales grew 0.8 percent to 490.7 billion yen, or $6.23 billion, as international growth compensated for a drop in its home market of Japan, where consumer demand is still recovering after the devastating March 11 earthquake.