NEW YORK — Despite all the chatter about consumers tightening their belts, one upscale skin care brand is finding its performance outpacing the category.

Industry sources estimate La Roche-Posay is outstripping drugstore competitors in the facial and sun care market by nearly 10 times. Sold in drug chains Duane Reade and CVS, as well as derm offices, La Roche-Posay appears to be building a word-of-mouth following. The chains stock La Roche-Posay in skin care areas that also often include Vichy, Avene and Lierac.

The L’Oréal owned brand — named after a small village in France known for its selenium rich thermal spring water, an ingredient in many of the line’s formulas — is available in 700 doors and just under 3,000 dispensing physicians’ offices, as well as online. There are two types of retail distribution. One is in Dermo Skin Care Centers staffed by trained beauty advisors. Another is at the pharmacy counter in certain stores where consumers can seek advice from pharmacists.

La Roche-Posay expanded its distribution to select U.S. mass doors in 2006 to offer an easier way for shoppers to buy products recommended by derms. “More than 25,000 derms worldwide recommend La Roche-Posay and we have a high efficacy rate,” explained Yannick Raynaud, general manager of La Roche-Posay. “We wanted to make it easier for consumers to buy it.”

What has been particularly eye-opening for retailers has been the business building opportunities provided by La Roche-Posay. Using data from CVS’ Extra Care customer rewards program, CVS found La Roche-Posay is the highest loyalty skin care product among ExtraCare members within the Healthy Skin Care Center brands.

Additionally, more than 40 percent of the La Roche-Posay shoppers are new to CVS’ skin care centers, which La Roche-Posay executives believe suggests the line helps attract more shoppers to the area.

“The American consumer is no nonsense and doesn’t want products that promise but don’t deliver what they claim,” said Raynaud, who added the line goes through stringent clinical testing.Retailers with experience with the brand also said consumers like the texture of La Roche-Posay, which is not as dense as other skin care treatments. They added the straight forward and “simple” packaging attracts shoppers looking for serious skin care solutions.

A star item for La Roche-Posay has been Anthelios, a sun care item, which features the first new sun filter in a sunscreen approved by the FDA in 18 years. Company officials hope to keep the ball rolling with new items. One is Mela-D Serum Anti-Dark Spot Concentrate, a serum clinically proven to correct dark spots and even skin tones. Mela-D Serum Anti-Dark Spot Concentrate works synergistically by combining three unique ingredients for professional-grade results at home in as little as eight weeks without irritation. The product carries a suggested retail of $55.

Another is an acne product called Effaclar AI Intensive Acne Spot Treatment. Unlike some products on the market, which target teenagers, acne also affects 50 percent of adult women. Effaclar AI Intensive Acne Spot Treatment is created to visibly reduce stubborn and inflammatory acne in only three days while minimizing irritation. The suggested retail is $29. Additionally, there is Derm Aox, the first antigylycation and anti-oxidation serum designed to slow the skin aging process and provide smoother wrinkles. It retails for $55.

In total, there are 54 stock-keeping units presented in about three feet.

While consumers may be doing without or paring back in some beauty categories, skin care is one they won’t give up. “Skin care is still one of the growth producing categories for beauty.I believe customers are open to shopping in many different avenues today — partly driven by the economy, partly driven by the need for added convenience, and partly driven by the fact that information and education is so easily accessed on products and companies through the internet,” said Kathy Steirly, a former retailer who owns her own consulting company, Kathy Steirly and Associates, designed to help get products to market.

In her opinion, there are opportunities for more clinical skin care brands — even those cracking $30 price points. As more chains seek to make their environment different than the competition, dermatological skin care can provide a point of differentiation. “New technology and the availability of higher end brands and selection of skin care products definitely have a future in the drug channel,” she added.

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