By  on July 16, 2010

French natural and organic beauty brand Melvita is making its way into the U.S. via the West Coast, where it aims to build an audience of consumers who care about what they put on and in their bodies.

Melvita has opened three West Coast locations in succession — the latest, a 910-square-foot store at the Newport Beach, Calif., shopping center Fashion Island, bowed June 30. The other two are a 758-square-foot store on San Francisco’s Market Street and a 730-square-foot store in Seattle’s Pacific Place.

The openings come as Melvita, which has nearly 40 stores outside of France, is on a global expansion jag following the acquisition by L’Occitane en Provence of Groupe M&A Développement and its subsidiary — and Melvita’s parent company — M&A Santé Beauté in 2008. L’Occitane en Provence is dedicating about 65 percent of the $707 million it raised from a Hong Kong initial public offering in May to store growth for the Melvita and L’Occitane en Provence brands.

In the U.S., Melvita vice president Deanna Elstrom, former marketing director at Revlon and senior marketing manager of the global color team at Avon, took over operations of Melvita USA out of L’Occitane’s New York office in April. Her charge was to introduce Melvita to West Coast consumers the brand feels connect with its eco-friendly sensibilities and help identify real estate possibilities for a New York outpost that could open as early as this year.

“Melvita is really expanding globally quickly, and that speaks to its potential. It fills a need for clarity in organic personal care products,” said Elstrom. Of the debut U.S. locations, she added: “We regard these three stores as our learning labs. We are going to figure out what works for the U.S. consumer, and we will go from there.”

Stateside, Melvita may compete with Aveda and Origins, but Elstrom explained Melvita differs from those brands with its broad product range and the assurances it provides serious green consumers. The approximately 250 stockkeeping units in the stores include perfumes, facial care, supplements, body care, hair care, hygiene, men’s, and items for mothers and babies, which launched in the U.S. with the Fashion Island store opening. Beauty products carry the Cosmébio organic beauty label by the French certification body Ecocert and detail the percentage of natural and organic ingredients on the packaging.

“Melvita’s is not a crunchy, Birkenstock consumer. It is people who are aware and thinking critically about the products they are using,” said Elstrom, who described the core consumers as 30- to 50-year-old women. “It is the same person who is shopping at Whole Foods.”

Melvita’s store design and aesthetic adheres to the environmental philosophy instilled in the brand by its founder, Bernard Chevilliat, a biologist and beekeeper. To show the roots of the brand, Chevilliat’s picture appears behind the cash wrap in the Fashion Island store and a picture of Melvita’s production facility in Lagorce, France, is on the wall. Chevilliat also took colorful nature photographs that brighten the store’s white walls and highlight ingredients on Melvita’s packaging. Environmentally friendly materials such as bamboo for honeycomb-shaped floor displays are used throughout the store.

From early reads at the Seattle and San Francisco stores, Elstrom said sales primarily are driven by skin care and body care. The best-selling product in dollars is the antiaging cream Naturalift.

The first three Melvita stores are carefully situated near existing L’Occitane en Provence stores that are stellar performers. Still, Elstrom is aware that the Melvita stores won’t match the performance of the neighboring L’Occitane brand stores until Melvita’s brand recognition in the U.S. mounts. At the Fashion Island location, her goal is to generate $40,000 in monthly net sales. Retail sales will be supplemented by further development of Melvita wholesale sales. The brand recently became available at Beauty.com, Skinstore.com and Drugstore.com.

“It takes time to build a brand. We are just getting started to push our brand awareness,” said Elstrom.

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