By  on June 18, 2010

NEW YORK — Plant-based skin and body care products are taking root at mass stores.

The more sophisticated formulas supplant lighter concoctions, which helped usher mass merchants into skin and body care, but are no longer deemed efficacious enough for a more informed shopper.

At the same time, the enhanced selling environment in mass stores has more and more upscale companies giving the channel a fresh look. This is particularly so of spa lines that can coexist in spas and self-serve. A perfect example is Duane Reade, which is proving it can sell upscale items such as Borba and MD Skincare by Dr. Dennis Gross.

Not surprisingly, more lines that grew up in spas and salons are about to start appearing in drug and discount outlets. And retail buyers are editing skin care departments to make room for plant-based offers ranging from Lumene, Eclos and a line from spas called Plantogen. Yves Rocher — a pioneer in using plants in formulas — is opening franchise units in Canada and eyeing locales in the U.S.

Elda Argenti, founder of Plantogen, believes consumers have learned about the benefits of plants and related ingredients at local spas and salons and are ready to buy them on trips to drugstores, as well.

Plantogen, which was launched just more than five years ago by Argenti, has helped put the skin care ingredient Manuka Honey, known for its healing properties, on the map.Other natural elements in the products include chamomile, jojoba, aloe vera, fruit oils, herbs, vitamin A-derived retinol and the antioxidants green tea and vitamins C and E.

Argenti especially thinks her line of cherry-picked items offer the stockkeeping units that women can understand, yet are comprehensive enough to be effective. “Too many lines are over-sku’d for mass,” she said. Plantogen has 26 items, versus more than 80 for many skin care collections, she said. Prices are in the $20 range for scrubs up to $46 moisturizers.

She hopes consumer trials will lead to satisfied shoppers. “I’m all for hope in a jar, but you need results, too,” she said of her line that she would like to see get picked up by specialty or better drugstores.

Some plant-based items already are germinating at mass. Yes to Carrots has established itself in chains such as Walgreens, while Eclos is selling in Walgreens, Rite Aid and Ulta. Lumene is expanding beyond its launching pad of CVS to Sears, Ulta and Target. “Açaí berry is so last year,” said Colleen Rothschild of Eclos, who is promoting her Super Apple skin care product.

While skin care lines priced as high as $50 from major brands such as Olay are selling briskly in mass stores — despite the tough economic climate — retailers have tried to find smaller, niche brands to offer consumers’ salon-inspired options. Skin care sales remain down in mass stores, despite the fact that aging women are in search of at-home remedies. Sales for the 52 weeks ended May 16 declined 1.2 percent from $4.86 billion for a similar period last year to $4.8 billion this year. That was a smaller decline, however, than the last two years, suggesting skin care is getting more fertile.

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