NEW YORK — As another sign that U.S. mass retailers are looking to differentiate their beauty departments, a test of several Boots brands in 30 select doors is now solidly under way.

The 600 stockkeeping units from a mix of some 10 color, skin care, aromatherapy and hair care brands are in place at 18 Target stores — two in Minneapolis and 16 in the Denver market — and 12 CVS stores throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island. The test programs began this spring. Over the past two years, several U.S. retailers have gone to Europe searching for novel products to put on shelves. CVS has already added Lumene from Finland and Walgreens has the U.S. exclusive with Swedish brand IsaDora.

“We are very pleased with initial consumer feedback and consumer testing with the Boots products,” said Cheryl Mahoney, vice president of beauty care for CVS. Mahoney added that many consumers were already aware of the Boots name in the upscale Ridgefield, Conn. market, where one of its test stores is located. “However, it gets positive feedback in a variety of markets as well,” she said.

Boots Group plc, the U.K. company that operates retail stores and also has a sizable product manufacturing and marketing arm, has been analyzing the U.S. market for two years with thoughts of introducing its broad array of beauty brands here. Through its Boots Retail International division, the company has expanded some of its beauty lines into Watson’s drugstores in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the Migros chain in Switzerland, Etos in Holland and Unichem pharmacies in New Zealand.

In the U.S. test stores, the products are being merchandised in special lighted fixtures signed with the blue oval Boots logo. The looks have been customized with the retailer. In addition to a linear wall display ranging from 16 feet to 24 feet, most stores also have an oval table containing products. The presentation also includes testers, samples, brochures and, in some cases, trained beauty advisers. Carol Carson, head of training for Boots, has been meeting with store associates to educate them on the lines.

The mix is a selection of some of Boots’ best-selling stockkeeping units. So far in the U.S., Botanics, a broad collection of color, skin care, bath and body and aromatherapy products that use plant extracts, is emerging as a favorite. Its packaging is designed with a unisex flavor to appeal to men as well.The lineup also includes No. 7, Boots’ best-selling line in the U.K. It is noted for its wide color selection in lipsticks and eye shadows and for foundations. Its new Intelligent Color foundation, which comes in only three shades, has risen to become No. 7’s top-selling foundation item. There is also a broad skin care assortment. In the U.K., No. 7 is presented alongside prestige brands such as Clinique. Product prices in the U.S. range from $6.99 to $12.99 for cosmetics and up to $21.99 for a skin serum.

There is also Mediterranean, a bath and body line that uses ingredients based on foods of the region, such as Wheat Germ Basil Bergamot Body Wash and Honey, Fig, Vanilla Bath Essence. Prices range from $7.99 to $10.99. The Sanctuary, a bath, body and foot collection, is tied to the famed day spa in London’s Covent Garden. The goal of the line is to provide the “opportunity to pamper yourself and enjoy the benefits of a ‘professional spa’ in the comfort of your own home,” according to a store pamphlet.

There is also Sleep, a selection of products to help calm and relax; Detox, with body products and vitamin items said to help remove impurities from the body, and specialty hair care brands from two of Britain’s top stylists, Lee Stafford and Beverly Cobella.

Stafford, known for his innovative styles, uses hot pink packaging and fun product names such as Poker Straight Flat Iron Protection Mist. Cobella, whose work is driven by the desire to meet the needs of real women, has an emphasis on moisturization in her product lineup.

“The Boots items represent ones that would have the highest appeal here in cosmetics, skin care, hair care, bath and body and healthy living, a new segment for U.S. consumers,” noted Lorrie King, vice president of marketing for Boots in the U.S. “The products go back to the Boots heritage to have trusted brands that make people feel better,” said King.

Through Boots Group’s The Chemist stores, sales of beauty and toiletries grew 6.8 percent in fiscal 2003 to $3.09 billion, or 1.89 billion pounds, at average exchange rates, with particularly strong performances from cosmetics and fragrances, according to the company’s annual report. In particular, the No. 7 range grew 14 percent, driven by Intelligent Colour foundation and the new Skincare Vitamins.— Laura Klepacki

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