By  on February 2, 2007

NEW YORK — Burt no longer has the only bees in town.

Based on the phenomenal success of Burt’s Bees in mass channels, other marketers are looking to the hive for new naturally positioned brands.

Skaffles, a division of IMT Accessories, will introduce its offering called Simply Bee at the ECRM, Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing, meeting kicking off Monday in Pittsburgh.

Simply Bee consists of 52 stockkeeping units ranging from lip shimmers to body butters. Skaffles garnered experience with natural products and beeswax via a partnership with Sally Beauty where it produces a proprietary line called Bee Kissed.

“Now we want to bring it to the rest of the world,” said company owner Steve Shweky. Although he acknowledges that Burt’s Bees is offered to many mass merchants and is sold in doors such as CVS, Walgreens, Target and ShopRite, he believes there are retailers who want a price option from a supplier that can be very flexible.

Prices are about 40 percent below Burt’s Bees’ and, according to Shweky, Skaffles’ size and production capabilities make for a very nimble company with fast turnaround time. “Also, we can customize any display to what a buyer wants. We can keep prices down by manufacturing in China,” he added. Prices range from $1.99 for a lip balm to $12.99 for gift sets that will be presented in reusable wicker baskets or metal watering cans.

A great deal of effort was put into the formulations and flavors, according to Gail Iannacone, creative/product director. The lip shines, for example, feature peppermint oils to provide a cooling sensation and fresh breath. Lip shimmer flavors include Merlot, for those who want to imbibe without the alcohol. The body butters feature flavors such as macadamia nut and honey and shea butter.

She thinks Simply Bee can fill a gap in the current mass market offering. “The products are ageless and seasonless,” said Iannacone, who believes retailers will attract new customers by presenting Simply Bee.

Although the assortment is broad and includes both face and body, Skaffles expects lip items to dominate sales. However, executives expect to roll out line extensions including hair care.While Simply Bee will first be presented to major chains next week, specialty operators such as Urban Outfitters and 5 Below have already made commitments. The line is set to ship to be on counters by May.

Displays help hammer home the natural, outdoorsy positioning with images of green grass. The look is very upscale — much like specialty stores — and should help mass retailers elevate their image in bath and body.

Mass merchants are undergoing dramatic changes in the bath and body area as they search for something to separate their stores from the competition. “There’s been a feeling that products out there are stale. This represents new items to help them turn the page,” said Shweky. And, according to market data, natural product sales have been growing at double- digit rates. But, since mass marketers don’t have their fair share of natural lines, their personal care sales gains have been limited to low single digits. Lines such as Simply Bee could open up opportunities for mass.

The timing is also right, added Iannacone, because of the interest of both retailers and consumers in natural products. Many chains have added or are looking to add lines with natural positioning.

Burt’s Bees has indeed been a success story at mass — so successful that items are often out of stock. According to Burt’s Bees, company sales have expanded more than 20 percent annually and sales toppled the $100 million mark last year with Information Resources Inc. reporting that some $64 million of that total was in food, drug and mass stores in 2006.

Late last year, Burt’s Bees chief marketing and strategic officer Michael Indursky told WWD that he expects more companies to jump on to the natural personal care wagon. Burt’s Bees unveiled 16 new items in six different categories this month including Mama Bee for moms and Chemical Free Sunscreen With Hemp Oil SPF 15.

Beyond Simply Bee, Skaffles has signed deals for accessories with several Disney hot properties including Hannah Montana for hair items. The company is also doing customized glamour gift packs for the hot Club Libby Lu chain.

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