GREENWICH, Conn. — Dove may be gentle, but it’s also aggressive.

The brand that began life 46 years ago as a simple cleansing bar is spreading its wings across the beauty landscape.

In January, the Unilever-owned property swept into hair care with a 13-item lineup bearing the promise of weightless moisturization. Now, in June, it will fly head first into face care with Essential Nutrients, an eight-stockkeeping-unit collection of cleansers, lotions and creams designed to make skin glow.

Michael Cheney, director of skin care research and development at Unilever, insists the collection is a breakthrough in how its formulas restore moisture and deposit a proper blend of nutrients and vitamins to keep the multiple layers of skin healthy. Dove claims skin can retain residual levels of moisture up to 24 hours after an application. The products, he said, were some two years in the works.

Essential Nutrients items all contain a variation of the Essential Nutrients complex — a cocktail of lipids, amino acids, minerals such as calcium and vitamins A, E and B5. Some items also include green tea, grapeseed extract and spring water. Cheney says there is no single "magic bullet" in the formulas, but a "palette of ingredients working in concert." Like its beauty bar, Essential Nutrients is soap-free, meaning it contains no lye. Dove claims it is the only soap-free cleanser line in the mass market.

Stemming from its research, "there is a significant amount of people who are not satisfied with their skin health," said Cheney. Dove researchers met with women in Europe, Japan and the U.S. for thoughts on skin cleansing.

"Skin health is the passport to glowing skin," explained Cheney. "As long as there is a possibility to nourish skin and deliver the facial glow that women want, there will be a need to improve skin health."

Dove’s swoop into face care reflects its increasingly aggressive approach to beauty. "Our vision is to become more of a beauty brand and drive business more toward beauty," said Marianne Amyerich, vice president, skin, at Unilever. "Essential Nutrients is a critical brand in the Dove portfolio — it is an important step in the Dove vision."Peter Waxman, brand director for Dove, said it will only enter categories in which it believes it can hold the number one or number two market position. Olay is currently the market leader in facial moisturizers, followed by Dove’s sister brand, Ponds. In cleansers, Ponds is number one, followed by Olay. Essential Nutrients is expected to claim a 10 percent share of the total face care market within five years. That, according to Unilever executives, could translate to a $200 million brand.

According to Information Resources Inc., facial cleanser sales in food, drug and mass stores slipped 1.5 percent to $533.3 million for the year ended March 23, while sales of facial moisturizers decreased 2 percent to $257.4 million. Both figures exclude Wal-Mart which can represent 20 percent or more of a brand’s sales.

Since the debut of the beauty bar in 1953, Dove has blossomed into body washes, facial cleansing cloths, antiperspirants, body wipes and, lately, hair care, and is distributed in some 80 countries. Essential Nutrients, Dove marketers acknowledge, would be Dove’s door into a wider range of face products.

In developing Essential Nutrients, Dove was looking for distinctive product forms to meet diverse preferences. Therefore, the cleanser is offered in four versions: a cream, a self-foaming lotion (similar to a light mousse), a nonfoaming lotion for sensitive skin and a market first — Cleansing Pillows. After moistening with water, the pillows puff and release the cleansing formula. The pillow is dual-textured, with one side slightly rougher for exfoliation. The cleansers are $5.99 each, except the pillows, which are $7.99 for a 28-count pack with a case, or $6.99 for a refill pack. There is also an alcohol-free clarifying toner at $4.59.

Moisturizers include a day lotion with spf 15, a day cream with spf 15 and a night cream offering a more intensive dose of nutrients. Each is $6.99.

While targeted at a core user group of 25 to 30-plus, Essential Nutrients is expected to find appeal with a broad age range. The sales team also has been driving distribution beyond the standard food, drug and mass channels. At launch, the lineup will enter club stores and dollar stores, too.Waxman says that Dove is interested in carving out unique segments with its brands. With deodorants, for instance, "we created a skin-friendly segment; facial glow, with Essential Nutrients, moves beyond moisturization to nourishment." He contends the brand can pull in shoppers from prestige channels. Already, one in three U.S. households possesses a Dove item.

Dove executives said spending on the launch is "breakthrough." A series of print and TV ads would build on the Dove brand equity yet "have a different tone of voice." While it is said to be spending some $100 million on the hair care launch, it is not expected to spend quite that heavily on skin care. Sources put the promotional package at about $35 million, from July through December, of which $21 million will be spent on sampling. Some 30 million samples will be distributed through direct mail and via the Internet, while another 25 million will be on-pack promotions.

Dove’s intent, said Waxman, is to "make a glamorous entrance into face care" with products that "make a difference tangibly and emotionally."

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