NEW YORK — During a six-year stint as a Wal-Mart merchandiser, Chris McClain said he developed a feel for what consumers would like.And through his father — a one-time Helena Rubinstein sales executive — he became intrigued with the beauty industry. So it should come as no surprise that McClain would take a crack at creating beauty products himself. And he has.In January 2001, McClain left the retail world to become a manufacturer, joining Dallas-based Naterra International as president. He brought with him a concept for a milk-based skin-care line and along with the firm’s chief executive officer Jin Song, who is also a chemist, made it a reality. It was not a unique idea — there are others on the market, like specialty store Fresh’s collection and Almay’s Milk Plus. But McClain said Naterra, which means "of the earth," would emphasize the use of natural ingredients and push hard to make its Skin Milk brand the dominant milk line at mass. Skin Milk made its debut in a test at Wal-Mart in July 2001, and then became available to retailers nationwide in February of 2002. From a startup set of four items, there are now 14. The most recent additions being a facial exfoliator, body scrub and an antibacterial hand wash. "They all have milk properties, like milk proteins and whey," remarked McClain, adding, "It [the line] is loaded with vitamins." The milk ingredients deliver dual benefits. Milk proteins help soften skin while whey "trap moisture" resulting in plumper skin, which diminishes the appearances of wrinkles, said McClain. Core items include a facial moisturizer, foaming face wash, shower gel and body lotion. Suggested retails range from $4.99 to $5.99.Currently, the line is in some 5,000 retail doors, but in five years, "We want it to be in all mass retail doors — 100 percent," McClain declared. Counting drugstores and discounters alone, that means about 20,000 stores. He said the line, which generally targets women aged 25 to 55, really has two distinct audiences. "The 18- to 25-year-olds like the packaging because it looks fresh and clean, and the 40-plus group likes the products because of their firming properties." The line’s white and blue packaging borrows elements of milk bottles. The fresh scent, reminiscent of vanilla, is called French Cream.The company is considering doing its first advertising campaign in 2003, but in the meantime to draw attention to Skin Milk, the focus is on in-store displays and promotions, like buy two items get one free. For Christmas, it offered a gift set with a shower caddy containing three items and a cow-shaped bath sponge. Sources predict Skin Milk will reap retail sales in excess of $10 million by yearend 2003. Its closest mass competitor — Almay’s Milk Plus — logged retail sales of less than half that in 2002.

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