NEW YORK — Beset by a soft economy that’s cooling the entire hair care category, Herbal Essences, the category’s number two brand and one of the chief victims, appears to be fighting back with a brand restage and a new conditioning technology.

According to Information Resources, overall shampoo volume is down 1.6 percent, conditioner volume is down 2 percent, hair color volume is down 3 percent and styling unit sales are down 1 percent, for the 52-week period ending April 20, excluding Wal-Mart. But unit sales of Herbal Essences could be pulling the average down.

The brand generated the sharpest volume declines within the top 10 conditioning brands, and the second biggest plunge in unit sales of shampoo, behind Unilever’s Suave, for the period. IRI data showed Herbal Essences shampoo unit sales were down 16.5 percent and conditioner unit sales fell 20 percent for the year.

The restage includes new packaging for the original Herbal Essences brand, as well as for its flanker brands, such as Fruit Fusions and Natural Volume. The new packaging, according to Drew Shepard, global franchise leader for Herbal Essences, is preferred 2 to 1 over current packaging. The design now reflects a much cleaner and more contemporary look. “We tried to clean up the front panel to enable consumers to see the beautiful botanical” images, Shepard said. Herbal Essences Intensive Blends, a conditioning line, received the new package in February.

A new conditioning technology has also been applied to Herbal Essences hair care brands. The new technology is actually the addition of Hawafena, a naturally derived protein complex. New products will replace existing products as they sell through and are scheduled to arrive on shelves in August.

Shepard denies that Herbal Essences’ restage is a reaction to the brand’s recent lackluster performance. He acknowledged, however, that the restage could be interpreted as a response to the inertia that may have set in during the last eight years. He added that Herbal Essences’ performance is in line with the entire category, which he said is experiencing the largest contraction in recent years.

“We have seen some volume fall off; the category has contracted with the poor economy. But we really believe that through this restage we will be able to get a whole new group of consumers to try it,” Shepard said. “Hair care is a category where consumers like to try new product. This will present to consumers that something here has changed. They can try us again or try us for the first time.”While Shepard would not share restage or advertising costs, he said the brand would be supported by print and TV campaigns, which break in September, as well as in-store sampling and marketing efforts. Sources estimate Procter & Gamble’s restage and support costs would exceed $10 million.

Ads will feature the new packaging but will focus on how the Herbal Essences experience just got better. That will be no easy fete, considering the notorious past ads demonstrated how using Herbal Essences can lead one to an orgasmic state.

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