TOKYO — Kao Corp. has shelved a hiatus from hair care and is now gearing up for its first launch in the category in seven years. Asience, a premium-priced line of shampoos, conditioners and treatments, arrives on Japan’s mass shelves on Saturday.

The product line has been developed with the intention of enhancing female Asian beauty by revitalizing hair fibers from the core, enabling the hair to become more supple, and showing fewer signs of disturbance after a hairstyle is removed, even if the hair has been braided.

But perhaps more importantly, Asience has been designed — and priced — to escape the competition of more value-priced hair care products.

The hair care market in Japan is estimated at about $1.5 billion dollars at retail, generated from about 100 brands. Asience aims to gain 5 percent of the total market.

“In the hair care market in Japan, six brands take about half of the market,” said Katsuyoshi Fukazawa, brand manager of Kao’s Hair Care Division. “So if we take 5 percent of the market, it is very big. And we are aiming to take 10 percent of the market in the long term.”

Kao’s new assortment, which is priced between $4.50 and $7.20, is expected to be eagerly accepted despite the nation’s economic slowdown, according to industry sources here. The impetus for Asience came from fierce price competition in the value market, combined with the public’s general acceptance of hair care products promising “beautiful and healthy hair,” Fukazawa said.

Kao’s other brands, such as Merit, target those looking for gentle formulations; Essential is for users with damaged hair. The brand name Asience, which is a combination of “Asia,” “science” and “essence,” targets users who desire beautiful hair.

“Through the blending of traditional oriental beauty and contemporary science, the name Asience expresses real beauty for Asian women,” said the firm.

Devoting itself to hair research around the world for some 20 years, Kao, which also owns U.S.-based John Frieda Professional Hair Care, Andrew Jergens and KMS Research, has paid special attention to specific differences in hair texture between ethnic groups.For example, compared with Western hair, according to the company, Japanese hair is naturally very supple and elastic as the cross section of the hair fiber is an almost perfect circle. Today, however, Japanese hair has lost much of its natural bounce due to repeated coloring habits and daily rigors. Such hair tends to be porous and loses its suppleness and elasticity. Now, the Japanese market demands hair care products that are tailor-made with the specific features of Japanese hair texture in mind, according to Kao. “This is precisely where Kao has focused in its development of Asience,” the company said.

In developing Asience, the company has formulated so-called Oriental Beauty Essences, which include soy and pearl proteins for revitalizing; rice and Korean ginseng extracts for moisturizing, and eucalyptus extracts for protection. The essences are designed to revitalize tired, worn-out hair. Kao’s proprietary hair care technology is said to enable the essences to penetrate deep into the hair fiber.

Actress Zhang Ziyi will appear in television commercials and other forms of advertising to promote the brand. The television spots will be accompanied by music composed for Asience by Ryuichi Sakamoto, a Japanese musician who won an Oscar for his music in the movie “Last Emperor.”

“Kao is doing this launch at a great time,” said Atsumi Miura, senior analyst of UFJ Tsubasa Research Institute. “So far, Kao has had Merit and Essential but it needed a brand to expand its share in the relatively premium priced market. From the viewpoint of Kao’s brand positioning, they needed a new line.”

Shohei Matsumoto, merchandising manager of drug store chain Power Drug in Japan, said price competition started among Japan’s drug store chains — which now number about 10,000 units — about five years ago. “Branded hair care products of reduced price have often been used for sales promotions at drug stores,” said Matsumoto. “It is reasonable for Kao to launch a line of unique positioning at a higher price range in order to avoid the excessive price competition,” he said.

“When we look at the market, the products that sell well now are the ones of the concept of ‘more beautiful hair,’” said Kao’s Fukazawa, who added that about 60 percent of consumers from ages 10 to early 30s look for products with that concept and effect.

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