In the mass market, retailers anticipate a hotly competitive season across the cosmetics, hair and skin care categories. And yet in the midst of it all, many reported that supporting their own exclusive beauty lines would be a top priority in the first half of the year.

A host of mass market retail executives gathered in Manhattan Tuesday for the eighth annual National Association of Chain Drug Stores Foundation Dinner, held at the Sheraton New York.

Pharmacy issues and fund-raising were top of mind, but several chief executives weighed in on their plans for beauty in the new year.

Tom Ryan, CVS Corp. chairman, president and chief executive officer, said his drugstore chain will continue to spotlight its exclusive beauty brands, naming in particular the Finnish-born line Lumene and Skin Effects by Dr. Jeffrey Dover. Ryan also said CVS will continue to deploy more beauty advisers throughout the chain, and that the drugstore has already begun to see a benefit from the ongoing effort.

Richard Dreiling, president and ceo of Duane Reade, outlined the Manhattan-based drugstore chain's plans for spring, saying: "We want to establish ourselves as a leader in terms of beauty. New York City is the beauty capital of the world, and we want to leverage that."

Mark Griffin, president and ceo of Lewis Drugs, said he anticipates competition will continue to intensify across all the major beauty categories, which, he noted, likely will breed creativity.

At Walgreens, Kathy Steirly, divisional vice president and general merchandise manager for beauty and fashion, is counting on the red hot mineral makeup category to spice things up in cosmetics during the first half of next year. In addition to nearly 100 new items from Physicians Formula and a new line from Milani, the category can expect to receive a new mineral line from Walgreens' own Isadora brand, one that will be "big and properly supported" by the retailer.

One industry insider said that, because mineral makeup is largely a U.S. trend, Isadora, a Swedish-born brand, will export the upcoming mineral makeup products to its international markets.

Steirly also pointed to new additions in hair color, such as the combining of Clairol's Root Touch Up with other Clairol hair color products, as a source to boost sales in the category.In hair care, the industry is hopeful professional brands will follow in the footsteps of Nexxus' successful launch into the mass arena and in turn bring in new items to be sold legitimately. According to Information Resources Inc., products by Sebastian, American Crew, Biosilk and Tigi are top sellers in mass stores. A legitimate entry by these brands and others into mass would bulk up professional sections in stores and help retailers and manufacturers better control the category.

Perhaps the biggest buzz in professional hair care revolves around Wal-Mart's interest in the segment. Currently, Wal-Mart does not have a professional section since distribution of these items are all done on the gray market, which is unpredictable and inconsistent. Sources said Wal-Mart is in talks with executives at several professional brands to see if a Nexxus-like move could prove possible.

Several hair care buyers said they are eagerly awaiting the upcoming launch of L'Oréal Studio Line Black, a color care collection from Unilever's Sunsilk brand, the relaunch of Infusium 23 and Pantene's Texturize line.

In skin care, retailers said standouts for spring will likely include Jergens' expanded Natural Glow line; Olay Pro-Age, a collection of personal care products for mature skin, and Garnier Nutritioniste. One retail buyer said Garnier will support its new entry with $100 million in marketing and media.

Molly Prior, Andrea Nagel and Faye Brookman

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