By  on September 30, 2005

NEW YORK — Consumers inconvenienced by having to make an extra trip to the health food store to buy natural baby products can soon look forward to finding these items at their local drugstore, mass and grocery outlet.

Johnson's, the leading mass market baby care brand, which makes Johnson's Baby Shampoo, Bedtime Bath and Johnson's Baby Lotion, will launch a five-item natural baby care line in mid-January with the hope of mainstreaming the category.

Soothing Naturals, the line that Johnson's executives said will be the brand's biggest mass effort in 10 years, looks to be to the mass baby care industry what Burt's Bees, Earth's Best and California Baby are to the natural baby care arena. The line plans to attract consumers who otherwise couldn't afford natural products. Soothing Naturals are priced at about $3.99, and will be available to those who can't buy natural items where they live because few mass stores carry these items. Johnson's executives would not estimate Soothing Naturals' sales projections, but industry sources said given Johnson's strong brand loyalty, the line of lotions, cleansers and a skin balm could generate close to $35 million its first year on shelves.

According to Debra Bass, Johnson's group product director, the market opportunity for natural baby care is continuing to grow at a fast pace. She said the natural personal care market generates approximately $2 billion in sales annually, with expectations of it reaching $3 billion by 2007, representing an increase of 12 to 13 percent a year. Sales of baby items, she said, are outpacing this growth and are realizing increases of 23 percent each year.

"In mass, however, baby has been a sleepy category and we want to wake it up with higher-quality products so moms would want to use it, too," Bass said.

Mass consumers are apparently ripe for these items. According to Johnson's research, about 70 percent of consumers think natural products work well, while 40 percent cite health concerns and their contribution to a healthier lifestyle as reasons for choosing them over others. But, Johnson's found, 70 percent of consumers don't have natural products readily available to them, while the rest said they are too expensive.

Some mass outlet store chains stock natural baby lines, such as Burt's Bees, but Bass said these brands are "much nichier and are at much higher price points. They are not at Wal-Mart or Target. There is a not a mass brand that has glommed onto this [trend.]"With the playing field wide open, Johnson's is targeting a more sophisticated customer, one who wants his or her baby products to do more than get their baby smelling delicious.

"Baby care has been about pure, mild and gentleness. Soothing Naturals is a product that will do something more active in bringing the skin back to softness," Bass said.

Soothing Naturals has been designed to address dry skin, three items are for moisturizing skin and two are for cleansing skin. There's Soothe & Protect Face Balm, Nourishing Lotion, Intense Moisture Cream, Moisture Rich Wash and Hair and Body Wash. The wash products have Johnson's "no more tears" claim, and the balm is safe if a baby accidentally ingests it.

Research and development played a huge role in the making of the line, which explored the differences between baby skin and adult skin. Johnson's developed methods and equipment in its skin care program that could see through layers and layers of baby skin, and turned that blown-up image into a three-dimensional image to study the skin's structure. Johnson's found that 90 percent of moms thought their baby's skin was normal, but clinically, more than 60 percent of babies had signs of surface dryness.

Baby skin also absorbs water and lets it out at a much faster pace than adults. "They lose a lot more water and because of that, they can benefit from moisturizing products and things that help strengthen the barrier," said Susan Nettesheim, vice president, research and development.

Patent-pending formulas contain all four forms of vitamin E, for soothing and protection; olive-leaf extract, an antioxidant; and minerals and amino acids, to help strengthen the skin's barrier.

A TV and print advertising campaign for Soothing Naturals breaks in February, in addition to extensive sampling. Soothing Naturals is Johnson's "first bundle of products for soothing dry skin, but more will come under this platform in the next couple of years," Bass added.

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