By  on February 10, 2006

NEW YORK — Crabtree & Evelyn is turning over a new leaf.

The retailer and wholesaler of bath, body and skin care products is aiming to broaden its customer base by launching a line of benefit-driven products without synthetic dyes or parabens. In addition to new products to attract shoppers, the company has aligned with bohemian chic designer India Hicks to serve as the company's spokesperson. Hicks is also planning to design a beauty line for Crabtree in 2007.

The Naturals line, a collection of 19 products containing over 68 botanicals, includes body bar cleansers, shower mousses, body scrubs, body butters and body mists. Industry sources said it could generate as much as $10 million in first-year sales.

"This is the biggest launch we've ever had. It breaks the mold in what people expect us to bring to market, by way of design," said Rob Ditchfield, Crabtree & Evelyn president and chief executive officer. "[Naturals] is a primary packaging line that is all specifically benefit-driven."

According to Ditchfield, who's been with Crabtree & Evelyn for 21 years, he's seen a shift in the company's product development and public image: It's gone from being known as a fragrance house to a gift house.

"We have explicitly designed gifts, and have always been known for that," said Ditchfield. "We'd like to move forward and take our core customers with us — to turn them into everyday purchasers through benefit-driven products."

In the past, Crabtree & Evelyn generally focused on a single ingredient, like aloe, in products. In contrast, Naturals was approached from a nonfragrance and ingredient perspective, with each product designed for a specific benefit. Each botanical blend — fruity, gourmand, citrus, herbal and woody — aims to benefit the skin by revitalizing, nourishing, purifying, exfoliating or rejuvenating. Products will retail from $8 for a bar of soap to $26 for body butter.

Tracy Van Hoven, Crabtree & Evelyn's director of marketing, believes customers will take notice.

"It's a synergistic blend, with each individual ingredient heightening the benefit of the other," said Van Hoven. "We like to think of ourselves as the originator of specialty premium personal care products and also specialty retailers. As the world moves more toward naturally inspired products, we think our brand is more timely now than ever before."Naturals plans to broaden Crabtree's consumer base by targeting women in their 20s, a departure from its 30-plus customer. However, the company plans to maintain the lines most attractive to its loyal customer. It also plans to introduce a new skin care line, a limited "exotic" fragrance line and a home fragrance collection within the first half of this year. And, in a merchandising twist, the company is planning to open approximately five "lifestyle centers" where Crabtree & Evelyn will pair up with apparel retailers. About 90 percent of Crabtree's 160 U.S. stores are located in malls. The line is not currently available at department stores.

Founded by Anglophile Sirus Harvey in 1970 as a small family business selling wholesale to the U.S., the privately owned company was bought nine years ago by Malaysian-based palm oil company KLK. Despite the purchase the company is fully autonomous.

Industry sources estimate international sales of Crabtree & Evelyn to reach $200 million for 2006, through its retail, wholesale and e-commerce businesses. U.S. sales make up about 50 percent of that number. According to Ditchfield, U.S. stores currently drive 70 percent of sales here, while e-commerce represents their fastest-growing business here.

Products are distributed in more than 40 countries in over 6,000 doors, comprising Crabtree & Evelyn stores and independent retail establishments. Crabtree's major markets include the U.S., England, Canada, Australia and the Far East. It is currently establishing itself in the Middle East and Russia, and is also looking into China's developing market.

Through the partnership with Hicks, daughter of famed Seventies interior designer David Hicks, the company hopes to reinvigorate its brand identity.

"The single fastest way to telegraph our core values is to partner with someone like India," said Van Hoven. "She has a wealth of experience and is very design-driven. She's helping us build a brand that's compelling and relevant to contemporaries."

At first, Hicks said she was slightly hesitant about joining Crabtree & Evelyn. But after learning about the company's goals, she quickly realized that it would be a "very good marriage," especially since the ingredients featured in her beauty book "Island Beauty," launching Monday, tied in perfectly with the Naturals line."I know Crabtree, but I was a little concerned about putting my face on the brand. You want something that's really going to mean something. But after hearing where the brand is going, I got excited," Hicks said, who lives in the Bahamas.

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