NEW YORK — Hair care is about to receive an injection of new products — a prescription retailers believe could ignite the category’s flat sales.

Newness, and its potential to drive front-end drug, mass and food store sales, was the main topic of conversation among retailers and distributors during ECRM’s Hair Care conference in Tampa, Fla.

Held at the Tampa Marriott Waterside, representatives from approximately 70 manufacturers arrived Oct. 27 for the three-day conference to discuss how to grow hair care sales beyond the 1.4 percent increase the category experienced in the most recent 52-week period.

Some of the conference’s most notable snippets included Advanced Research Labs’ new Got 2 Be Smooth hair care line; Charles Flora’s Color 2 Go hair colorant system packaged in a paint can; Hairagami’s eye-popping hair accessories, and Jungle Care’s salon-quality hair care line for tweens.

Line extensions and brand repositionings generated conversations during off-site dinners, too, long after ECRM’s daily 20-minute, prescheduled meetings took place. Progressive Beauty Brands’ expansion of Phat Hair and the repackaging and repositioning of Clairol’s Daily Defense generated a buzz, as did Dep’s new upscale image. There was also talk of Thermasilk’s "less visually artistic" 2003 advertising campaign.

While retailers saw great potential in many of next year’s new hair care products, several new lines garnered mixed reviews. Pantene’s entry into ethnic, for example, was a move some buyers agreed with and others did not. One wholesaler saw the entry as an "insult" to African-American consumers, citing that the new ethnic formulas — albeit packaged in bronze-colored Pantene bottles — wouldn’t be perceived as different from formulas in Pantene’s ivory-colored containers. Another buyer, however, saw the entry as a firm commitment by P&G to the ethnic category, as well as an opportunity to add prestige to the ethnic set.

Suave For Men roused mixed reviews. While several buyers explained that "a value-priced men’s hair care line could make sense," they thought that launching 13 stockkeeping units did not. Dove hair care, to be launched in the first quarter of next year, was met with some skepticism, as retailers recalled the fizzle of Ivory’s foray into hair care. But, some countered that the success of Dove hair care abroad could be a signal that it could work domestically.Some manufacturers, such as John Frieda Professional, were at ECRM in spirit if not in reality. Frieda’s successful Sheer Blonde line has inspired a host of me too’s, most notably from ARL and Marc Anthony.

ARL’s blonde line, called Wanna Be Blonde, begins shipping in January and will retail for $5.99 to $6.49.

Other leading hair care companies had new product news, too.

Alberto-Culver’s $84 million Tresemme hair care brand has changed its packaging to better communicate each item’s purpose. Tresemme has experienced double-digit growth in two years and is ranked ninth in the overall hair care category. Alberto is positioning Tresemme to rank as the number five shampoo brand by 2005.

PhBeauty Labs is entering hair care with a nine-item line called Satisfy the Urge Binge. The colorful line with clever names will retail for $5.99 to $6.99. For example, there’s 2,500 Calorie Conditioner, Hair Pudding Texturizing Cream, Give it a Swirl Curling Cocktail, Wet Your Appetite Nourishing Shampoo, Comfort Food Nourishing Conditioner, Whipped Cream Root Boost Mousse, Hair Jam Freezing Hold Gel, Ultimate Smoothie Straightening Balm and Finish It Off Extreme Hold Hairspray.

Progressive Beauty Brands is expanding on its Phat hair brand, with Phro Spray curl spray, Phlat straightening serum, Phro curl balm, Phiber sculpting mud and Phrizz shine control. Progressive’s Hair Therapy line, the number one-selling brand for the company, will focus on Hair Therapy’s sell-through in 2003 by offering 25 percent more promotions and 2-ounce trial sizes on collar wing displays.

Dep’s business has been flat, the company reported, which is why the brand will be positioned as one that’s upscale and active in 2003.

And, Vogue International will launch Raw Textures and Curls Up, two new hairstyling lines, each retailing at $5.99.

Several new companies made a splash at ECRM, offering fresh alternatives for hair care. Charles Flora Consumer Products, for example, is mixing up their hair care portfolio to meet retailers’ many needs. Charles Flora will offer everything from private label services to upscale branded hair care goods to dollar items. One upscale branded item, Color 2 Go, made an impression. A semipermanent hair color kit that targets teens, Color 2 Go is packaged in a paint can complete with gloves, and will retail at $6.99.Empress was another new beauty company at ECRM. Its upscale African-American hair care products, however, made the company appear as anything but a beauty novice. Mark Greenberg, president of Empress, said he tapped Elizabeth Arden’s head of research and development to develop Empress’ formulas, which include Dry Scalp Treatment, a moisturizing shampoo

and conditioner and a relaxing kit. Empress, which aims to target an upscale professional with prestige packaging and formulas, retails for $7.99 for a relaxing kit and its three remaining skus are $4.99 each.

One of the biggest hits at ECRM was a salon-positioned hair care line targeting tweens, called Jungle Care. The line, which has been available in salons and upscale retailers since 1997, is now trying out mass for distribution. Jungle Care consists of three shampoos, a conditioner, a detangler, a styling gel, a straightening product and a hi-gloss serum. Made by Kids Care Corp. in Vienna, Va., Jungle Care currently has distribution in 7,500 salons globally. In mass, Jungle Care will retail for $4.99.

Hair accessory manufacturers had a solid presence at ECRM this year, signaling that the category will receive notable attention in 2003. In the past two years, hair accessories sales have been down to flat, "but that’s because of what’s on the walls," said Mary Ahrens, vice president of hair goods for Conair. Conair, known best for its brushes and heat implements, entered the hair accessories category in April. The Conair line ranges from upscale fashion pieces to elastics.

Hairagami, one of the newest players in hair accessories, made a real impact on retailers, such as Eckerd, with their innovative designs and colorful packaging. Hairagami, founded by a former toy-store executive two years ago, looks to "eliminate some of the repetition on the wall by acting as a big red stop sign." (Hairagami’s packaging is red, black and white.) April Murphy, vice president of sales and marketing for Hairagami, believes that even if consumers don’t purchase a Hairagami product, they will at least buy some kind of hair accessory "because they are staying in the HBA aisle longer." Hairagami is supporting its different products, some of which wrap hair into a neat bun, with print advertisements in YM magazine. Price points start at $3.99.Celebrities also attended ECRM, but not as entertainment. Actress Connie Sellecca was looking to gain mass distribution for her six-item hair care line, which is packaged in clear green bottles, and includes a shine mist, a smoothing balm, a spray gel, a shampoo, a conditioner and a shine gel. Sellecca sees selling in the mass channel a better opportunity for her line than selling in prestige retailers since "charging high prices for products isn’t necessary. This is affordable. Plus, we can sell a lot more product" to mass retailers than to prestige retailers, Sellecca said. The Connie Sellecca items will retail for $4.99.

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