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2021 WWD Beauty Inc Top 100: 10 Key Takeaways

Beauty is back to pre-pandemic levels, with even hard-hit categories like makeup showing signs of life.

The 2021 WWD Beauty Inc Top 100 tells a story of an industry that has rebounded from the coronavirus pandemic, with overall sales surpassing 2019 pre- COVID-19 levels.

Total sales for all 100 companies reached $235.35 billion, an increase of 10.7% year-over-year and up 3.4% on a two-year stack. L’Oréal accounted for 16.2% of total sales — an increase of 1.2 percentage points compared with 2020 and 1.5 percentage points since 2019. The top 10 companies overall generated sales of $137.96 billion, or 58.6% of total Top 100 revenues, an increase of 1 percentage point compared with both 2020 and 2019.

Of the companies in this year’s ranking, 54% saw their sales increase both year-over-year and compared with pre-pandemic levels. Another 25% registered year-over-year gains, but still had sales that were down on 2019. Some 13 companies saw declines over both years.

Looking back 20 years — to the second year the Top 100 was published — sales for the world’s 100 leading beauty companies have grown by an aggregate rate of 153%, while L’Oréal — the world’s number one then as now — has nearly tripled its revenues. In 2001, it registered sales of $11.99 billion. While there have been minimal fluctuations at the top of the ranking, only around 40 players that featured in 2001 are still in this year’s issue. Others have been snapped up, often by their larger rivals, overtaken by faster- growing players or disappeared from the list of beauty majors altogether.

To present a snapshot of what’s been going on in beauty over the past year, we took a closer look at some of the trends that stood out among the top 100 beauty players for 2021:

1. The spectacular rise of fragrance, which took many in the industry by surprise, more than reversing the trend of the prior year, when fragrance was the hardest-hit category by the pandemic. Growth was led by increased uptake in China and explosive sales in the U.S.

2. More broadly, luxury players performed well. Companies including Chanel, Puig, Sisley and Hermès all exceeded their 2019 sales.

3. Makeup continued to suffer, but is beginning to show signs of a turnaround, notably in mass, and certain companies are bucking the down trend with TikTok-savvy strategies tapping into young consumer mind-sets. E.l.f. Beauty continued to do well, and U.K.-based fast-beauty player Revolution Beauty made its entry into the Top 100 for the first time thanks to a major increase in sales. Among larger firms, Coty, which had been struggling for years due to the weight of its mass makeup business, made significant inroads in turning the business around under CEO Sue Nabi.

4. High-end hair care gained ground, with players like Olaplex and Luxury Brand Partners reporting significant gains. The Estée Lauder Cos.’ hair care sales were up by an estimated 20%, and Wella’s salon hair business gained 25%. Professional hair care was a bright spot in Henkel’s portfolio for the year, and Kao saw substantial gains in the salon channel and a strong performance from luxury brand Oribe online.

5. 2021 was the year of the beauty spin-off. Beauty companies took stock during the pandemic, and are rightsizing or honing their portfolios. Shiseido sold off both its U.S. makeup business and its personal care activity in Asia, creating two major new players that took places in the Top 100 in their own right.

6. It was another strong year for beauty IPOs. Olaplex floated in September in one of beauty’s biggest IPOs, valuing the company at more than $15 billion. Another fast-growing player, the U.K.’s Revolution Beauty, was listed in London.

7. While there are signs suggesting the boom in China is slowing for beauty, the country’s crop of fast-moving beauty players continue to shake things up. New Top 100 entrants this year include Chicmax, which operates the Kans and One Leaf brands and is reportedly plotting an IPO for this year, and Bloomage Biotechnology Corp., a specialist in hyaluronic acid production that saw its branded beauty sales soar over the past year. The stakes are high, however — while Yatsen, which floated in 2020, continues to grow its topline, it has struggled with profitability, and its share price has tanked over the past year, from a high of $24.55 in February 2021 to just 69 cents on March 31, 2022.

8. Among the biggest decliners, Japanese companies have suffered multiple setbacks due to the lack of international travelers to the country, who had provided a significant boost to beauty sales in recent years, an ongoing morose economic climate and consumers staying home due to lockdown measures. Shiseido is not the only Japanese player streamlining its portfolio as a result. Domestic rival Kao is also shedding non-core assets.

9. While social selling continued to be a buzzword, many direct sellers struggled. Oriflame said not being able to hold training sessions for its representatives hampered sales, and Groupe Rocher also suffered. Tupperware Brands, a long-standing Top 100 player, exited the ranking. The company is scaling down its beauty activity, planning to sell off all but its NaturCare brand. In a similar move early this year, Germany’s Vorwerk sold off the majority of its Jafra operations to Betterware. Natura&Co. is in the midst of a turnaround plan for Avon’s operations. Even among more digitally minded labels, all is not rosy. Alcora Corp., for example, which posted a major sales increase in 2020, saw its revenues drop significantly last year.

10. Newer players continued to gain traction. This year’s Top 100 features eight new companies. These range from carveouts like Victoria’s Secret, Fine Today Shiseido and Orveon, fast-growing newbies including Oddity, best known for its Il Makiage label, and Revolution Beauty, and contract manufacturers or formulators that have been flexing their muscles in the branded beauty space, like Bloomage and Maesa.

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