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Whole Foods Modernizes Its Whole Body Departments

The rise of upscale natural beauty boutiques has the grocery market chain on high alert.

Whole Foods isn’t afraid to take on the green beauty competition.

The pioneering grocery chain that served as a launchpad for many a natural beauty brand is confronting a surge of stores such as Credo, Follain, CAP Beauty and Shen Beauty that are redefining how natural beauty is displayed and marketed. In an effort to stay relevant as the natural beauty segment matures, it’s embarked on a program internally called Beauty 2.0 to intrigue shoppers venturing into Whole Body departments with merchandise consistency and enhanced retail setups.

“Traditionally, natural brands were always in the natural product industry and sold in co-ops and natural food stores and presented in that format, but you are seeing the emergence of these boutiques that are bringing more sophistication to ingredient stories and merchandising,” said Maren Giuliano, executive global coordinator of Whole Foods’ Whole Body department. “As our presentation evolves, it will be elevated, and it will lose any crunchiness associated with it.”

A key strategy in the Beauty 2.0 initiative is to move to an increasingly unified Whole Body product offering. In the U.S., Whole Foods has predominantly managed its beauty assortment regionally, albeit with input from a global team. Now, instead of piecemeal merchandising, Whole Body has assembled a roster of brands that will be in its sections across locations, though the exact brand lineup and product range will be adjusted according to the size of the sections and local needs.

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There are 11 brands in the global selection, and they are Juice Beauty, MyChelle, Weleda, Avalon Organics, Mineral Fusion, Dr. Hauschka, Evan Healy, Derma E, Acure, Andalou and Trilogy. Jeanne Tamayo, global lifestyle buyer at Whole Foods, explained the brands were chosen because they are among the largest Whole Body brands in most stores. Giuliano said the objective of delineating the core group of brands is to make a “strong statement around natural, clean facial care and cosmetics.”

With a consistent assortment, Tamayo emphasized Whole Foods can fortify messaging around what distinguishes Whole Body, particularly its body-care quality standards that don’t allow 75-plus ingredients found in conventional personal-care products. “The end goal is really to be able to elevate our message and the experience, and to see it reflected in sales and the customer experience,” she said.

Tamayo also pointed out that Whole Body is adding non-branded fixtures that replace branded counterparts. “It will be a Whole Foods version of the gondola-based business. It’s much smaller because our footprint is smaller, but it will be a beautiful core mix of products that women use over and over,” she detailed.

In color cosmetics, Tamayo elucidated Whole Body is installing what she described as tester boards or product-filled freestanding wedges that are a foot tall and a foot and a half deep. Whole Body departments can contain one to eight wedges, depending on their dimensions. Often festooned with mirrors, wedges are positioned on tables or shelves, and communicate to customers about what they showcase. “Honestly, we are very excited about these freestanding or wedge units. That is where the future is headed,” said Tamayo.

The Whole Body cosmetics units have been rolling out slowly to new or newly renovated Whole Foods stores first. By the end of this year, Tamayo estimated 50 to 60 stores would include them. “We are really showcasing the best of each brand, and it makes it easy and joyful for women to shop. It’s a more pleasurable experience, and you gravitate to one or two items that work for you,” she said.

The spotlight on cosmetics responds to the growth of makeup both across the beauty spectrum and within the natural category. Speaking of natural makeup formulations, Tamayo said, “It is all about the performance of the product changing. Before, they didn’t perform well. The only thing available was the loose mineral pigment.” She noted that Shirley Pinkson, cofounder of natural cosmetics brand W3ll People, was previously at Nars Cosmetics. “She’s a true artist. People like that designing artistry-driven, clean products is changing natural makeup,” said Tamayo.

After primarily avoiding natural foods distribution out of trepidation it would pigeonhole the brand, W3ll People was impressed enough by Whole Body’s transformation to enter the chain earlier this year with nearly 40 stockkeeping units. At the refreshed Whole Body sections, W3ll People cofounder James Walker said, “Women can have a beauty moment akin to what you might experience in a more beauty-driven destination like a department store and beauty [specialty retail] concept. They are gorgeous, they are exciting and they work.”

Thomas Brown, president of Mineral Fusion, which he touted as the number-one cosmetics brand at Whole Foods, is equally enthusiastic about the facelift. “Beauty 2.0 is going to be a benefit to all the natural personal-care and cosmetics brands. They [Whole Foods] want to create an environment that is more inviting where you can touch and feel the brands. There is potential for a more orderly assortment where shoppers feel at home in that area,” he said. “Whole Foods was certainly an early gatekeeper for healthy, cleaner, greener, gentler, safer natural personal-care products, and all of us have to evolve and delight our customers. Natural personal care is on the edge of becoming more mainstream.”