HONG KONG — Buyers and manufacturers at this month’s Cosmoprof Asia were optimistic about business heading into the holiday season and next year. But pricing remains a key factor for retailers as consumers have grown accustomed to finding bargains during the recession.

This story first appeared in the November 20, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The 14th edition of Cosmoprof Asia ran Nov. 11 to 13. Attendance came in at 41,000, up 4 percent from last year with especially strong growth from Europe. The fair was buzzing with activity as foot traffic remained consistently high. Buyers were keen to discover the latest innovations, particularly in antiaging and eco-friendly products. There were also a number of exhibitors focusing specifically on eyelash extension and lash curling products.

Ljupka Ristovska, export manager for French skin care brand Polaar, said affordability has been instrumental to the company’s success in the current climate. Though Polaar launched only in 2006, the brand is now stocked in more than 400 stores in France at Marionnaud and Au Bon Marché. Despite the down market, Polaar also has managed to find distribution at leading high-end department stores in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Belgium and Russia. The company is looking to expand to the U.S.

Ristovska attributes Polaar’s quick growth not only to its pricing, which ranges from 9.90 euros, or $14.82 at current exchange, to 33 euros, or $49.40, but to the brand’s unique identity. “The economy has been tough, but people are still buying. I think it’s important to have a story to tell,” she said, explaining that Polaar’s founder, Daniel Kurbiel, discovered active ingredients such as micro algae and Kelpadelie while on an expedition in the Arctic Circle and Antarctica. “Customers have responded very well to this as it’s something different. It’s also worked as a great angle for the media to provide us with coverage. We mostly relied on press and word of mouth to build a reputation, instead of [using] costly advertising.”

But newer brands are struggling to get a foot in the market. Seoul-based NDorphin Corp., an original equipment manufacturing company that works closely with South Korea’s largest beauty firms Amore Pacific and Han’s Skin, has launched its own namesake brand this season but has yet to find a distributor.

“Our OEM side is stable and our cash flow is very good, so we decided there was no better time than now to launch a new brand,” said overseas sales manager Michelle Hwang. She explained the company has developed a line of blemish balm creams that combine healing properties with foundation coverage and a bubble-cleansing line of gels that foam up when they contact the skin.

“This is a very unique formulation, but we haven’t had much buyer interest,” Hwang said. “Even though business seems to be picking up, it’s still difficult when you don’t have an established name to launch new products and lines.”

Overall, many buyers were on the hunt for firming and brightening products. The latter category also is gaining popularity in Europe. Annemarie Van Looveren, a Belgian buyer for Personal Health & Wellness, said mature customers are looking to brightening products to diminish blemishes and age spots.

Whitening continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the global beauty industry. According to In Cosmetics Asia, the Asian market is estimated to be around $18 billion a year in size, and is expected to grow more than 10 percent annually.

Those growth prospects have prompted medical aesthetic company Syneron to enter the whitening market with Elure, a line of advanced dermal whitening products that the company revealed at the fair. Elure is the first scientifically proven enzymatic skin-whitening treatment that targets and decomposes melanin to reveal a visibly lighter skin tone.

Karen Sarid, president and general manager of Syneron Israel, notes that instead of targeting consumer retailers, it is using its strong network of salons and dermatologist offices to penetrate the skin-whitening market. This new product line will be launched in the first quarter of next year across beauty salons and spas throughout Asia.

Eco-friendly products are also fast on the rise. Nicola Chadwick, creative director of Coast to Coast Australia, was confident that green philosophy is the way forward when she launched her brand’s all-natural body and skin care brand late last year.

Together with her husband, Nick Chadwick, the original founder of Red Earth, they opened a Coast to Coast boutique in Melbourne, Australia, foregoing the conventional route of initially bidding for department store space. This strategy has allowed the company to have greater control over its retail environment and sales training. Nicola Chadwick said the company has grown over the past year and it’s looking to expand internationally, adding that the mood at the fair was especially positive.

“Australia has been relatively unaffected by the economic slump, but we did notice a shift in consumer spending in that shoppers are looking for value for purchase. We’ve positioned ourselves to be on par with Aesop and Jurlique, but are about half-price cheaper,” said Nicola Chadwick. “Customers are always very surprised when they come into an upscale-looking store to find affordable prices.”

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