Natural products were on buyers' list at Total Store Expo

The most recent National Association of Chain Drug Stores Total Store Expo, held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, ranks as the best balance of big beauty powers and emerging brands in the meeting’s four-year history.

That’s according to representatives of the almost 300 retail chains and 100-plus beauty brands that hit the exhibit floor in search of items to keep the momentum building in the category.

According to IRI data for the 52-week period ended May 15, in multiunit chains, the category is clicking on all gears with facial cosmetics sales climbing 5.4 percent; lip category volume jumping 9.5 percent, and eye expanding more than 12 percent.

While TSE might not lure the chief executive officers, it has grown into the meeting where corporate lieutenants follow up on leads gathered at the April annual meeting,  one buyer said. Total Store Expo will be held next year in San Diego from Aug. 19 to 22.

One of the attendees with a keen eye for what’s emerging was WSL Strategic Retail’s founder Wendy Liebmann, who shared her observations with WWD.

She applauded NACDS for stretching beyond the traditional boundaries of brick and mortar retailing to include e-commerce operators, value stores and specialty merchants.

NACDS had the foresight to feature in one of its 20 Insight Sessions just as news of Wal-Mart’s interest in buying the company percolated. Liebmann also gave kudos to NACDS for including, a start-up wholesale-club approach to online shopping positioned to attract millennials.

The Meet the Market portion of the show was bustling with more than 7,000 face-to-face appointments where upstart brands could get their items in front of retailers.

The trends gathering the most steam on the massive show floor included those representing the intersection of beauty and wellness, especially the proliferation of test kits, which can potentially help consumers have better skin or hair; natural and healthier options from small and big companies; a push to more premium items especially in professional hair care; well-designed and extensive beauty devices; and “ankle-biter companies,” which have the potential to challenge big beauty brands while offering chains the chance to differentiate from competitors.

There were also ideas on the floor to bring customers into stores such as a self-ear-piercing kit including earrings.

“There were products and services that offered retailers ways to make another sale — the chance to get the extra item in the basket and not just depend on coupons to drive the sale of your body lotion,” Liebmann said.

The mood at the meeting was tempered by the uncertainty circulating around the upcoming election. “There’s a real pragmatism on the part of the retailers,” she said, explaining they are searching for avenues to generate traffic in a tough retail environment. The challenge of competing with, or joining, the digital revolution was heavily discussed.

“On the other hand, there are new categories to think about and legitimate opportunities in health and wellness,” Liebmann said. Retailers encouraged suppliers to push the envelope to bring innovation to the beauty category.

The overarching themes included discussion of how the industry will look after the assumed acquisition of Rite Aid by Walgreens Boots Alliance on the retailer side. As far as suppliers, chatter centered on what Coty Inc. has in store for the 41 brands it purchased from Procter & Gamble. The transition of these brands did account for a somewhat diminished presence on the floor of big brands such as Cover Girl.

Some other news from the show:

• NACDS bestowed its best of show in beauty to Sinful Colors/Pure Ice, which made a big news splash this year with a partnership with Kylie Jenner.

• One natural exhibit getting a buzz was Éclair Naturals, which recently added Rite Aid as well as to its distribution. “We had an incredible and successful first exhibition at NACDS,” said John Matise, chief executive of Éclair Naturals. “As we continue to propagate the message of clean living and clean beauty products, we are thrilled to see the excitement around this category of products by key industry partners.”

• Cutex is bucking the trend in the down nail category where remover sales dropped 1.6 percent, according to IRI data. Cutex Brands has achieved double-digit growth in the last year — all without the launch of a new product to the marketplace. The company reported that sales for Cutex were up 22 percent for the 52-week period ended May 15 in multiunit doors. For the four weeks ended June 20, Cutex volume is up 19 percent. The Advanced Revival and SPA Formula removers have proven to be a major sales driver for the brand as consumers continue to demand multiuse products that promote healthier nails. After launching a lineup of nail-care products in Target stores nationwide in March 2015, sales of Cutex Advanced Revival Nail Polish Remover Pads have doubled in Target stores over the last year. Wal-Mart IRI is up 58 percent, driven largely by SPA Formula Nail Polish Remover, Cutex officials said.

• Mass fragrances are stale, but at the show Instyle Products had a long list of preset appointments of retailers looking to solidify their business with the company, which offers value versions of premium fragrances. “Our booth was consistently visited by both retailers and exporters and we had little down time.  We opened new business abroad and solidified some new business domestically,” said Instyle’s ceo Rob Luby. The company revealed a new all-natural bath line called Good to Know, which includes body wash and bar soap. Instyle’s Men’s Body Spray with six new scents attracted notice on the floor, as did its ActivEssence time-release fragrances with skin-enriching ingredients.