Byline: Chantal Tode

NEW YORK — Phyto-Lierac, the French manufacturer of plant-based hair care, will narrow its market focus even more in February, when it launches an all-natural ethnic line called PhytoSpecific.
Since arriving in the U.S. in 1989, the Paris-based company has slowly built a following for its mainstay lines such as PhytoTherathrie and PhytoPlage, which purport to contain the highest-quality natural ingredients and boast prices ranging from $14 to $40 per item.
In 1996, Phyto-Lierac’s U.S. business accounted for approximately $7 million of the firm’s $76.2 million global wholesale volume.
Now, in an unprecedented move for the company, Phyto-Lierac will launch its latest line in the U.S. first, before its French introduction.
PhytoSpecific consists of two hair relaxing systems as well as a range of shampoos, conditioners and styling aids intended to meet the needs of African-Americans, Hispanics and other consumers with curly, coarse hair.
“We will launch the products in the U.S. first because there is an upscale market share looking for these products,” said Patrick Ales, president and chairman of Phyto-Lierac. “In the U.S., the consumer is more educated about this category.”
According to Phyto-Lierac’s research, the U.S. ethnic hair care market was valued at an estimated $1.4 billion in 1995, with relaxers making up 33 percent of the marketplace. The firm’s research also indicates that African-American women generally spend at least three to four times more on hair care than other women.
PhytoSpecific will be carried in 52 Nordstrom and 29 Neiman Marcus doors. Prices will range from $13 for a 3.3-oz. jar of Beauty Styling Cream with Shea butter to $35 for a relaxer kit that comes in normal and fine hair versions, making it one of the most expensive ethnic hair care lines.
The other items include a 5.07-oz. Hydra-Repairing Shampoo for $16; a 5-oz. Restructuring Milk conditioner for $17; a 6.75-oz. Multi-Regenerating Creme Bath conditioner for $19, and a 3.3-oz. Revitalizing Treatment for $19.
Additional styling aids will be added later next year, according to company executives.
Ales refused to predict what first-year sales might be for PhytoSpecific, comparing the introduction to PhytoTherathrie’s arrival in the U.S., when he said he “didn’t know if one person would buy it.”
PhytoTherathrie’s first-year sales in the U.S. were close to $1 million, according to a company spokeswoman.
Consumers will pay the higher price for PhytoSpecific, said Ales, because the products are gentler than anything else in the marketplace, but still work as well.
Other ethnic hair care lines are sold in drugstores and cost under $10 dollars. Relaxers generally use lye and thioglycolic acid — the same ingredient used in permanent waves — to straighten hair. These substances are highly caustic, said Ales, and can damage hair and scalp.
PhytoSpecific’s all-natural formulas were developed under the guidance of Fatou Batchily-Plat, a doctor of pharmacy as well as a member of the firm’s research and development team. The ingredients used in PhytoSpecific to relax hair are egg complex and soy bean extract, said Batchily-Plat.
Phyto-Lierac will rely on word of mouth and a limited marketing campaign to introduce PhytoSpecific to the U.S. marketplace, said Ales. Print ads will begin appearing in the February issue of Essence magazine.
Kathy Jean-Louis, a former model for Paco Rabanne, is PhytoSpecific’s spokesperson. She will do in-store presentations of the line throughout the year. Some sampling will be done at retail as well.
In France, PhytoSpecific’s only point of sale will be in Phyto-Lierac’s first stand-alone store, which is scheduled to open in March or April in Paris, said Ales. All Phyto-Lierac lines will be available in the new store.
If PhytoSpecific is successful, said Ales, skin care products will also be introduced.
In other news from Phyto-Lierac, first-half net profits for the company fell 42.9 percent to $2 million (11.7 million francs). Executives blamed the decline on inventory adjustments in Korea and difficulties in the mass market. Sales during the same period were $40.3 million (234.9 million francs), reflecting a 1 percent increase from the first half of 1996. Executives admitted Phyto-Lierac is behind in meeting its objectives for the fiscal year 1997, but hoped better results in the second half of the year will improve the situation and allow it to maintain an international expansion plan. Third-quarter sales were $22.5 million, up 26.4 percent.

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