NEW YORK — Everyone said that it couldn’t happen — that Americans, the staunchest of soap users, would never trade in their beloved bars for the liquid cleansers favored by Asians and Europeans.
But the mass market has learned never to say never.
Just one year after Procter & Gamble, Lever Bros. and Andrew Jergens Co. pioneered the category, liquid body cleansers have grown into a $220 million category and are expected to amount to more than $400 million in sales by the end of 1996.
“We think that over time Americans will become less bar soap oriented and more involved with liquid cleansers,” said Petronella Van Hexner, category director of Gillette’s North Atlantic Division. “They afford a much more pleasurable experience and are far less drying to the skin than soap. And because they are less expensive, body washes will always be more of a self-purchase that is less seasonal than shower gels.
“Besides, the big players who were the first out there really did a good job in educating consumers,” she added. “They spent a lot of money advertising and handed out a lot of samples.”
According to industry sources, in 1994, P&G, Lever and Jergens each shelled out $50 million to launch their moisturizing body washes, which are sold under the names Oil of Olay, Caress and Jergens, respectively. These companies also bombarded consumers with direct mail samples of the new items.
The level of spending, as well as the sampling efforts, has been kept fairly constant over the last 18 months.
These companies set the stage for the new product category by positioning the items as being more therapeutic than traditional shower gels; they are designed to moisturize as well as cleanse.
Despite their success, these lower-priced items have apparently not cannibalized the higher-priced specialty bath segment. “We were all worried about specialty bath,” said John Nuechterlein, Yardley’s director of marketing. “But so far, body washes have not seemed to have had a negative impact on the category — it is all new growth.
“Mass specialty bath products have always been a small business that appeals to a limited number of consumers and usually peaks at gift-giving time,” he added. “But it is profitable for the retailers because it is bringing in shoppers who would otherwise be going to bath and body shops to make these purchases.”
What did suffer, however, was the prodigious bar soap market, which had a sales decrease of 2 percent to $1.5 billion last year.
According to industry sources, currently P&G’s Oil of Olay brand is the body wash market leader, with an approximate 30 percent share of the category, or retail sales of $66 million. Jergens’s three different products follow with roughly 20 percent, or $44 million. Lever’s Dove and Caress brands are both tied for third place with 18 percent shares, or $40 million in sales each.
Meanwhile, a handful of niche players are struggling to obtain a piece of the remaining 14 percent.
The smaller companies, however, are not content to let the giants corner the market.
Throughout this year, a spate of new body wash collections will hit the shelves, including entries from Yardley, Naturistics and Gillette’s White Rain. In addition, P&G will add a Sensitive Skin version to its Oil of Olay brand, and Unilever will launch yet another grouping, this time under its Chesebrough-Pond’s division’s Vaseline Intensive Care brand.
Yardley is using its soap heritage as a way of breaking into the category. The company is extending its three best-selling soaps — Oatmeal & Almond, Aloe Vera and English Lavender — into moisturizing liquid cleansers, selling in 10-oz. bottles for $2.99 apiece. The new items started rolling out in February.
Yardley will attempt to differentiate itself from the growing number of entries now flooding the body wash market by positioning its offerings as containing natural ingredients.
Naturistics’ Moisturizing Body Washes, which also entered stores last month, employ a fragrance angle.
The three-item collection features Dewy Melon, which contains cantaloupe, sesame oil and lemon balm; Wild Berry, which contains raspberry, jojoba oil and grape seed oil, and Sea Splash, which contains sea kelp, rosemary and lavender. Sea Splash is Naturistics’ most popular scent, already used in hair care products, fragrance and bath items. Each 11-oz. body wash bottle has a suggested retail price of $3.95.
Gillette’s White Rain entry is not only pitching fragrance, it is also claiming value. Each of the three 10-oz. bottles, which launched in January, has a suggested retail price of $2.49, a significantly lower price than many of the offerings from the major players. Oil Of Olay Moisturizing Body Wash for sensitive skin, for example, has an opening price point of approximately $3.29 for a 7-oz. bottle with a mesh sponge.
“With White Rain Moisturizing Body Wash, Gillette is introducing body washes to a huge audience of practical shoppers that has not yet entered the category due to a restrictive price point,” Vann-Hexner said. “We hope to draw on the loyalty and familiarity enjoyed by the White Rain hair care brand to expand the body wash market, as well as our own franchise.”
The first variety is simply called For Normal-to-Dry skin and is fragranced with citrus and floral notes.
Zesty Guava & Tangerine was designed to target younger consumers and contains floral and guava accords.
“We found that young women really enjoy an invigorating shower experience,” Vann Hexner said.
The third flavor, Body Wash Pampering Tropical Petals, is aimed at older women who prefer a relaxing and soothing experience, the company said. In addition to extra moisturizers, the product is formulated with notes that include tropical flowers, hints of grapefruit, mixed berries, musk and honey.
The Vaseline Intensive Care collection, which rolled out late last year, represents Unilever’s third foray into the category. The company already manufacturers the Dove and Caress brands.
Vaseline Intensive Care is meant to stand out from market’s other players by taking a technologically advanced positioning; the product will claim skin care benefits. The firm claims that a special silicone technology enables moisturizers to be better absorbed into the skin during the washing process.
The company will market the new entry in two forms: Essential Care and Deodorant Care, each of which will be packaged in “shower-mountable” form, or a combined tube and bottle.
Chesebrough is supporting the brand’s inaugural year with $35 million in advertising and promotion. TV ads first aired in November.
Prices for the product begin at $3.29 for the starter kit, which contains a 6-oz. bottle and a free lather puff. The 9-oz. bottle, which comes with a free wall-mountable suction cup device, is $3.99.
Oil of Olay is now rolling out a version for sensitive skin that is designed to clean and moisturize, while minimizing the chance of irritation that can be caused by some bath bars or body washes.
The product is hypoallergenic and unscented.
“Everybody is definitely jumping on to this bandwagon,” Yardley’s Nuechterlein said. “The market can certainly absorb a lot of players, but in order to survive, everyone is going to need to establish a clear point of difference.”

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