BEAUTY FINDS A HOME IN HEALTH FOOD MART

Byline: Faye Brookman

EAST SETAUKET, N.Y. — Health food stores are hitting the mainstream — and beauty is playing an integral role. With the opening last November of Wild by Nature Market, an 18,000-square-foot health food supermarket here, parent company King Kullen is attempting to bring the health store concept to a broader audience. The store is the first of what King Kullen hopes will be a national chain.
In addition to a wide variety of organically produced food products, Wild by Nature offers upscale natural-based beauty and personal care products. The assortment ranges from skin care and color cosmetics to deodorants and hair color, with prices up to $50.
At a time when many supermarkets have exited the beauty business, citing slow inventory movement, Wild by Nature store executives hope to build customer loyalty by stocking brands that, besides claiming to be natural, are not widely available.
Shoppers won’t find traditional mass market brands such as Cover Girl, Revlon or Maybelline in the store. Instead, they can opt for lines traditionally found in health food stores, as well as some lines Graysha Perlstein, the store’s manager of nonfoods, said she has uncovered in her quest for natural beauty products.
Wild by Nature’s selection of beauty brands includes little-known names like Kiss My Face, Ecco Bella, Zia, Paul Penders, Earth Preserv, Nature’s Gate, CamoCare, Jurlique and Aba.
Perlstein said, however, that she carries some brands available in other natural food stores and mass outlets, including Paul Penders and Tom’s of Maine. “We don’t discontinue a product if it is good just because it becomes widely available,” she said, noting that the store carries in excess of 3,000 beauty stockkeeping units.
Industry sources estimate health and beauty care items, including cosmetics, are contributing 8 percent of the store’s overall sales, which are projected to total between $9 million and $12 million for the first year. That would mean a total of between $720,000 to $960,000 for the category.
In addition to augmenting the food items, the health and beauty products are delivering gross margins as high as 48 percent, versus margins in the 20 percent range in the rest of the store, company executives said.
In a traditional supermarket, cosmetics and skin care usually account for less than 2 percent of sales.
Perlstein said the improved performance of natural beauty products has contributed to a higher acceptance of the category.
“They [customers] see that they don’t have to give up quality for natural products. Today’s products deliver much better quality than the natural cosmetics we used to see,” she claimed. “People don’t want toxins and artificial ingredients in their cosmetics these days, and they want to make sure products are not tested on animals.” On a recent visit to the store, consumers looking for beauty products didn’t seem to be the stereotypical, politically correct shoppers often associated with health food stores. Many simply appeared to be seeking something different from what is offered at other retail outlets. One shopper said the natural hair coloring caught her eye because she was afraid conventional market products were bad for her. Another customer, browsing in the cosmetics area, said she was an Origins customer who didn’t want to make the 20-minute drive to a department store for that brand; she also wanted to try a new natural line. The right mix of cosmetics and treatment products was as important to Perlstein as the organically grown produce sold in the rest of the store. “I’ve come to believe that the products you use on the outside are as important as what you eat,” she said. Perlstein thinks many of the store’s beauty customers are converts from department stores who are drawn to Wild by Nature because it is a grocery outlet, and then purchase the beauty products on impulse.
Prices are comparable with upscale mass lines. A 1-oz. bottle of Zia foundation, for instance, sells for $14.95 at Wild by Nature, while an 8-oz. bottle of toner retails for $13.75. Paul Penders’ Citrus Fruit Exfoliator sells for $14.95 for a 2-oz. bottle.
The layout of the department — just steps away from the store’s entrance — reflects an attempt at an upscale approach to beauty. An elegant lighting fixture hangs from the ceiling and department store-style glass showcases house the more expensive lines. Perlstein deals directly with most of the suppliers, rather than using a broker or middleman, which is more typical of one-store operations. “I contacted most of them on my own,” she said.
Being a subsidiary of King Kullen, a supermarket giant, helps build credibility with resources, said Perlstein, who formerly ran a local health food operation.
She noted that sampling and in-store demonstrations have helped spur sales of cosmetics. Like more upscale stores, Wild by Nature has a chair set up at the counter for makeovers and a full-time sales associate positioned in the area.
Beyond serving the growing interest in natural cosmetics, store executives say the lines Wild by Nature carries help differentiate it from competition in its immediate vicinity, including a Genovese Drug Store next door and an Edwards supermarket in the same shopping center.
While Genovese, for example, sells Clairol and L’Oreal hair color, Wild by Nature offers an herbal hair color called Naturcolor. Naturcolor retails for $14.95, slightly higher than the average $9 ticket for mass market brands. To expose even more customers to natural brands, Perlstein is planning lectures, such as a presentation this month on aromatherapy. The store also has a direct-mail advertising program. “We’re trying to make shopping fun and exciting,” said Perlstein, who added that the company is eyeing sites in the Huntington, N.Y., market for a second unit.

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