NEW YORK — The lineup of fragrance brands in mass market outlets is in flux.
In the past several years, shoppers have been able to find department store brands at the mass level, and at bargain prices — sometimes at discounts of 20 to 40 percent off their up-market tags.
But according to sources estimates, in the mass market, prestige fragrances experienced an 8 percent decline in 1995 and a 21 percent drop during the four weeks leading up to Christmas, in comparison to 1994 figures.
Diverted scents didn’t even appear in the top 10 sellers in the mass market this year, according to Nielsen reports. In past years, prestige names often made the cut. Instead, this year’s fastest movers featured names from Coty, L’OrAal, Revlon and Quintessence — brands targeted strictly at the mass market.
Industry experts note that the widespread availability of once-exclusive fragrances has resulted in jaded customers, who are no longer impressed by seeing these up-market brands in drugstores. Also adversely affecting sales is the fact that many prestige fragrances are becoming available through nontraditional channels, such as home shopping networks and the Internet.
Additionally, new competition in the form of fragrance offerings from stores like The Gap and Victoria’s Secret has altered consumer buying patterns.
The decreasing numbers have many wondering if the gray market, where mass merchants are able to pick up products they are technically not supposed to have, may no longer be essential.
“There is an overabundance of products, and with the slow turns, it is becoming expensive to carry the inventory,” said industry consultant Allan Mottus.
Many retailers said they started to pare back diverted scents last year and will continue to do so in 1996 — a reversal from the recent past, when anything that came down the gray market pike was snapped up.
At the same time that prestige fragrance sales are declining, retailers report renewed efforts on the part of mass vendors to support their brands.
“Renaissance is spending behind mature brands, and they moved for us last Christmas,” said Penny Wade, category manager for Harco Drug. Coty continues to provide the mass market with products that lure shoppers to drug or discount stores. One of the most successful has been Vanilla Fields, which the company said appeals to a more affluent market than other Coty fragrances — customers who may have formerly bought designer products. The firm expects a new men’s scent called Raw Vanilla will also court shoppers who perhaps used to buy fragrances at a department store. With gross margins averaging 35 percent on mass market scents versus 20 percent on diverted goods, retailers are anxious to bolster the mass fragrance business. Diversion may also be slowed by new efforts to curb cargo theft. A story on the state of law enforcement in South Florida appears in this supplement on page 18.
While mass brands may be poised for a rejuvenation in drugstores, direct-sales giant Avon is launching a bevy of brands with a variety of marketing strategies. The story is on page 14.
And Mother’s Day will soon be upon us — for a selection of the various gift sets and special offers that will be popping up in May, see page 12.

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