Byline: BARBARA WHITE-SAX, with contributions from CARA KAGAN

NEW YORK — Bath product manufacturers have been looking over the wrong shoulder.
For the past few years, the vendors have been eyeing specialty bath chains, department store brands and each other as their primary sources of competition. But the true rivalry seems to be coming from a completely different, and perhaps unexpected, source. Late last year, mass market soap powerhouses such as Procter & Gamble Co., Lever Bros. and the Andrew Jergens Co. introduced two-in-one liquid body cleansers with more therapeutic positionings than specialty shower gels. In short, the items are designed to cleanse as well as moisturize the skin.
These multi-functional products, sold under the Oil of Olay, Caress and Jergens brand names, respectively, are merchandised in the commodities aisle next to the soaps and carry modest suggested retail price points of under $5 apiece.
“These companies have moved the bath focus away from specialty lines, which have multiple stockkeeping units and fragrances, higher price points and require special merchandising units,” said John Nuechterlein, senior marketing manager of Yardley. “So far, the success of the category has been phenomenal, although it is still too early to tell what the end result will be.”
Two-in-one liquid cleansers are also bringing formidable advertising budgets into a category not known for its big spenders.
For most companies, $5 million is considered to be a huge annual budget for supporting a mass market bath and body care line, especially since most specialty bath companies spend around $1 million.
But according to industry sources, the three two-in-one cleanser brands are being launched with a combined budget of about $150 million, in addition to substantial direct-mail sampling efforts.
The new cleansers also seem to have a much wider acceptance than their clear, gel-based counterparts.
“In the focus groups we did, consumers had preconceptions about shower gels,” said Lisa Yarnell, a group marketing manager at Coty, which manufactures the Calgon bath line. “Shower gel meant higher priced and female, while the term liquid body wash carried a different image.”
Consumers felt that liquid body washes left them feeling cleaner than traditional shower gels, Yarnell said. Although Coty repackaged its Calgon bath products in more shower-friendly containers last year, it has been showing retailers a new Calgon line of body wash products targeted to specific skin types. That line will be on shelves this summer. In addition to the sneak attack from the soap companies with the two-in-one liquid cleansers, mass marketers also noted that many retailers have been shrinking bath space to make room for the increasingly profitable skin care segment, which is now outpacing the bath market in terms of sales gains.
In order to stay afloat, mass bath vendors are slashing price points, reformulating lines and offering special promotions.
Late last year, Nivea added three new products to its Nivea Shower and Bath line for a total of seven. One new item, called 2-in-1 Cleanser and Moisturizer, goes head to head with the new moisturizing body washes.
“We feel the two-in-one segment will be very active in the coming years,” agreed Irena Valles, director of business development for Nivea. “It is the same concept as the combined shampoo and conditioner products, which have been incredibly successful.”
The other additions were a combination exfoliant and body oil and Botanicals, the company’s fourth fragranced shower gel.
This latest move followed Nivea’s effort the year before when it relaunched its four-year-old bath line. Originally called Bath Silk, the line was renamed Nivea Shower & Bath, to convey more of a showering positioning. The company introduced three moisturizing shower gels and a moisturizing body oil to replace the outdated foaming bath additives.
Neutrogena is touting the clean scent and skin smoothing benefits of its Rainbath collection, while Vaseline Intensive Care’s repackaged line, like Nivea, is stressing moisturizing capabilities. Del Laboratories’ Naturistics is highlighting its encapsulated vitamin E beads as a distinguishing feature.
Meanwhile, in the hopes of plugging leaks in its past marketing efforts, Yardley Bath Shoppe has sharply reduced its price points, revamped its packaging and enhanced its formulas.
In an effort to be more competitive in the mass specialty bath category and with the new body washes, Yardley has lowered the prices of all of its items by an average of 20 percent.
Repackaging the 40-item line is another way the company hopes to make Bath Shoppe more accessible to mass market shoppers. In January the company shipped unboxed versions of all of its items with updated graphics and clearer labeling.
“When we launched the line two years ago, we thought that since many prestige bath products were packaged this way that the mass category would evolve along the same lines,” Nuechterlein said. “But the mass segment has turned out to be more price sensitive and less packaging oriented than we expected.”
In addition to the other changes, each Bath Shoppe product has been reformulated to include additional moisturizers, botanicals and vitamins. The company maintains that the newer versions not only cleanse the skin, but moisturize and soothe it as well.
“We are hoping that by reformulating Bath Shoppe, we will have more of a skin-care positioning,” Nuechterlein said. “We are looking to bridge the gap between bath and skin care.”
Coupons, on-pack promotions and trial sizes are other weapons companies are employing to stay competitive.
Sarah Michaels, for example, is offering a gift-with-purchase promotion for the first time. Currently, a free shower gel is being given with the purchase of an 8.8-oz. body lotion.
Del Labs is selling promotionally priced single-serve packettes of bath and shower gels in all flavors. The packettes, which will be available for a limited amount of time, will retail for $1. “Promotional items are becoming more important to the category,” said Stephanie Hayano, vice president of marketing at Del Labs. “Since many of the full-size items require more of a cost investment, consumers find a comfort factor in trial sizes and trial opportunities.”
That may be one reason Cabot’s foaming bath oil packettes have remained popular at retail.
“Our 99-cent packettes are our best-selling items,” said Linda Maiocco, vice president, marketing at Cabot.
While there’s no question that shower products will continue to be the fastest-growing segment of the bath category, no single flavor seems to be leading the pack.
Some manufacturers have staked their claim on the traditional floral segment.
“We do really well with romantic, floral fragrances,” said Kim Redfield, vice president of marketing at Sarah Michaels. “It will be interesting to see how the success of unisex fragrances, specifically [Calvin Klein’s] CK One, will effect this category.” While Neutrogena’s Rainbath is citrus-based, the same fragrance used in creating many men’s scents, only about 10 percent of Rainbath purchasers are men, according to a Neutrogena marketing executive. Fruity flavors are still strong, with raspberry and peach remaining two of the most popular. Natural botanical flavors also continue to appeal to consumers.
“Our best-selling sku is the chamomile anti-stress bath packette, although our consumer research shows that has to do more with the anti- stress aspect than with the flavor,” said Cabot’s Maiocco.