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NEW YORK — A natural makeover is happening in the mass foundation segment.

This story first appeared in the January 30, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In a widespread movement, nearly all major mass market cosmetics brands are in the midst of a liquid foundation launch, and a central theme for many of the makeups is providing the customer with a matching skin tone that enhances but does not hide her natural look.

Some of the biggest introductions include L’Oréal’s True Match, Cover Girl’s TruBlend, Maybelline’s Wonder Finish, Neutrogena’s Visibly Even Natural-Look Makeup, Max Factor Colour Adapt and a reformulated Almay Clear Complexion.

Other newcomers include Physicians Formula’s Retro Glow Illuminating Foundation, Sally Hansen Skin Brightener with Retinol and Black Radiance Matte Souffle Oil Absorbing Makeup. Meanwhile, Revlon is reintroducing New Complexion with a new package, and Sonia Kashuk is repackaging her makeup line at Target, including its Perfecting Liquid Foundation.

It’s no surprise that there is a sudden interest in the foundation business: Recently, sales have been quietly slipping away. According to Information Resources Inc., category sales fell 3.9 percent to $757.5 million last year, excluding Wal-Mart. Unit sales for the period were down 5.9 percent.

Suzanne Grayson, a partner of Grayson & Associates, said the sudden attention makes sense.

“First of all, there hasn’t been a great deal of activity in foundation, it has been on eyes and lips,” she noted. “Furthermore, foundation is the most important [cosmetics] category for a number of reasons.” Foundation, she said, is the most loyal category among consumers and it is the most profitable from a cost-of-goods aspect. “It has the fewest number of stockkeeping units to do the business,” Grayson pointed out, adding, “It doesn’t need constant shade changes to be up-to-date. It is a background, it is to match your skin, not accent it.”

L’Oréal has undertaken an aggressive promotional program with True Match by offering a full line of testers in stores for each of the line’s 24 shades. They are divided into three groups — warm, neutral and cool — with eight shades in each. L’Oréal’s in-store displays provide women with a step-by-step guide that even asks whether they typically wear gold or silver jewelry to get them to their best shades. Some larger floor displays even contain a mirror.

Sources commented that since its introduction early this month, True Match is exceeding expectations.

Perhaps women are in the mood to experiment, since brand executives said Cover Girl’s TruBlend and Maybelline’s Wonder Finish are off to strong starts as well.

“With just three weeks worth of data in, Cover Girl TruBlend makeup is already Cover Girl’s fourth-biggest liquid makeup!” declared Anne Martin, vice president, global cosmetics marketing at Procter & Gamble. “Cover Girl will support the launch of TruBlend makeup with a national print and broadcast campaign beginning in February. Molly Sims and Kiara, along with our two brand-new Cover Girl models, Amelia Vega [Miss Universe] and supermodel Elsa Benitez, will be featured in the TruBlend ads.”

Elaine Sheng, marketing director, face, at Maybelline, said since Wonder Finish launched in September, it has become the brand’s number-one foundation. “We do expect it to become a pillar brand for us,” she said. To further stimulate trial, Maybelline is offering high-value coupons to entice shoppers. Sheng describes the foundation as a “one-step wonder. It goes from liquid to powder in an instant.” Before applying, consumers are told to give the bottle a little shake to remix the contents.

Kevin Kells, vice president of marketing for Almay, said that what makes Clear Complexion Blemish Healing Makeup different is that it’s “about enhancing her beauty, not about shade-matching.” He added that the category’s “biggest unmet need is breakouts. We’ve been finding that in covering up sometimes they are actually hurting the skin. This is great because [Almay’s new launch] heals and soothes and gives a flawless look.”

Almay Clear Complexion Blemish Healing Makeup is formulated with salicylic acid, botanicals such as aloe and chamomile, floral extracts to reduce redness and inflammation and “micro sponges” to absorb oil and diminish the appearance of shine.

Television ads will feature a new spokesmodel for the brand and are scheduled to debut the second week of March. “The campaign is different than anything we’ve done and has an emotional appeal,” said Kells.

Sonia Kashuk remarked that, while she is not introducing a new foundation now, “we are definitely looking at that for the future to meet the diversity of women’s needs.” The line’s existing foundation, she said, “is comfortable and flexible — you can keep it sheer or build it up, and it can be retouched.”

Kashuk said, “I just think everyone is trying to gain in the foundation business. There is a belief that if people believe in your foundation, they will believe in your products.”

With all the product news, “and with everybody advertising,” said Grayson, “it will build traffic and create excitement around makeup. Once you build traffic, sales go up. It goes hand in hand.”

Grayson said despite a majority of brands coming out with news at the same time, it is not necessarily a sign of copycatting.

“They just see what the trends are and that makeup sales are sluggish or flat and they just know what they have to do,” she said. “It is just good marketing.”

With all the competition, it’s nearly impossible for every item to be a big winner. Some retailers have put their money on L’Oréal and Cover Girl. “Cover Girl owns the market and L’Oréal has the superior product — always. I think those two will come out on top,” said Sally Yanke, cosmetics buyer at Medic Drug.