NEW YORK — Alberto-Culver is taking several collections under the Nexxus salon hair care brand into the mass market in February, a move many in the beauty industry anticipated when they learned that the maker of VO5 and Tresemmé purchased the professional company in May.

Nexxus will remain in the salon distribution channel, however, with unique items not offered in the mass channel. Salons will receive an updated version of these items early next year, said Jim Marino, president of Alberto-Culver Consumer Products Worldwide.

For the mass market, 33 Nexxus stockkeeping units will be available next year, many of which are already sold in drugstores through diverted measures, namely within the Humectress and Therapee ranges. Formulas are packaged in pearlized, high-end containers and will be merchandised in either the professional hair care section or with other mass hair care items, depending on the retailer. Alberto-Culver’s decision to take Nexxus mass halts the brand’s diversion issue, and enforces the exclusivity of the salon items, Marino said.

Nexxus, which was created in the Eighties by Jheri Rhedding, is best known for its shampoos and conditioners. But today’s avant-garde, niche-based hair care market demands cutting-edge products. Subsequently, a new range of Nexxus styling aids was created to supplement its stable of mousses and gels. New items include Retexxtur Styling Putty, Heat Protexx Heat Protection Spray, Curl Energee Curl Enhancing Spray and Maxxishine Anti Frizz & Shine Spray.

Sales of Nexxus at the time of Alberto-Culver’s purchase were estimated at $40 million (a figure that does not include a percentage of future sales), with approximately 38.2 percent of that figure, or $15.3 million, generated in the mass market in 2004, excluding Wal-Mart, according to Information Resources Inc. At the end of 2006, sales of Nexxus could reach $80 million when Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Brooks-Eckerd, CVS and major food stores across the country begin selling Nexxus at retail prices between $4 and $16.

“We’d be very disappointed if we didn’t double the business,” Marino said of his sales expectations for the brand. He added that Nexxus’ brand equity and imagery kept it alive for close to 20 years but Alberto-Culver’s decision to offer it in both the professional and mass channels of distribution was because “consumers’ biggest issue was that it was hard to find.”

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Both print and TV advertising will commence in March and April to support the launch.

The Melrose Park, Ill.-based company, which generated third-quarter sales of $898.9 million, an increase of 9.2 percent for the period ended June 30, had been eyeing Nexxus “for a long time,” Marino said, but knew changes needed to be made if Alberto-Culver bought it.

While one drugstore buyer said Nexxus’ entry into the mass market “is one of the most exciting things to happen in hair care next year,” another buyer was more skeptical. His doubts stem from the brand’s packaging changes several years ago, which made Nexxus look more upscale and less treatment oriented.

“I think it was a devastating move for them. In my opinion, that’s why they were on the selling block. They switched to different bottles, changed the contour, and took away the heavy block lettering so it would stand apart from the Paul Mitchells of the world. Not a good move.”

Marino admitted Nexxus had fallen off its original owner’s radar.

“It was undermarketed and little investment had been put into it over the last several years. In hair care you just can’t do that, whether you’re a professional or traditional consumer brand,” Marino said.

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