The hair color war between L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble reached a new level last year as sales of P&G’s Nice ‘n Easy franchise gained ground on Preference by L’Oréal Paris, the category’s best-selling brand. Aided by Root Touch Up, the Nice ‘n Easy brand now commands a 12 percent dollar share of the category, compared with Preference’s 12.1 percent, according to data from Information Resources Inc., which does not include sales in Wal-Mart or dollar stores.

However, when comparing a single stockkeeping unit against another, L’Oréal Preference remained ahead of core Nice ‘n Easy hair color. L’Oréal still ranks as the leading vendor by a wide spread with 40.6 percent dollar share compared with P&G’s 29.1 percent, and, in addition, L’Oréal overtook P&G as the leading seller of hair color in units, according to IRI. Also arising last year was the overtaking of Revlon’s fourth-place vendor ranking by L’Oréal’s Garnier, which for the year generated an 8.9 percent dollar share compared with Revlon’s 8.6 percent share.

The overall category itself even grew — by 1 percent to $1.03 billion — something it hadn’t done in five years.

There are two reasons why hair color is strong, said Carol Hamilton, president of the L’Oréal Paris division of L’Oréal USA. The first is that the consumer’s interest in color is great. The second is that the industry’s approach to the market has become less promotional.

“We are getting past the buy-one-get-one-free phase that took consumers out of the market. [L’Oréal Paris] has not participated in that for several years.”

Hamilton also pointed to fashion’s shift toward black, a trend that usually sways hair color sales.

“After years of women going au natural and favoring their natural color, we are seeing a rebound of more fashion colors like blondes and reds. Whenever black comes more into fashion, hair color tends to grow. There was more black on the red carpet [at the Golden Globes] than in the past five years,” observed Hamilton.

The challenge in hair color, it seems, is getting the consumer to color more frequently, which keeps the category buoyant.

This story first appeared in the January 26, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Patrice Louvet, P&G’s vice president, Global Hair Colorants, agrees. “We need to grow the category faster than it is through increasing penetration of the category and increasing frequency,” he said, who explained that Clairol Root Touch Up and Color Boosting Glazing both do just that. Louvet said the sales of these items, according to P&G data, makes Nice ‘n Easy the category’s leading brand for 2006, not Preference.

Karen Fondu, president of Maybelline New York-Garnier, a division of L’Oréal USA, is excited by the return of color, too. “Color is coming back. [Garnier] is not walking away from natural, but there is a resurgence of color. We’ll see that play out more,” Fondu said, adding that the popularity of salons is not a threat to the mass market, but rather an indication that consumers appreciate hair color. “It speaks to the overall vitality of the category, that in many ways hair color is a fashion accessory.”

Revlon, despite slipping to a number-five ranking, still pulled off 7.9 percent sales increases. The company is looking to truer shades to take center stage this year.

“We saw darker brown shades before, but now we’re seeing broader ranges of color, from blondes to brunettes to reds,” said Debra Dowd, Revlon’s vice president of marketing, hair.

Color is the hot topic at SoftSheen-Carson, too.

“For 2007, we’re continuing to keep the crown looking luxurious, rich and shiny, while looking for softer hair styles enhanced with color,” said Maya Brown, SoftSheen-Carson’s senior marketing manager. “There has been a resurgence of brown shades with softer coloring and toffee and caramel lights. The emergence of celebrities such as Janet Jackson and Beyoncé Knowles sporting red and blonde hair popularized that trend in the African-American community. However, these trends will begin to fade, along with the top-selling color, black, since customers are looking for a softer shade.”

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