A growing number of new premium-priced shampoos and conditioners, containing ingredients for specific needs, are having a strong effect on the business, and helping supermarkets gain profits in a category that has been traditionally commodity driven.
Even value-priced brands now are launching specially formulated items with higher price points and integrating them into their lines.
This month, Gillette launches its White Rain Herbs & Blossoms, which combines distinctive fragrances in a formula that addresses specific hair needs.
"Our new line is a response to the growing demand among consumers for high-quality, natural ingredients in popularly priced hair care," said Cathy Chizauskas, business manager for hair care in the North Atlantic Group of Gillette Co., Boston.
Such new products are "definitely the life blood of this category," said Tammy Rowe, health and beauty care supervisor at Wade's Foods, Christianburg, Va. "We have a big emphasis on new shampoo and conditioner treatments that are creating niches."
The needs and problems are wide-ranging and include formulas to protect against the environment, resist product buildup, enhance hair texture and protect against heat-appliance styling.
One of the premium products that scored a quick success following its launch last year was Thermasilk by Helene Curtis, Chicago, a division of Unilever Home & Personal Care U.S.A, Greenwich, Conn. A collection of 13 shampoos, conditioners and styling products comprise the line, which was designed to give users the benefits that come from heat styling without damaging hair.
According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc., unit sales of the shampoos were more than 14.5 million and conditioners 11.6 million during the brand's first year on the market.
Helene Curtis is now introducing an addition to the Thermasilk line -- a heat-activated Clarifying Shampoo designed to counteract the effects of buildup from styling products and conditioning agents. It is scheduled to be available next month in a 13-ounce bottle.
Unilever is also adding three heat-activated products -- Suave Thermal Formula Shampoo, Thermal Formula Conditioner and Formula Leave-in Conditioner -- to its value-priced Suave line. Products will be priced slightly higher than the basic line but below Thermasilk.
In addition, Unilever will introduce Suave Daily Protection Shampoo and Suave Daily Protection Conditioner, containing Vitamins E and C and a UV filter designed to help protect hair against environmental elements.
Last year, Clairol introduced Daily Defense shampoos and conditioners geared to protect hair from environmental and styling stresses.
Also new this year is Neutrogena Clean shampoo and Neutrogena Clean Conditioner, a non-drying daily-use formula to moisturize hair. The products offer three choices -- balancing for normal hair, voluminizing for fine/thin hair and replenishing for dry/damaged and permed/color-treated hair.
"New products like Thermasilk and Daily Defense are closing in fast on top selling brands," said Andrew Carrano, vice president of communications for A&P, Montvale, N.J. "Head & Shoulders and Pert are still the main drivers in the category, but they have slipped a little in ranking due to the success of new item launches.
"Retailers will continue to have to sell value-priced items, with hardly any price margin at all, in order to stay competitive," said Fred Mulfinger, a consultant with Gladson Associates, a Lisle, Ill.-based category-management and consulting firm. "But the profits and the excitement are coming from new specialty shampoos and conditioners that are designed to address special needs."
The new premium-priced specialty items offer an opportunity to strengthen profits, retailers indicate.
"Many of these items retail low in price to compete with mass merchandisers," said Paul Blanchard, nonfood supervisor for Macey's, Sandy, Utah. "But we love to promote the new premium products, with the higher margins."
One industry official said the abundance of new formulations could only add to consumer confusion in the department. The hair care section is one of the most confusing sections for shoppers to shop with the plethora of stockkeeping units and attacking price points, he said.
As the shampoo and conditioner category gets more competitive, manufacturers are lending their promotional support, according to food-store executives.
"We are seeing greater manufacturer support," said Blanchard. "And we try to focus on in-store promotions when the manufacturers have their coupons out."
A&P's Carrano added, "Manufacturers have become more aggressive in the way they introduce their new items and support their existing lines."