Retailers are trying to preserve their sun care sales just as earnestly as sunbathers are trying to preserve their summer glow.
By showcasing the sun care category earlier in the year and catering to consumers' needs with an array of sunless tanning and high-grade SPF (sun protection factor) products, sun care sales have remained bright, said retailers and industry sources.
Retailers polled by SN voiced the need to display products often and early to compete with drug store and mass merchant sales in the category.
"We have to make sure we're out there early. It's not an easy nut to crack, since drug and mass have more room than we do," said Thomas Perry, health and beauty care category manager, A&P, Montvale, N.J. "Manufacturers have been preaching for an earlier ship, and it's made a difference."
A&P starts showcasing the sun care category in February to capitalize on spring break sales, Perry said. The selection at the chain is comprised of up to 100 stockkeeping units in sets ranging from a two-foot to 16-foot displays in the seasonal aisle, depending on the store.
"We promote the category all year long," said Mona Golub, spokeswoman, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y. "People need to know you're in the business to provide their needs whenever they need to be met." The retailer merchandises the category in the health-and-beauty-care aisle on full-wing displays. Price Chopper's 12 Vermont locations showcase the category prominently during ski season. The retailer also promotes sun care during spring break season.
But the real measure of success in the category depends on summer weather conditions. Roughly 70% of sun care category sales volume is generated between May and the end of July, said retailers.
"We've had a poor suntan season because of overcast weather in [Southern] California," said Jeri Kamm, health and beauty care buyer, Unified Western Grocers, Los Angeles. "We're just starting to have a summer now."
Nonetheless, the suntan preparation category increased 6.2% compared to the previous year to $429 million in the food, drug and mass category (excluding Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark.) during the 52-week period ending June 15, according to ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill. Sunscreens and sun blocks rose 6.9% to $288 million during the same period, while suntan lotions and oils topped $140 million, a 4.6% jump.
High-grade SPF sunscreen has increasingly become the sun care product of choice for consumers. For example, Coppertone's 70 Ozone has been a strong seller this season, Kamm said. "It shows me that people are looking for maximum protection."
The sun care products that carry an SPF of 4 and below declined 10% in sales this year, said Fred Duchin, vice president, sun care marketing, Coppertone and Ban de Soleil, produced by Schering-Plough, Madison, N.J.
"More and more people, despite some wanting the cosmetic benefit of a tan, are shying away from products that aren't going to protect them," Duchin said.
Value-added sun care subcategories like the sweat-proof sunscreen sport or cosmetic oil-free varieties are growing, Duchin said.
"These groups of sunscreens provide beauty-conscious women more features and benefits than basic sunscreen," Duchin explained.
Packaging featuring new delivery forms has contributed to the increased sales. For example, this season, sun block in spray delivery systems has had sales success, A&P's Perry said.
The sunless tanning category remains a strong part of the product mix, said retailers and analysts. Coppertone's Endless Summer continues to be a popular choice, said Linda Taylor, Sherm's Food 4 Less, Medford, Ore.
"People aren't wanting to go out into the sun," she said.
"Sunless tanning is exploding, and it's done so because of the new technology with Coppertone's Endless Summer," said Ted Taft, partner, Meridian Consulting Group, Westport, Conn.
Moreover, the burgeoning popularity of indoor tanning salons created a new indoor tanning product subcategory in sun care. "It's an untapped source [for supermarkets] that has grown in the past few years," said Perry.
Analysts said that creating a sizzling sun care category involves prominent displays and longer peak display periods.
"If you're a supermarket, the way to capture the sun care consumer is to make sure they almost trip over [the sun care display]," Taft said. "Merchandise it adjacent to other outdoor categories in a prime location because you don't want to miss that shopper."
Duchin said supermarkets need to pay more attention to the category year-round.
Limited shelf space restricts this trend, although retailers do carry a smaller array of sun care products 12 months a year.
"The food class of trade doesn't look at the category off season," said Perry. "The department is only so big."
Golub disagreed. "Being in tune with consumers and what their needs are and how timely their needs are is how we can expand the opportunity for us supermarkets," she said.