Where to merchandise the booming body wash segment has become somewhat of a slippery subject in supermarket circles.
Though some retailers are moving the increasingly popular products to health and beauty care departments to create "personal cleansing care" sub-departments, others have decided they belong in their traditional location: alongside bar and liquid soaps in the grocery section.
"We feel that the bar soap section is currently the best place to merchandise the body washes because it allows the consumer to compare products," said Mike Kilgallon, grocery buyer/merchandiser, Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa. Genuardi's currently merchandises the segment in the bar soap section of the soap aisle, but is testing it in HBC in one store to compare movement. Mike Shultz, senior vice president, Hughes Family Markets, Irwindale, Calif., also feels grocery is the best location for the segment.
"We merchandise the body washes out of the grocery department because we find it has a higher traffic level than the HBC department," he told SN.
"The body washes bring a benefit to the grocery department because they offer increased margins over bar soaps," Shultz added. Hughes merchandises body washes at eye level over the bar soaps. Other retailers said body washes should stay in grocery because that's where the rest of soaps are merchandised -- and where consumers are used to finding them.
"We display the body washes in the soap section, primarily in the bar soap section, because that is where customers look for them, at least in our stores," said Vern Buford, director, grocery merchandising & buying, Rice Food Markets, Houston.
According to Information Resources, Inc., the body wash/shower gel category is really beginning to bubble. In fact, these products are the only bright spot in an otherwise lackluster category.
For the 52 week period ended April 28, 1996, supermarket sales in the personal cleansing category, which includes bar soaps, liquid soaps and shower gels, reached $1.1 billion, a 3.5% decline from the same period last year.
Bar soaps still make up the vast majority of the category ($812.3 million in sales, down 9.4%), followed by liquid soaps ($115.8 million in sales, down 4.3%). However, shower gels had sales of $115.5 million, up 80%. During the same period, 79.9 million units of shower gels were sold in supermarkets, up 64.5% from the previous 52-week period. New product introductions are helping to spur sales.
With their higher price tags and margins, retailers told SN body washes are bringing new growth to the category.
"The body wash segment has not taken away from the traditional bar or liquid soap segments. The category, as a whole, has increased because body washes have performed well and added another niche within this category," said Ruth Ellen Kinzey, corporate communications manager, Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C.
"The body washes are doing very well. They are still new with a lot of new entries in this sub category, which is causing sales growth," said Al Young, category manager, soap, for Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.
Young said the body washes have been taking away sales from traditional bar and liquid soaps, but not to the degree that they are significantly hurting the category.
"The manufacturers are really concentrating on the female consumer and therefore are still leaving a large segment using the bar soaps," he said.
"The body washes have been doing well in our market and continue to show dramatic increases in sales. They have taken sales away from the bar soaps, but the lost sales were at lower margins," added Shultz of Hughes Markets.
Buford of Rice Markets said that while he hasn't seen any instances of cannibalization in his stores, he finds some of the newer body wash entries to be quickly running out of steam.
"All of them are doing pretty well expect for some of the late newcomers. That is because they let the other people get a foothold. I think the category has already matured already -- very rapidly. It is not one of those like the teas or sports drinks that keeps on growing. It has matured rapidly," he said.
Meanwhile, some retailers, citing higher margins and the development of skin cleansing centers, are beginning to test merchandising body washes in the HBC aisle.
Jan Winn, director, health and beauty care and general merchandise, Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., said her chain uses two approaches when it comes to merchandising body washes. In its newer World Class Market format stores, the bar soaps and body washes are merchandised in the HBC department, while they are merchandised in the grocery department in the chain's traditional grocery stores.
Likewise, Harris Teeter also merchandises its body washes in different areas, depending upon the store location, according to Kinzey.
"Store design has an impact on where the products are located, as does store size. We have a wide range of store sizes, and in some cases that becomes a factor as to where that category is kept," she said.
"We pay very close attention to our customers. In some of our markets we find that having things grouped differently in the health and beauty aids area, perhaps based on focus groups or other means, makes sense for us. In other cases, based on customer input, we find it makes more sense to have it in the grocery area because it is more convenient," she explained.
Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., also consulted with its customers before making the decision to move its body washes to the HBC department, said Joanne Gage, vice president, consumer services.
Like the retailers selling the products, body wash manufacturers also have two schools of thought when it comes to determining where body washes should be merchandised in the supermarket.
"People consider liquid body cleansers and premium skin care soap-types of items to be more personal care type items. It would make sense to satisfy consumers by merchandising it and shelving it in the HBC area of the store," said Tim Zimmerman, senior vice president, marketing, The Andrew Jergens Co., Cincinnati.
However, the majority of the liquid body washes are still sold with the soap items, Zimmerman added.
"Our Softsoap body wash is currently merchandised with other soaps and body washes in the hand and bath soap section," said Susan Verstegen, director, personal care marketing, Colgate-Palmolive Co., New York.
Bob Matthews, senior manager, sales planning, Lever Bros., New York, said Lever, which markets the Lever 2000 line, has not taken a formal position on where body washes should be merchandised.
"Our position at this point is that the gels should be with the bars because fundamentally they are cleansing products," he said.