With shelves in most supermarket, drug and discount stores looking pretty much alike when it comes to beauty products, some supermarket chains are looking to differentiate themselves by going natural.
Although it's not surprising to find an extensive selection of natural beauty products in natural-food supermarkets like Fresh Fields or Nature's Northwest, in recent years more traditional chains such as H.E. Butt Grocery Co., Edwards Super Food Stores, Wegmans Food Markets, Quality Food Centers, Ukrop's Super Markets and Zagara's, to mention a few, have entered the natural beauty market hoping to make the link between fresh food and natural cosmetics.
Roy White, vice president of education for the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., said natural beauty will play a role as more and more retailers open up whole-health departments. "There's a synergy between beauty and health," he said.
Supermarkets represent tremendous opportunity for natural beauty manufacturers to expand distribution. "Some of our biggest growth has been in food stores, such as H-E-B," explained Robert MacLeod, president of Kiss My Face Corp., Gardiner, N.Y. Kiss My Face specializes in all-natural products such as Lemongrass Souffle Masque and Anti-Ox Facial Serum. The products are among the best-sellers in beauty at Wild Oats, according to MacLeod.
While most local supermarkets stock a smattering of Cover Girl and Maybelline, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., devotes an entire aisle smack in the center of the store to natural beauty products. James Lee, Wild Oats president and chief operating officer, singled out the natural beauty assortment as one of the "best departments in the store."
The beauty department is kicked off with an endcap devoted to aromatherapy from Aura Cacia of Weaverville, Calif. Beyond that is a wealth of skin care from manufacturers of natural products such as Jason, Kiss My Face, Giovanni, Ecco Bella and Desert Essence. Although some traditional supermarket chains, such as Wegmans and H-E-B, have added more natural lines, Wild Oats offers the full array of stockkeeping units from these lines. In hair care, there are well-known natural brands, as well as the addition of private-label hair care. "We have enlarged our private label in hair care to react to shoppers' requests," said Lee, a former executive with Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif. The line is called Wild Essentials and retails for $5.29. The packaging carries the Wild Oats icon called sparky -- a sprig of wheat. To carry out the natural positioning, Wild Oats sells hair accessories from a company that uses natural materials, called Hair Dog. There's even a natural hair-color product called Naturtint that retails for $9.99.
Even color cosmetics fit the store's philosophy. The two major color lines are Beauty Without Cruelty and Ecco Bella. Both lines have never been tested on animals and contain the most natural ingredients available that are still shelf-stable. Trained staff roam the aisles answering questions about the items for shoppers who sometimes aren't familiar with natural beauty choices. The natural feel is carried out in the department with wooden fixtures and ivy.
Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., is another chain that is concentrating on natural beauty. The chain's first New Jersey store in Princeton has a separate boutique with natural items, called Nature's Marketplace. Rather than compete on price, Wegmans aims to have products no other retailers stock, and that was evident in bath and natural products.
"Wegmans has to make its stores destination stores, and that's not typical in the grocery industry," said Neil Stern, food retail consultant for McMillian/Doolittle, Chicago. "To do that in beauty, they have to find unique product that gives them edges to make them different."
Located just behind the pharmacy, the Nature's Marketplace features natural foods such as pastas, as well as vitamins and supplements. A wall at the rear of the department is full of natural beauty products including Kiss My Face, Jason, Matsuda, Desert Essence, Burt's Bees, Nature's Gate, Rachel Perry, Giovanni and a line that even had products created especially for the store called La Beaute dans La Nature.
In total, there are more than 28 linear feet devoted to the natural beauty items, plus a service counter for the essential oils. Located in a college town, company executives said they believe the store will attract people with its natural beauty assortment.
Another food retailer pursuing the natural path is Portland, Ore.-based Nature's Northwest, owned by Wild Oats Markets.
At its 42,000-square-foot unit in Lake Oswego, Ore., there is even a department called Fresh Faces where consumers can purchase beauty items featuring foods or vitamins that are merchandised like produce.
'We've created a beauty deli," said an executive. The department was inspired by a chain called Lush where shoppers can dip into ice cream buckets for soap or other beauty products.
Even more traditional supermarket chains are experimenting.
At a new ShopRite Supermarkets unit in New Jersey, there's a new private-label bath line with natural ingredients.
In the vitamin department, many food chains sell oils such as lavender and rosemary.
According to Barbara Close, president and founder of Naturopathica, an all-natural salon in East Hampton, N.Y., these products can be used to make beauty products like facials.
She also recommends using oatmeal or sesame seeds as exfoliants. Sesame seeds can be mixed with yogurt or honey, she suggested -- giving new uses for traditional food items.
The only challenge for food stores is selling these items in a self-serve environment. MacLeod said that a more educated consumer is looking for natural items, and "they don't always need assistance." But those chains that have consultants on hand to give advice, such as Wegmans and Ukrop's, have the advantage of turning higher margin natural items.