Graying baby boomers and new products tailored to young consumers have made hair color one of the hottest segments in hair care. Double-digit sales growth has prompted retailers to ponder dedicating more space to the products, many of which are being marketed like fashion accessories.
"The biggest thing in hair color is that baby boomers are all at the point of coloring their hair," said Jim McCarty, health and beauty care buyer for Brookshire Grocery Co., Tyler, Texas. "There's been a real growth [of hair color] over the past three years."
"New brands help grow color," said Liz Read, senior director of hair color marketing at Clairol, New York.
"It's definitely the new brands that are driving category growth," said Tara Dunn, HBC category manager at Bi-Lo, Mauldin, S.C. Dunn said she is slowly increasing space devoted to the category on a store-by-store basis. "We give the category 4 to 8 feet, but we don't have it in every store."
How much space does she think the category needs? "A minimum of 8 feet, and at least 12 would be good," she said.
It's not unreasonable considering the category's gains. Dollar sales at supermarkets were up 12.1% to $304.8 million for the 52 weeks ended March 25, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Supermarkets trail mass merchants and drug stores when it comes to dollar share, with only 21.6% of category dollars. Drug stores commanded 40.1% of category dollars, while mass marchants reported 38.3%. Mass merchants led all other channels in unit volume, however, suggesting ultra-competitive pricing at the channel.
Clairol's Read said significant growth is coming from 13- to 24-year-olds who see color as a fashion accessory. She said that 52% of American women color their hair now, and of that group, 36% use at-home color.
At Independence, Mo.-based McKeever Enterprises, a five-unit Price Chopper franchisee, nonfoods operations director Gary Hedrick said hair color has been one of his best-performing categories, and it's being driven by young consumers.
"It's the kids that are using it," he said. "They're getting into streaking their hair with greens and whatever. A lot of them are putting blond in their hair, even the boys."
He said his stores have up to 12 feet of space dedicated to the category, depending on the size of the store. He merchandises the hair color products across the aisle from shampoos and next to school supplies, which allows him to capitalize on traffic from teenage and college-age shoppers.
L'Oreal's Feria, introduced in summer 1998, is credited with sparking significant interest in the category. The brand's shimmery, multifaceted color was marketed as a nongender-specific, ethnically diverse brand, and it was successful in appealing to consumers aged 18 to 39. In fact, Feria is now the fourth best-selling hair color. IRI data show the brand behind L'Oreal's Preference, which holds the top spot, Excellence Creme, at No. 2, and Clairol's Nice 'n Easy, which fills the third spot.
"For a hair color to skyrocket to that position is unprecedented," said an official for L'Oreal USA, New York. "It's the result of reaching a whole new demographic of consumers who are not looking just to cover gray."
Packaging plays a big role in the brand's success. "We show an African-American model with blond hair on one box," said L'Oreal's official. "The brand is about breaking the rules of hair color and using it like a cosmetic."
Clairol soon followed with its own successful launch of XtremeFX, a line of four unnatural shades of color designed for consumers who want to make a statement with their hair. "Today's younger audiences, who are unisex and multicultural, now require products geared to the way they express their personality," said Read.
Read said that desire has fueled growth in highlighting and bleaching products. A full 47% of new users in the highlighting segments are under age 25.
He said these consumers are interested in "pushing the envelope" in hair color. "They want lots of options, few limitations and nontraditional shades," she said. XtremeFX, with its Bleach-Out Tool Kit as well as its Color Shock coloring component, allows consumers to create bleaching, blonding, highlighting, streaking, tipping and dipping as well as free-form paint-on highlights. In other words, younger consumers can experiment and approximate a salon experience at home for $14.99.
McCarty of Brookshire Grocery said that even though he sees the category as being driven by the aging population, he's still surprised at the interest in unnatural colors. "I can't believe there's volume to the blues and the oranges," he said.
The new youth-oriented brands also have been successful in bringing more men into the color category.
"Young men are interested in color as an accessory; a way to express themselves," said the L'Oreal official. "Four of the Feria boxes featured men on the packaging and it helped increase the acceptance. More men in the public eye have been coloring their hair, and that has helped increase acceptance. Men's usage of hair color has risen 50% in the last few years."
Bleaching and highlighting kits like XtremeFX skew to this consumer; Clairol's Read estimates that young male usage in those segments of hair color is up 27% in the last five years.
Recently launched new products also target fashion-forward consumers. Clairol, leveraging the equity of its hugely popular Herbal Essences brand, recently launched Clairol Herbal Essences Haircolor -- a 30 stockkeeping unit line of color targeted at that all-important younger consumer. The line, which is marketed to men and women, uses patented dye technology that imparts intense, vibrant color. Three shades offer consumers iridescent color -- a modern effect achieved with an undertone of pink.
"The Herbal Essences line is designed to reach a younger audience that wants intense color," said Read. "Consumers who are coloring their hair not to cover gray but just to add or change color want vibrant color that gets noticed."
Herbal Essences Haircolor offers consumers a no-ammonia formulation as well as the Herbal Essences fragrance.
Even chains that have limited space are hopeful about the line and have carved out space for it. "We carry only three brands, Nice 'n Easy, Loving Care and Preference, but I ordered Herbal Essences and am waiting for it to go into the stores," said Linda Taylor, HBC buyer at Sherm's Thunderbird Supermarkets, Medford, Ore. Sherm's devotes 8 feet to hair color.
L'Oreal will have its own new entry on the market this summer, targeted to "a new generation of women who have a relaxed view of beauty," according to a L'Oreal source. Called Open, the new line of 24 shades combines a natural approach with the latest technology to create color that is visible, vibrant and translucent. Open's infusing deep conditioner contains green tea and aloe extracts in a botanical formula that's being touted for its aromatic fragrance.
Maybelline's Laboratories Garnier's new Lumia Brightening Color Creme, which debuts in June, is also designed to bring new users into the category with an easy-to-use permanent color that enhances the users' natural color. "Lumia will only bring the color up or down one level so it's perfect for someone who is entering the market and is scared of ruining her hair," said Karen Ruiz, a Maybelline spokeswoman.
Retailers say that while new products may create excitement within the category, colors that offer coverage of gray are the ones that provide dependable sales day in and day out. "Most of my customers are looking to cover gray," said Taylor of Sherm's.
Manufacturers are in no way forsaking this consumer. Revlon, for example, has recently repackaged Colorsilk. "We kept the same Colorsilk packaging imagery but gave it a more modern look overall," said Johnna Manca, vice president, global hair care and hair color. "We've also added hair swatches to the top of each box to make it simpler for the consumer to identify her shade."