Healthy future for hair market

The hair industry is being restyled, as manufacturers join the rush to satisfy the public’s newly-awakened desire for healthy products.

The days are well and truly over when you slapped a handful of styling mousse on your hair, sculpted it into shape and went for a day’s work on the trading room floor, secure in the knowledge that your hairstyle would hold steady, even if the share prices didn’t.

The Eighties trend for frequent hairwashing, finished off with a liberal dose of styling gel has been replaced with a peculiarly Nineties phenomenon – hair health. This latest health craze is doing for the haircare manufacturers what brown bread has done for bakers, and unleaded fuel for oil companies.

Until recently, it seemed that there was little room for growth in the market for haircare products. Everybody who was going to use shampoo was already using it, the Eighties trend towards more frequent washing had peaked, and a burst of innovation in styling products seemed to be over. Then, in early 1993, Procter & Gamble’s Pantene arrived.

Complete with its pro-vitamin B5 formula, Pantene made it fashionable to care about the “health” of one’s hair, rather than just gelling and moussing it into the required shape. Pantene was followed in June 1994 by Organics, this time incorporating Glucasil for “root nourishment”. Suddenly, the market was alive with new product development.

In a classic example of how to expand business in a mature market, haircare manufacturers are reaching for the high ground by developing “advanced formula” ranges and extending the resulting brand values from shampoos right through to hairsprays.

In the past two years, there have been 51 new brands or brand extensions in the four major sectors of the haircare market. When compared to an average of eight new launches over the same period in most toiletries markets, this represents an amazing level of activity. In fact, the only area with similar innovation is wash – a much newer sector where a high number of introductions might be expected.

What’s really interesting is that most of these new innovations are being launched at a huge premium to the existing market – 42 per cent overall, and a massive 71 per cent for conditioners. The highest premiums are commanded by the Salon brands such as Andrew Collinge and Nicky Clarke, where prices are upwards from 3 for a shampoo or conditioner.

While these don’t account for a large share of the market, they do allow manufacturers to compete at different levels, capturing a niche at the top of the market and, coincidentally, making the mass market brands appear very reasonably priced in comparison.

The key trend with all the new ranges, salon formulae and major brands seems to be caring for the hair. In comparison with the late Eighties and early Nineties, when styling aids boomed on the promise of “freezing” the hair into shape, the growth is now led by shampoos and conditioners with vitamins and proteins, which claim to nourish and rebuild the hair from the roots.

The Pantene styling range, launched in May 1994, extends the caring promise, rather than emphasising that it will hold and control the hair.

The advertising spend behind styling aids and the growth of this sector has slowed down. Traditionally, the presence of any of these brands has been limited to styling only, making above-the-line support very costly. Manufacturers now seem to support brands as a whole whenever possible, hoping for a knock-on effect which benefits styling aids and hairsprays.

There is evidence that this works. Pantene, a cross-sector brand, is now number three in the hairspray sector, and the number two in mousses, without any specific advertising for these lines.

Potentially, the biggest casualties if new caring styling aids and hairsprays are successful are L’Oréal and Wella. With high-profile, “styling sector-only” brands like Studio Line and Freestyle, L’Oréal is still the leading manufacturer in the styling aids market, although the number one brand is Wella’s Shockwaves, followed by Alberto VO5. To date, these brands are maintaining their position, proving either that holding power is still the prime requirement for styling products, or that continuous innovation and high promotional expenditure can still make or break a brand – but watch this space.

Secure in its position at the top of the styling tree, L’Oréal launched itself into the “caring” shampoo and conditioner arena in February this year with Elvive, the company’s first major range launch in the UK for several years. Elvive takes the trend towards caring for the hair a step further, with different active ingredients for each hair type: Ceramide R for fine, thin or fragile hair; Nutri Vitamins for normal hair; and Kera-Protein for dry/damaged or permed/treated hair.

As one of the largest haircare manufacturers in Europe, L’Oréal certainly knows how to launch a haircare range. Supported by a huge TV campaign starring Jennifer Aniston, as well as strong in-store promotions including free conditioner with shampoo, the impact of Elvive has been remarkable.

Obviously, it will be hard to maintain the level of support in the long term, and the proof of Elvive’s success will be its repeat purchase levels, but the brand has certainly been given a firm footing in the market. After only one month, it had seized nine per cent of the shampoo market and 14 per cent of conditioner sales, making it number two to Pantene in both markets.

As always, own label is not far behind. Supermarket shelves are stacked with pro-vitamin formulae packaged in silver grey bottles, and with Salon formulae, such as Sainsbury’s Michaeljohn range.

Even Superdrug is getting in on the salon formula act with HAIR art, a range “created by award winning stylists”. Both HAIR and Michaeljohn cover all four haircare categories: shampoos, conditioners, styling aids and hairsprays.

In an ideal world, all this activity would have boosted the market into growth, and the British would be washing and conditioning with renewed fervour, but this is not the case – volumes are static or even declining, especially in the case of hairsprays.

Sterling growth, however, is solid and there is surely plenty of potential for further extension of the newest brands. More leading brands are likely to enter the styling sector.

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