It's a Wash: Cleansers 2002

November 11, 2005

Bar soap sales are stagnant, but body wash revenues are up. All in all, the cleansing category held its own in 2002.

Last year, Happi reported that bar soap sales were down. At the same time, industry professionals predicted a turnaround, but the category has continued to struggle.

According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, non-deodorant bar soap sales fell 3.9% to $477 million and deodorant bars dropped 5.4% to $441 million for the 52 weeks end August 11, 2002. Sales were for food, drug and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart).

A flagging economy can affect consumer spending across a number of channels, but hygiene is not normally one of them. And with last year's anthrax scare, a number of studies indicated that consumers were more concerned with personal cleanliness than ever.

But with bar soap sales down, how are Americans getting clean? According to industry executives, alternative cleansing sources are helping to pick up the slack. For example, liquid hand soaps rose 4.6% to $228 million in food, drug and mass merchandisers for the year ended Aug. 11, according to IRI data. And the remainder of the liquid cleanser category, which includes body washes, grew 4.6%, to $228 million.

Most industry professionals contacted by Happi agreed that body washes and liquid soaps are outpacing bars, but this trend might not last forever. Some attributed the popularity of body washes to their newness as compared to traditional cleansing bars. "I think the trend from bars to body washes will continue," said Tom Herrmann, director of corporate communications, Dial, Scottsdale, AZ, "but not at the same pace as before."

Others commented that cleansing methods tend to vary regionally. "From what I've seen, bath gels tend to be more popular in metropolitan areas or where people are generally more on-the-go," said Philip Foster, president, Nature's Soap Dish, Riverview, FL. "It's often easier and less messy to carry a body wash than a bar when traveling or working out."

In all, the body cleanser category tentatively held its own, with a drop of 1.8% to $1.6 billion for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 11-just slightly lower than the previous year. Although this isn't the best news soap marketers could have received, company executives hope that the move toward alternative cleansing forms will rev up revenues in the coming year.

Not Immune
With slow bar soap sales last year, even industry giants felt the strain. Lever Brothers' non-deodorant bar soap sales fell 1.2% in food, drug and mass merchandisers, according to IRI. Likewise, industry leader Procter & Gamble's non-deodorant bars dropped 10%, though deodorant soap sales for the company grew to $97 million, a 4.6% gain over the previous 52-week period.

Dial has had earnings issues for several years, but executives remain optimistic. The company stayed in the top 10 for non-deodorant bars, and was No. 1 for deodorant bars, at $144 million.

"Not all bar soaps are down," pointed out Mr. Herrmann of Dial. "Dial soap bar shipments, for example, have actually increased compared to last year."

Nature's Soap Dish executives said its bar soaps are in high demand. The company's Oatmeal soap is one of its most popular.

At the same time, the company recognizes that body washes have earned a firm spot on the shelf, Mr. Herrmann added. "Many consumers are moving from bar soaps to body washes because body washes moisturize the skin and deliver a great fragrance," he said.

Dial has added skin-friendly products to its lineup, including Liquid Dial with Vitamin E moisture beads. The beads are suspended within the product. The wash will be introduced next summer.

Dial introduced the Tone Island Mist line this year. "(Tone Island Mist washes) have been so popular that Tone is now the fastest growing body wash in America," Mr. Hermmann asserted. Cucumber Melon and Wild Flowers scents were recently added to the line.

Dial is reaching out to a broader market by blending holistic ingredients with traditional bar forms. The company's Coast brand introduced Coast Max with Aloe, "the first significant change in the Coast line since it joined the Dial family of products in 2000," according to Mr. Herrmann.

Consumers who grew up with Dial bar soap can stick with tradition while receiving extra moisture in Dial Soap with Vitamins, launched this spring. The antibacterial soap contains vitamins A, E and B5. It is translucent, with a "clean" appearance, but the price remains low, at $2.20 for a three-bar pack. The line also includes Dial Vitamins body wash.

Colgate-Palmolive is also getting into the holistic swing of things with Softsoap Aromatherapy Liquid hand soap and body wash. Colgate-Palmolive executives said liquids helped give the company the boost it needed to remain a top contender; the company was No. 2 in liquid soaps for the year ended Aug. 11.

"Our personal care business maintains strong momentum, driven by the launch of Softsoap Naturals body wash in January," said Allison Klimerman of Colgate. Floral Essentials body wash was added to the line in February.

Colgate's Irish Spring has received an update; Irish Spring Vitamins was launched in February. The brand has also introduced Irish Spring Icy Blast. With these newer additions to a consumer favorite, Colgate hopes to maintain its spot as a top contender in deodorant soaps; with $100.5 million in sales for the year ended Aug. 11, Colgate was No. 2 in deodorant bar soap sales for the period.

Flower Power
While the top players in the soap industry maintained their strong positions this past year, consumers continued to crave variety. As was last year's trend, botanicals continue to lead the niche market today.

Nature's Soap Dish incorporates biodegradable, hypoallergenic ingredients in its soap line. "(Our products contain) pure and gentle ingredients that leave the skin feeling soft, clean and pampered," said Philip Foster, president of the company. Nature's Soap Dish hand-mixes, pours and wraps its products.

"Our passion is to produce pure products from nature's finest ingredients and combine them with superior customer service," Mr. Foster said. "What began as a modest home-based business now reaches wholesale and retail clients throughout the world."

Mr. Foster insisted that commercial soaps often strip away the skin's protective oils with harsh detergents. "Our products are a result of utmost care at every stage of the production process. They contain substances that comply with the Nature's Soap Dish principles of quality," he said.

Nature's Soap Dish offers natural soaps and bath gels, in addition to other body-caring products such as lotions, shampoos, conditioners, bath salts and foot products. The company selects from 35 different fragrances and blends to create unique products, company executives said.

Contrary to the general trend, Nature's Soap Dish executives said the company's bar soaps are more popular than its gels. Currently the company's No. 1 seller is an oatmeal, milk and honey bath bar, followed in popularity by Key Lime-fragranced soap.

Mr. Foster said the desire for natural ingredients and so-called "cruelty-free" products is a concept that is on the rise-something that, according to Mr. Foster, the European market already knows. "The European market is currently mandating that the majority of its personal care products be cruelty-free," he revealed, "and the U.S. is going to be following that ideal soon."

But it's not just a trend for Nature's Soap Dish. "'Cruelty-free' is not just a gimmick to us," Mr. Foster insisted. "We take it to heart."

Clean and Pampered
Natural ingredient-containing cleansers tend to incorporate aromatherapy and other "caring" benefits in addition to simply cleaning the skin. A number of holistic-based soap marketers expanded on the success of their therapeutic and moisturizing lines this year.

Sarah Michaels, a subsidiary of The Hathi Group, will introduce an updated look and new formulations in January. "Although the original Sarah Michaels collection offers high-quality products and has many loyal users, it was time to reinvent the brand's identity," said Kathy Alaama, vice president of marketing, Sarah Michaels LLC, in a statement. "The new look of the brand is fresh and contemporary, which will appeal to a younger audience."

Stephen Est. 1985 introduced a line of oil-based body washes as "the next step" in personal cleansing technology.

In addition to new packaging, which includes upscale bottles and tubes with soft, pastel colors, Sarah Michaels is incorporating a "product personality" and fragrance profile. Fragrances for the line include Ginger Citrus, Cucumber Honeydew, Marine Spa, Jasmine & Waterlily, Milk & Honey, Rose Silk, Sun-Ripe Pear and Vanilla Sugar.

The improved product formulas are vitamin-enriched and contain botanical extracts to leave skin smooth and moisturized, Sarah Michaels executives said. Each line offers a themed scent and five core products: Extra Creamy body wash, Smoothing shower scrub, Vitamin Rich body lotion, Sheer Moisture body mist and Extra Thick body cream.

Each cleanser is designed to offer specific skin benefits in addition to cleansing. For example, Sun-Ripe Pear body wash contains fruit extracts and vitamins that help smooth dry skin, penetrating it with moisture, executives said. And Ginger Citrus contains ginger root, said to be rich in proteins and vitamins A, C and B-complex.

Sarah Michaels products are available in supermarket, drug chain and mass market retailers for $5.99 each. "This true in-store bath and body merchandising concept allows the consumer for the first time to have the same shopping experience as she did in higher-end specialty stores, for a fraction of the cost," a Sarah Michaels spokesperson said.

Indigo Wild, Kansas City, MO, touts its own natural-based products with the tease that "any more natural and we'd be naked!" The name and brand were inspired by the cheerful flowers of the North American wild indigo plant, according to Indigo Wild creator Emily Voth.

Indigo Wild soaps are hand-made with such natural ingredients as pure essential oils, shea butter, olive oil, herbs and goat's milk.

The Indigo Wild Zum Bar is a cold-pressed, handmade soap that incorporates goat's milk, leaving a silky feeling after the shower, according to company executives.

The Wild Zum bar is available in more than 20 varieties including Citrus Mint, Almond, Tea Tree Citrus, Anise Lavender, Frankincense & Myrrh and Oatmeal Lavender, to name just a few. Zum Bars retail for $4.95 at specialty boutiques and natural food stores nationwide, as well as on the company's website, www.indigowild.com.

SunFeather Natural Soap Company, Potsdam, NY, isn't a newcomer-the company has been in business for more than 20 years-but the marketer added to its cleanser line this year. The company's aromatic soaps are designed to clean and soften the skin of individuals who work and create with their hands, SunFeather executives said.

SunFeather Chef's Kitchen soap is specially formulated for worn out, over-washed kitchen hands. The cleanser includes rosemary, fennel, cornmeal and cocoa butter, as well as essential oils such as basil, tea tree and tangerine. "The soap is tough enough to clean and remove unpleasant odors, but is gentle enough to soften the skin," according to the company.

Whimsical shapes from International Trade Pacific appeal to a variety of age groups.

Gardener's Hand soap and Worker's Hand soap are also available. The bars retail for $4.95 each.

The Next Step
Bar soaps are getting makeovers, and body washes are being introduced by the dozens, but according to some industry experts, the cleansing category may soon experience an evolution: the use of oil-based soaps and washes.

Stephen Musumeci founded Stephen Est. 1985 to explore not only new products but new product forms, according to company executives.

"The soap category continually evolves, like any other category," said Mr. Musumeci. "Bar soaps in mass were a creation of the 19th century; liquids began to lead in the 20th century. Now, in the new millennium, the next step may be using oils and oil-based products."

Stephen Est. 1985 Oil-Based body washes were developed on the principle that soaps should work with the natural function of the skin, Mr. Musumeci said.

"Many soaps and body washes on the market utilize sodium lauryl sulfate," he pointed out. "SLS acts like a detergent. It cleanses, but unfortunately, it works against the skin by stripping it of its natural protection."

At the same time, overmoisturization can be a problem, Mr. Musumeci pointed out. Stephen Est. 1985 body washes are the solution. "Your skin is set up to protect you," he commented. "Why make its job harder? Our philosophy is that if you give the skin what it wants and needs, it will thank you by looking great."

Although customers have been told for years to stay away from oils on the premise that they can be comedogenic, "what can clog the pores is more often offsetting the flora of the skin-including the natural bacterial balance," he asserted.

Stephen Est. 1985 body washes cleanse effectively while allowing the skin to maintain its own natural protection, Mr. Musumeci said. The body washes are available in ylang ylang, cucumber, lavender, eucalpytus, mango, vanilla and grapefruit. The washes retail for $16 for 4-oz. or $24.50 for 8-oz. The washes turn into a cream form when they contact water, leaving a moisturizing effect.

"Our philosophy is to give the body what it can't do for itself," Mr. Musumeci said. "Our technology keeps getting better and better."

A Little Cleaner
Considering the effect harsh cleansers can have on adult skin, the baby care market has also experienced a revamping when it comes to soaps.

Burt's Bees Inc., Durham, NC, introduced Baby Bee Shampoo bar, "the mildest soap Burt's Bees has ever created for sensitive hair and scalp of all ages," company executives said. The bar can be used as an all-over body cleanser. It is part of the Baby Bee collection and contains oat protein, vegetable glycerin, provitamin B5, almond oil and yucca. The bar retails for $5.

Mom's Kiss in a Bottle, Taylor Falls, MN, offers sodium lauryl sulfate-free products. Instead, Mom's Kiss in a Bottle incorporates sodium laureth sulfate, which the company says has been given the green light in safety and gentleness. The brand's lineup includes a mild Shampoo and Body cleanser which includes lavender and rose.

Bebé Michele, founded by Michele Varsano and launched in September of 2000, offers Baby Sudz Bath wash, a natural liquid cleanser derived from pure castile soap with lavender and chamomile. The product retails for $13.95 for 8-oz.

International Trade Pacific, Northridge, CA, offers soaps that transcend all age groups. The soaps are available in round, square and rectangular shapes and are embedded with whimsical and appealing images including sports themes; animals; hearts; colorful flowers and whimsical shapes. The soaps are hand-made and contain vegetable glycerine for gentleness.

Cleaning Up
After a couple of tough years, the jury is still out on whether or not soaps and body washes will clean up in sales for the future. However, industry executives remain optimistic.

"Our company is relatively new," said Mr. Foster of Nature's Soap Dish. "We started out in the spring of 2000. But we've been growing ever since. It's been a challenge, especially with the economy, but we've been moving ahead."

Tone Island Mist body washes are "so popular that Tone is the fastest-growing body wash in America," Dial executives said.

Growth in this market may come from some surprising areas. For example, according to industry experts, the bar soap market is far from maxed out. For example, Bradford Soap Works, West Warwick, RI, saponifies oils in order to make them the base of certain soaps-a first in the commercially-available category, according to Bradford Soap Works executives. The line is called Eco-Ex. "The soaps don't just contain oils," said John Howland, president of the company, "the oil is the base."

The company is also moving forward with a line of certified organic-based soaps called Organic Choices, and has introduced confetti and shredded soaps. Confetti consists of minerals embedded in the soap for not only appearance but actives. It follows on the heels of the company's striated soaps, which were introduced previously. Shredded soaps are gentle, immediately "melt" on contact with water and are fun to pour and use, executives said.

New ideas spring forth from new technology on a continuous basis, leaving room for growth, according to Mr. Musumeci of Stephen Est. 1985. "We (chemists) are continually finding new ways to use existing technology," he said. "First, we learned how to cleanse; then, how to moisturize and protect. The next step was to incorporate these actions. But that isn't as far as the cleansing category can go. In the future, we'll see new product forms and new ingredients to suit every consumer's need."