Marketers Try to Stay Afloat In European Bath & Shower

By Imogen Matthews, Consultant | January 1, 2014

In recent years, the European bath and shower market has struggled to keep pace with other beauty sectors, both in terms of value growth and new product ideas. Although shower gels and bath liquids are a daily essential for most people, intense price competitiveness has resulted in poor customer loyalty. However, there are some bright spots, which include the growth in home spa products and an increasing sophistication among men for their grooming routines.

According to Datamonitor, the European bath and shower market was valued at nearly $6.8 billion in 2012, posting a growth of just 2% on the previous year. The Big 5 are now represented by Germany, $1.2 billion; France, $826 million; the UK, $765 million; Italy, $648 million; and Russia, $353 million. Spain dropped to sixth place with sales of about $321 million. All the major countries have registered low single digit growth. Only in Turkey have bath and shower products increased more strongly, up 11% in 2012 on sales of $214 million.

Shower products take the lion’s share of sales, accounting for 69.8% of the total European market, followed by liquid bath products at 24.5%. In France, shower products dominate, taking 96.5% of all sales, highlighting consumers’ preference for showering over bathing. Culturally, UK and Russian consumers are quite different and bathing is much more important. Sales of liquid bath products account for 40.3% and 40.7% of the UK and Russian markets, respectively.

According to Kantar WorldPanel, shower products are most popular in Spain and used by 92% of the population. However, frequency of use is higher in France, where consumers use a shower product every day. The UK has the lowest penetration of shower products, reflecting Brits’ greater preference for bar soap.

Two-thirds of shower product usage among Europeans is for shower gels, which account for 67% of usage occasions. Body washes account for 12% of usage, shower cream/milk/lotion, 8%; all over hair and body shampoo, 6% and shower foam, 5%.
The Italians are most likely to try other formats in the shower, especially shower foams, which represent 26% of the usage occasions, compared to only 36% for shower gels. Body washes are very popular in the UK, accounting for 36% of usage occasions.

Low Customer Loyalty
Overall, the European bath and shower market has become polarized as many consumers seek value due to pressures on disposable income, while others look to pamper themselves with indulgent and premium products offering something different from the mainstream brands sold on discount. Typically, the major brands like Nivea, Radox, Dove, Sanex and Imperial Leather compete on price, with little else to differentiate them. Private label is also strong at the value end of the bath market and there has been an increase in cheaper brands mimicking well-known ones. Baylis & Harding, for example, specializes in selling bath, shower and handwashes at rock bottom prices in packaging that makes you look twice as it so strongly resembles premium brands, including Molton Brown (Baylis & Harding’s Black Pepper and Ginseng Hand Wash) and Cowshed (Baylis & Harding’s Skin Spa). Sweet Mandarin and Grapefruit is one of Baylis & Harding’s best-selling variants.

These days, time-pressed consumers regard bathing as an indulgence to be enjoyed on an occasional basis, once or twice a week. French users are the least likely to use a bath additive in an average week, while UK users are the most engaged in terms of penetration and frequency of use. Bath liquids are the most popular format for the bath, accounting for 81% of usage occasions across Europe. In Spain, they are less popular and other formats also come into play. Bath oils are more popular in Germany, while bath bombs have a higher share of bath product occasions in Italy.

Busy, on-the-go lifestyles are driving the trend for products that can be used when away from home, creating a need for more portable products and smaller pack sizes, as well as travel size products. Men, as well as women, are embracing this trend and there has been an increase in male-focused ranges launching into the shower products category. For example, Unilever UK followed the success of the Lynx Manwasher with a slightly more premium variant designed for men with sensitive skin. Dove Men + Care Shower Tool is a dual-sided tool including a mesh side to lather up the shower gel and an exfoliating “scrubber” side. Unilever UK expects the Dove Men + Care and Lynx Manwasher to help create a combined opportunity of $4.9 million.

Spa at Home
According to Katie Page, head of personal care research, Datamonitor, the “cocooning” trend is about consumers pampering themselves at home, rather than spending money on salon or spa treatments out of home. “This is not just about saving money in a recession. Another driver of this trend is the fact that consumers see home as a place that they want to spend more time in—to retreat from busy lifestyles or because they’ve invested a lot in creating their ideal home environment. As such, sensory/indulgent and premium product attributes and marketing cues are important to convey the sense of an indulgent/treating experience at home.”

This trend is particularly prevalent in countries such as Italy and France, where a visit to the salon had traditionally been part of many women’s grooming routines. Spending cutbacks have resulted in strong demand for at-home spa products.

A number of UK retailers have teamed up with well-known spas to sell moderately priced bath and body ranges through their stores. Recent launches include Ragdale Hall Spa for Marks & Spencer and country spa retreat Calcot Manor for supermarket Tesco. Steiner Group-owned Mandara Spa sells a range of Eastern-inspired spa products through supermarket Sainsbury while the Champneys and Sanctuary Spa ranges are available in Boots.

Sales of bath and shower products in Europe will remain extremely modest, according to Datamonitor, which forecasts a 2% compound annual growth rate up to 2017. Although discounting will continue to depress sales, brands and retailers need to develop new and inspiring niches to retain consumers’ interest in the category.

Imogen Matthews
Headington, Oxford UK
Tel: +44 1865 764918

Imogen Matthews is a respected consultant, journalist and researcher focusing on trends in the beauty industry. She regularly contributes to many of the world’s foremost beauty trade titles. Every year in April, she publishes The Premium Market Report, focusing on trends in the UK premium beauty markets.