The traditional soap market has been transformed by smaller marketers offering a variety of niche products.
By James P. Hickey
Bar soap is by far the largest segment in the hand and bath soap category. In 1998, soap bar sales accounted for 62.7% of dollars spent on hand and bath soap, according to A.C. Nielsen Co. Specialty soaps such as those inspired by Medieval times and others featuring UV protection are accounting for more and more of this category.
Bar soap sales totalled nearly $1.4 billion, according to Information Resources, Inc., Chicago, IL for the year ending July 18. International giant Unilever markets three of the top five soaps. Dove led the pack with $281 million in sales, Lever 2000 took third with $137 million and Caress finished No. 5 with $92 million. Dial (No. 2 with $154 million in sales) and Irish Spring from Colgate-Palmolive (No. 4 with $93 million in sales) round out the top five.
Colgate-Palmolive is trying to improve its sales with the launch of Irish Spring Aloe. The top bar soap brand among men, Irish Spring Aloe is the first deodorant soap with aloe specifically formulated for men, according to Colgate-Palmolive. With its proprietary enhanced skin protection formula, Irish Spring Aloe retains the skin’s natural moisture. No other men’s deodorant soap has this benefit, according to Colgate-Palmolive.
“Because of our state-of-the-art moisture retention formula, skin retains more of its natural moisture with this soap,” said Sheila Hopkins, vice president and general manager of U.S. personal care, Colgate-Palmolive. “It leaves skin feeling healthy, not tight and dry.”
New Irish Spring Aloe is the latest addition to the Irish Spring portfolio, which includes Irish Spring Original, Waterfall Clean and Sport. Irish Spring Aloe shipped in August and became available at food, drug and mass merchandisers last month.
Looking For A Niche
As Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever and Dial slug it out at the top of the charts, small companies with big ideas are trying to break into the lucrative soap market. One such company is Medieval, Los Angeles, CA, which, according to owner and founder Jacqueline Collen, “offers a pinch of romance, a sprinkling of fantasy and large doses of love of all things natural.” A former model and actress, Ms. Collen first thought of the idea for the company when she was modeling in France and didn’t know the French language. Ms. Collen would go to the grocery store and try to read shampoo labels but couldn’t understand product labels listing the ingredients. But her return home did not help matters. “I came back to the States and still had no idea what the labels were saying with all their chemical names,” she said. “It was at this point that I started making my own products for myself and friends.” Her goal was to make products with ingredients as simple and natural as possible. “I try to use products that go back to the medieval days,” she said. “I created Medieval out of necessity and came to love the line so much that I decided to bring it to other consumers interested in using natural, traditional and pure products.”
The Medieval line includes soaps, oils, bath blends, lotions and perfumes that look and feel as though they were transported from the world of Camelot, King Arthur and Merlin. The soap products help to create a medieval fantasy, according to Ms. Collen. “These cold processed soaps contain essential oils that offer aromatherapy benefits.” The Medieval bath and body collection consists of many recipes known and used for centuries because of their healing and beautifying properties. Ms. Collen researched and prepared these medieval-inspired recipes for 10 years at her southern California farm before deciding to market her own line. With the company less than a year old, the products are already sold in Fred Speigel’s Apothica store in Los Angeles and fine bath and body specialty stores across the country. Nineteen products are now available and two more are scheduled to be launched next year.
Each Medieval soap is made with pure vegetable oils and other simple, natural ingredients. They are available in a variety of blends, including castle (a pure castile soap made with milk, olive oil and the natural scent of sandalwood), schullery (made with oatmeal and orange peel to scrub away rough skin), tudor (fragranced with essential oils, the soap is made with dried roses and rose hips), wise-woman (an all natural remedy for dry skin that contains gentle elder flowers and glycerin), daisy-chain (for sensitive skin and babies, this soap contains marigold and lavender), knot garden (filled with rosemary leaves, this soap has aromatherapy benefits for achy muscles) and bee-skep (moisturizes dry skin with sweet honey and beeswax ingredients). All the soaps retail for $9.50. Committed to a world as pure and natural as the one that inspired the collection, the products are all packaged in recycled packaging, using glass, sealing wax or other natural packaging, said Ms. Collen.
Burt’s Bees is also bringing natural ingredients to the bar soap category with Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Buttermilk Soap, formulated with pure and gentle ingredients that, according to the compnay, are ideal for baby’s tender, delicate skin. The soap blends botanical oils, beeswax, vitamin E, ground herbs and flower petals for naturally rich, yet mild, pampering personal care products.
According to the Raleigh, N.C. based company, the soap never uses commercial or deodorant soap, which can irritate a baby’s skin with harsh cleansers and chemicals. Buttermilk soap is a vegetable-based bath soap that contains no animal fat. The soap is billed as a natural, soothing and softening soap to the skin. It also contains honey, which the company maintains is an excellent natural moisturizer, adding a natural sweet scent. The new round shape of the bar fits easily in the hand.
Thymes, Ltd., Minneapolis, MN, launched a number of new products in June. In the body care arena, it introduced a sugar scrub, a hydrating body oil, an AHA crème and three different soap bars to reflect the ingredients of the three different formulas of the Repairitif Collection.
According to Molly Fiedler, product development and technical affairs manager of Thymes, Ltd., the acceptance of the shower gels and body wash in the U.S. during the past decade has been quite astounding. “We have over-whelmingly accepted what was once primarily a European concept,” said Ms. Fiedler. “This is partly due, I think, to convenience and the ease of application. Many Americans believe that body washes are more sanitary.”
Ms. Fiedler said that consumers are exchanging their bar of soap for a gel/wash product in the shower, a shift being felt by bar soap manufacturers. “However, we have all seen quite a bit of creativity coming out of the soap arena,” she said. “Much of the soap developed in the last few years have incorporated herbs, inventive soap shapes and sizes and soaps, when scliced reveal visible ingredients for visual pleasure and uniqueness.”
Shower Gel With SPF
Consumers may have accepted rosemary needles in their soap, but UV absorbers in their body wash? Performance Brands, Inc., Plantation, FL, recently launched SoapScreen, a daily sun protection product which combines an SPF 12 and moisturizing body wash in one easy-to-use formula. According to company executives, the product can be used every day so that users can achieve clean, healthy feeling skin with the added benefits of sun protection. The gentle, oil free formula is enriched with aloe vera and vitamins A, E and C, said Stacy Kaufman, president of Performance Brands, Inc. SoapScreen has been clinicially tested so it’s safe to use to protect users from harmful UVA and UVB rays. The product’s rich moisturizing formula is water resistant for up to 80 minutes.
SoapScreen delivers the all-day benefit of SPF 12 through a one-of-a-kind system that combines gentle, oil-free body cleansers with its patent pending Sunscreen Barrier System with active ingredients of octyl methoxy cinnamate, octyl salicylate and oxybenzone. “Con-sumers are more health-conscious than ever before,” said Mr. Kauf-man. “By simply showering with SoapScreen every morning, the entire family is protected daily against harmful UV rays, which not only come from being outside in the sun, but also from indoor lighting and computer monitors.”
According to Mr. Kaufman, clinical studies show the SoapScreen pre-rinse application provides an average SPF of 34 and a post-rinse SPF of 12 or higher. “The revolutionary product’s delivery system combines soap with sunscreen, which attaches to the skin’s protein layers without a greasy, oily residue,” he said.
While SoapScreen is not a replacement for traditional sunscreen, it is adequate for the moderate sun exposure that occurs when driving a car or walking short distances. After showering with SoapScreen, consumers will be protected until they apply their regular sunscreen for outdoor activities.
The product label instructs users to air or pat dry, rather than towel dry after application. According to the company, toweling down after a shower will decrease the effectiveness of the product. Mr. Kaufman said that towel tests have shown that SoapScreen levels are diminished, but varied on participants. “We will begin cumulative testing in January,” he said. “So far, internal towel drying tests have been good.” SoapScreen was waterproofed tested and those results have also been positive.
Available in Sam’s stores, the company hopes to attract other vendors such as K-Mart as well as smaller, independent drug stores. “It is a unique item that stores have a problem placing,” he said. “We want it in the body wash category.” The three things that consumers, he said, want are inexpensive products that are convenient to use and effective. SoapScreen delivers all these benefits, he said, while making the point that it is a body wash, shower product, not a sunscreen. “This is the real category for these products because people are looking for this protection on a daily basis,” he stated.
Bath and Body Growth
Bath and Body Works has introduced two liquid cleansers to its line of fragrant toiletries: Smoothing Shower Scrub, an exfoliating cleanser and Foam Burst Body Wash, a gel that transforms into a lather in the shower. “We have also launched a series of bar soaps with wonderful fragrances and visual appeal in our seasonal collections,” said Jack Krause, vice president, group product director, Bath and Body Works. Aromatherapy has been relaunched with new cleansing formulas that utilize essential oils and herbal extracts with specific skin enhancing benefits.
The popularity of specialty retailers has fueled the growth of the body wash segment. “Specialty customers have demands for product/fragrance performance that are very difficult to achieve in a bar soap,” he said. “At the same time our soap business has grown as we focus on new flavors and visual cues.”
“Overall the use of liquid cleansers continues to grow and has become a core part of our customer’s daily routine,” said Mr. Krause.
Mr. Krause and other soap executives who spoke to Happi agreed that soaps with antimicrobial properties continue to gain consumer acceptance. Bath and Body Works is focusing on hand and foot products that are used outside of the shower. “The growth in our antibacterial line has been tremendous and is based on our ability to deliver products that meet customer needs in an enjoyable way,” he said. Customer demand for germ fighting products has been consistent and Mr. Krause noted that new innovative product forms such as quick dring hand spray, foot lotion, foot spray and portable soap leaves are examples of this. “We expect our sales in this category to grow with continual product innovations,” he stated.
Ms. Fiedler of Thymes opined that the antimicrobial trend will continue to advance horizontally as well as enter into the upper markets. “The mass market started (the anti-bacterial trend) and I don’t think it has topped out yet. The American consumer continues to discover it and shares the idea with friends and family,” she said. “Americans have come to understand the potential for ‘sharing germs’ with each other and want to protect themselves and their families from any unnecessary illnesses. The fear of chronic disease, along with growing insecurities regarding the health care and health insurance industries, has caused many consumers to turn to prevention.”
“I think the upscale market adaptations have just begun as the consumer looks for more moisturizing ingredients and a desire for an upscale fragrance added to their antimicrobial product,” she added.Ms. Fiedler said that some of the new trends on the horizon include multi-purpose products such as body gel and shampoo and body and shampoo soap bar. “I think the soap market has been transformed. In the not so distant past, the assortment of bath products was pretty slim where only a few players existed, most with a mass appeal,” she said. “In the past five to eight years, this particular market has grown an enormous amount in its offerings to the consumer. The now established bath and body market realizes that the consumer is looking for quality fragrance and effective product at all price points. And today the marketplace clearly offers these products on all levels."