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Here comes the sun

Longer days and warmer weather signal it’s time to stock up on sun-care products.

On the edge of Sudbury, in northern Ontario’s nickel belt, the town of Lively emerges every spring from a long, cold winter to live up to its name. The sun shines brighter, and every day it tantalizes by hanging in the sky just that much longer. It’s then that Brent Battistelli, owner of Battistelli’s Independent Grocer, knows he should start paying closer attention to his sun-care shelves. “In our northern community sun protection has become as important as insect repellent,” he says. “People are just more sun conscious.”

For grocers like Battistelli, it’s no longer good enough to stock a few sunblocks for the errant camper who happens to wander into the store. The category has simply exploded over the past couple of years to offer consumers products with a dizzying array of benefits besides sun protection: anti-aging, moisturizing, self-tanning and, yes, even insect repellent. Driven in part by this category’s constant innovation, the global market for sun-care products is projected to reach US$5.6 billion by 2015, according to a recent Global Industry Analysts report.

Despite the sunny prognosis, sales in Canada appear to be, well, stuck in the shade. Sun-care dollar sales across all retail channels grew only 3%, to $135.5 million for the year ending January 16, 2010, according to the Nielsen Company, MarketTrack. In the grocery and mass retail channel, sales were up just 1% and in the drug channel business was flat.

A healthy message

You might think this stagnation is simply the result of a category reaching its maturity. Hardly. Only about half of people actually use sunscreen on a regular basis, says Dr. Jason Rivers, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of British Columbia. “Lots of people still think they look better and healthier with a tan, so they don’t use sun protection as they should.” Changing that attitude hasn’t been easy, he admits.

Tanning may seem to provide a healthy glow to the skin, but the long-term effects of overexposure to UVA and UVB rays is anything but good for you. Whether emitted by the sun or by artificial lights in tanning beds, these rays are the chief causes of non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers, both of which are on the rise.

At his store, Battistelli understands the sense of urgency. He thinks retailers have an important role to play convincing people not to frolic in the sun without first dolloping on some sunscreen. “We have a pharmacy in our store and it’s very proactive in health education. And we use any signage or point-of-sale materials available from manufacturers so we can advertise the
importance and the proper usage of sunscreen.”

Manufacturers are pitching in, too. Ombrelle, a sun protection brand marketed by L’Oréal Paris, has launched a program called Mission UV that’s taking the safe sun-care message to thousands of primary schools across Canada by providing education packs to teachers and school nurses. Another program called UV Patrol was launched to provide on-the-street education to Canadians during summer months at big events nationwide. “We are on a mission to make the next generation sun smart,” says Pascale Desroches, group product manager on skin care and Ombrelle.

Consumers also need to better understand how to use the products, adds Rivers. “Most don’t put on enough sunscreen so they don’t get the benefit of the SPF on the label.” He would like to see more information at the store level explaining how much sunscreen you should use and reminders to slather the tops of ears, feet and back of the neck, as well as to wear a hat and sunglasses.

New under the sun

While overall sales in sun care may be lagging in Canada, some segments within the category are showing double-digit growth. Mass-market face products, for example, jumped 32% in dollars and 25% in units sold, according to Nielsen data provided by Ombrelle. Considering that exposure to UVA rays is linked to premature aging, it’s no surprise that facial products with sun protection are getting popular. In response, manufacturers are developing sunscreens with added anti-aging components.

But a lot of the innovation lately is aimed at making it easier for consumers to use the products, whether they’re outside for fun or for work. Simply put, people want sunscreens that are waterproof, or non-greasy, or fast absorbing, or that offer moisturizers. Over the last couple of years, for example, sun-care manufacturers have introduced continuous sprays that are easier to apply and have a lighter and less greasy texture compared to traditional lotions. “Consumers with busy lifestyles are continuously seeking convenient and efficient ways of putting on sun protection,” says Desroches.

Also gaining popularity are products with an SPF of 30 or more. Last year, dollar sales of sunscreens with an SPF of 60-plus grew more than 200%, says Desroches; however, a consumer study conducted by L’Oréal Canada found an interesting insight regarding SPF levels. On average, users think that the maximum level at which it would not be worth using a higher level of SPF is 48. Clearly, consumers have a preconceived notion of how much protection they need.

Are they wrong? Not really, says Rivers. Consumers have it just about right while being a bit on the safe side. “I recommend that people use a product with SPF 30 or higher. But there is no benefit to going above 50 SPF. higher than that is more about marketing,” says Rivers, who is developing a combination sunscreen and moisturizer for his own high-end skin-care line, called Riversol.

Consumers who still want a tan without the risk of sun exposure can always turn to sunless tanners, a segment now worth about $8.6 million in all channel sales. Launched with great fanfare a few years ago, sunless tanners have been going through a period of “right-sizing” after explosive growth, says Wendy Montgomery, a brand manager for Jergens, which launched the Natural Glow line of products in 2005. Nielsen MarketTrack data shows stagnant dollar and unit growth for the pre/instant-tan segment in all channel sales. Grocery is the hardest hit with sales dropping 18% in dollars and 25% in units last year.

Many skin-care manufacturers quickly jumped into the sunless tanning market during the early boom, but significant declines occurred when smaller players exited the market, says Montgomery. Now that the glow moisturizer market has settled, she predicts that ever-increasing media attention to the dangers of sun exposure and indoor tanning will keep sunless tanning top-of-mind as a safe way to achieve a natural-looking tan without the risk.

And that may mean even brighter days ahead for sun care.

5 Sun-care sales tips

1. The minute the warm weather hits, get your sun-care products off the shelf and into prepacked stands and satellite displays. These displays are the key to grabbing attention and driving sales during  the critical spring and summer seasons, says Wendy Montgomery, a brand manager for Jergens.

2. Got an in-store pharmacy? Then hold sun-care clinics to provide additional education to consumers. That’s what Bill Fletcher, category manager at Thrifty Foods in Victoria does. “We’re not a destination for sun care,” says Fletcher, but education helps to boost sales.

3. Merchandise sunscreen in brand blocks, starting with premium price points, to mid-value, to value price points as a way to increase basket size.

4. Within each brand block, merchandise sunscreen from the lowest SPF to the highest SPF per segment (body, face, kids, sport). Why? Because SPF is the No. 1 factor shoppers consider when purchasing sun protection, says Pascale Desroches at Ombrelle.

5. Since each segment has a different texture (due to the different SPF levels and filters in the formula), help consumers choose the texture they prefer by merchandising segments together. For example, display body first, face second, kids third and sports last.

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