It is a slippery slope when a product category becomes over-reliant on discount activity to drum up demand. The sun care category urgently needs to recruit new consumers. Plus, it is locked into a cycle of increasingly aggressive pricing to attract those consumers. In the U.K., for example, the buildup to summer 2014 saw a dizzying array of two-for-one sun protection deals in leading supermarkets and pharmacies.
The problem with discounting in sun care is that consumers will not think twice about stockpiling. That rationale is simple enough: Grab a good two-for-one deal if you see one and store away the surplus sun protection or after-sun product until it is needed.
It is easy to see why discounting might seem an attractive route for sun care brands. The category has been negatively affected by the proliferation of multifunctional skin care and color cosmetics, most of which now have UV protection as one of their default functions. Women, especially, increasingly rely on products, such as BB and CC creams, for their daily UV protection—as well as on body lotions as an alternative to after-sun care.
If anything, these trends have narrowed the occasion profile of traditional sun care products. Yes, many people still buy sun care brands for their summer (and winter) vacations. But, even in the vacation period, skin care and color cosmetics are seizing some of the momentum.
A Latin American Lifeline
Such fierce cross-category competition is taking its toll. In 2014, sun care’s global retail value grew at its slowest pace in a decade, according to the latest data from Euromonitor International (based on values at fixed U.S. dollar exchange rates). Tellingly, growth in North America and Western Europe was flat. The category was bailed out, to a large extent, by buoyant demand in Latin America, where sales climbed 18% at fixed U.S. dollar exchange rates to $2.3 billion. In fact, Brazil leapfrogged the U.S. to become the largest sun care market in the world in 2014, with spending reaching $1.7 billion.
Brazil (and Latin America as a whole) is battling strong economic headwinds at the moment, however. If spending power were to tighten significantly, which appears likely, the market could see more and more Latin American consumers skimping on their sun care. This means there is little room for complacency among global sun care brands currently faring well in the region.
Challenges: Functionality, Segmentation and Occasion
The challenge for sun care brands is to come up with more innovative ways of driving up sales, especially in developed markets. Rather than competing on price, brands need to win over consumers with more effective functionality and segmentation strategies. In relation, there remains a need to increase the occasion for using of sun care, especially in markets where consumption is primarily fueled by summer vacations.
To some extent, innovation in functionality is already happening. In Western Europe, for example, a handful of brands is bringing a more sophisticated tan-maximization technology into play. While in Asia-Pacific, growing numbers of sun care brands are offering skin lightening technologies. In both cases, however, the impact on the overall sun care category is still quite small.
The problem is that most consumers, from East to West, perceive sun care as a product with a very specific function. To be clear, it was always going to be easier for skin care and color cosmetics to broaden their functionality platforms because these products were already part of a daily beauty regime for millions of consumers. It was a case of adding value to something that people were already buying into.
The challenge for sun care is much bigger because the category is straitjacketed by its heritage as an occasion-specific product. Even in Brazil, where sun care has managed to elbow its way into the daily routine of growing numbers of middle-class women, its use still declines markedly outside of the summer vacation season.
Connecting With Consumers
It will take time to change consumers’ perception of sun care. The stronger development of brands with anti-aging, moisturizing and skin-hydration benefits will definitely help. But sun care brand owners also need to improve their abilities to increase consumer awareness of the differences in efficacy between their products and the multitasking skin care and color cosmetics of which sun protection is merely an added benefit—not a primary function. Perhaps the sun care category should be more aggressive in its advertising and marketing, and less aggressive in its pricing.
The latest projections from Euromonitor International show Latin America fueling 62% of the category’s absolute global growth (in incremental retail value) through 2019. Such a high level of dependency, in a region tipping toward economic instability, is risky.
At the same time, consumers in Western markets are starting to get comfortable with their multitasking skin care and cosmetics brands—and are brand loyal, to boot. How long will it be before those brands begin to eat significantly into sun care’s vacation occasions, too? Keep in mind that consumers are buying those brands not because they are cheap (on the contrary, they are often quite pricey), but because they give the impression of offering good overall value.