Are Western European men ready to embrace a skin care regime?

In men’s grooming products razors, blades and deodorants continue to provide staple income for competitors, comprising around 62% of total global sales. However, it is recognised that niche areas such as men’s bath and shower and men’s skin care products offer further avenues for stimulating growth by diversifying beyond the traditional realms of men’s grooming products.

This is evident from their robust growth in 2002 and the contrasting moderate performances of men’s deodorants, razors and blades, and pre-shave products.

Growing by 25% in 2002, men’s skin care in Western Europe is one of the key drivers of such developments. Per capita spending on men’s skin care products in Western Europe rocketed by a phenomenal 134% between 1997-2002.

This growth rate is only surpassed by that of Australasia, however, there is no comparison in value terms given that Australasia is a fledgling market worth US$3.2 mn while Western Europe ranks as the world’s second largest men’s skin care market at US$104 mn, after Asia Pacific.

While men’s skin care has been touted as the next big thing for some time now, it remains a drop in the ocean within the context of the men’s grooming market in Western Europe, comprising a mere 2% of total retail sales. However, growing interest from a number of companies in 2002 hints at the fact that it could finally be ready to take off after a number of false starts.

Nivea for Men initiates a revolution

Men’s skin care had previously been the domain of prestige brands, with Estée Lauder being viewed as something of a veteran in the field with Aramis Lab Series and Clinique for Men. Though growth has been solid in dollar terms, in recent years these brands have suffered a decline in market share with the emergence of a new generation of brands such as Nivea for Men and Biotherm Homme.

To a large extent product ranges to date have been aimed at polarised demographics – either late teens and early 20s or baby boomers. Therefore brands such as Aramis, which itself caters for the latter category, have found their market share constricted as new brands attempt to capture consumers in their mid 20s and early 30s. To counter the impact of the changing competitive environment Aramis is now seeking to rebrand its ranges with a more youthful outlook in mind.

The unparalleled success of Nivea for Men heralded a breakthrough at the mass end of the spectrum opening up the possibilities for development within men’s skin care and enabling products to be accessible to a wider consumer base. Furthermore, Nivea for Men appeals to image conscious young men to whom grooming is no longer perceived to compromise masculinity, which in turn has stimulated demand for men’s skin care products.

Smoothing the way for new entrants

In Western Europe men’s skin care is characterised by a concentration of companies which have a solid background in skin care. Over three quarters of the market share is held by three companies, Beiersdorf, L’Oréal and Estée Lauder. This raises issues about the ease with which companies can leverage brand equity built on other men’s grooming products. Brands are associated to have particular strengths, therefore loyalty is a major issue in trying to penetrate men’s skin care.

This however is not a concern for Clarins who entered the fray in September 2002 with the ClarinsMen skin care line, seeking to utilise its expertise in women’s skin care to tap into a growing niche. In addition, Lancôme’s intention to unveil a new men’s skin care range in Autumn 2003 further hints at the fact that male consumers are sufficiently educated and open to incorporating skin care products into their grooming regime. Lancôme’s planned move follows an earlier attempt to penetrate men’s skin care, though in 1987 Lancôme Programme Homme was withdrawn from the market.

UK leads the way…

The largest men’s skin care markets in Western Europe are the UK, Italy, France and Germany, which is indicative of their status as the most developed men’s grooming markets in the region. However, it was the UK which proved to be the key driver of growth in 2002. A high degree of education among male consumers and fervent product development were contributors in fuelling growth in the UK. However, the power of Nivea for Men cannot be underestimated in the development of men’s skin care in this market – in 2002 the brand captured 46% of sales, which were up 89% on the previous year.

….while smaller markets break with conformity

Burgeoning demand was witnessed in smaller markets such as Denmark and the Netherlands. The trend reflects a relaxation in traditionally conservative attitudes about the use of cosmetics and toiletries products by men. In addition, there is increasing awareness about personal appearance and health consciousness, particularly among young men. This is being led by the influence of lifestyle magazines such as FHM and Men’s Health which are a relatively new concept themselves in these markets and are leading to increased exposure for men’s products.

There are still some barriers hindering progress, though these are likely to ease as the market for men’s skin care starts to mature. For instance, the lack of an extensive male-specific range of products in some countries such as the Netherlands means that men often continue to use products which are targeted at women. As such it is commonplace for Dutch men to buy facial or body care products offered by brands such as Dove or Nivea.

Furthermore, a high proportion of women still make purchases for men. Nonetheless, this percentage is on the decrease, something aided by the increase in single person households. In the UK alone, single person households have grown by 28% between 1997 and 2002.* This means that men who previously used their partner’s products now have greater freedom of choice beyond what was offered in the familial environment and encourages them to make their own purchases.

Courting the male consumer

An obstacle in the past has been the perception that cosmetics and toiletries products are too feminine. As such these trends point to a crucial breakthrough in perception and it will encourage manufacturers that price is not regarded as a pivotal issue. Moreover, changing attitudes underline the importance of carefully targeted communication about products. To continue to progress heavy promotional activity coupled with education will remain key factors. Therefore media coverage regarding product launches as well as the provision of basic information about the benefits of products is essential. In line with this, the packaging for the new ClarinsMen range sends out “visual codes” about the functions of each product.

One possible way around any concern that men’s skin care products are too feminine is to persuade male consumers to increase their usage of post-shave products before weaning them on to skin care offerings. Manufacturers are playing on the notion that men are principally concerned with functionality over aesthetics, introducing a growing number of after shave balms seeking to alleviate the problems of shaving irritation, and products specially formulated for sensitive skins.

However, as personal appearance grows in importance, trends in men’s skin care are beginning to echo those established in women’s facial skin care, including a focus on anti-ageing and vitamin-enriched formulations.

In 2001 Beiersdorf introduced Nivea for Men Revitalising Q10 which utilises natural skin component Coenzyme Q10 to improve the skin’s energy levels and strengthen its natural repair process. A more recent introduction was Nivea’s Refreshing Wipes for Men, intended to imitate the dynamic growth of the wipe format evident in women’s facial care. While Clinique Skin Supplies for Men Eye Treatment formula – a hydrating cream gel which strengthens eye-area skin and targets under eye darkness – further illustrates the extent of the cross over in trends.

Beyond facial care, body care provides considerable uncharted territory for companies to tap into as well. Eyeing this opportunity Biotherm has introduced Abdosculpt body firming gel which contains a concentrate of active natural plant ingredient designed to work on localised fatty deposits over targeted areas of the body such as the stomach.

This serves to highlight the potential for increasingly sophisticated and diverse products lines offered to men. However, it remains to be seen how far companies will have to go to change male consumer habits, to the extent that moisturisers will be as commonplace as razors on men’s shopping lists.

* Number of households by number of persons (1 person) – Euromonitor GMID