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As hair care witnesses growing premiumisation through a spate of launches, claiming to incorporate novel formats and functions, prospects for premium hair care becomes an interesting topic for analysis. Despite this premiumisation in hair care, only 10% of hair care’s US$15 billion absolute growth between 2008 and 2013 actually came from premium hair care, compared to the 30% contribution of premium skin care to the overall skin care growth during the same period.
At the heart of premium skin care’s success lies the never-ending consumer obsession with youthful looks, as they engage in a relentless search for any solution that can restore their ephemeral youth. Facial lines are most closely associated with signs of ageing and hence consumers show no qualms about splurging money on products that offer any hope of making them look younger. It is therefore not surprising that penetration of premium anti-agers is relatively high, as high price is associated with greater efficacy. Hair care has aimed to emulate the same trends seen in skin care, launching products targeted at mature hair, but, unlike skin care, the launches have been more concentrated in the mass segment.
Unlike skin care, anti-ageing segmentation in hair care is not enough to lure consumers to spend on expensive products, since age is not as desperately linked to hair as it is to skin, but manufacturers of premium hair care have lessons to learn from premium skin care. Instead of matching the exact segmentation in premium skin care, hair care manufacturers need to identify the underlying factors that have been driving consumer spending in premium skin care and then apply those principles to premium hair care. The key objective of facial care is concealing and/or preventing facial imperfections such as lines, blemishes, pores and an uneven skin tone, all associated with the ageing process. At the same time, consumers appreciate the challenges in developing products that can address these concerns effectively and associate the high price points with the additional costs involved in research and development and accessing unique and rare ingredients that contribute to greater efficacy. In short, it is consumers’ unceasing desire for rare but efficacious products combined with their perception of sophisticated product technology that has been driving premium skin care.
Therefore, the key question premium hair care manufacturers should ask is – what are the most challenging hair care needs that are also perceived to require a sophisticated formulation? There are two such needs that can fall under this classification – any solution addressing hair loss or greying hair. There are a number of products in the market that address thinning hair, but no mainstream brands exist that either prevent greying hair or restore original hair colour once it starts to grey. Even products positioned as addressing thinning hair are not designed to regenerate slowing hair growth, but are only a variation on products designed either for dry and damaged hair or oily hair. These products, mostly, either lower the frequency of hair loss by reducing breakage on account of dry and damaged hair or wash off excess hair oil or grease from hair strands to give hair a fuller look. Given that the products positioned to address thinning hair are more about a marketing claim than any ground-breaking technology, they have been mostly placed in the mid-segment rather than the upper tier. It is, in fact, unlikely that products that can either regenerate hair growth or address greying hair will be introduced in the immediate future.
Meanwhile, the question is how premium hair care can benefit going forward. While the existing premium hair care brands enjoy a following for reasons unique to the respective brands, attracting new consumers who tend to be inspired by good value for money would require more innovative thinking. Collaboration with hair appliances brands offers scope for growth for premium hair care. Combining hair care devices with hair care products, similar to the trend in skin care, is a potential way forward. Another area of opportunity would be substituting the effect of hair straighteners, which are now common household items, but with heat from these appliances being harmful to hair. There are a number of shampoos and conditioners that are positioned in the hair-straightening segment, but these products only add to the effect rather than actually making hair straight, but more sophistication in formulation could help emulate the effect of hair straighteners more closely and thus have the potential for growth in the premium segment. At the other end of the spectrum, there are solutions to add volume to limp hair, but the effect rarely lasts particularly long after the wash. Hence, solutions that not only add volume but help it to last longer also have the potential to attract consumers in the premium segment. Otherwise, launches that are just a variation of conventional products with a spin on marketing claims have limited scope in premium hair care.