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Green shoots in challenging times


As the Chinese market evolves, shifting to a quasi-developed status, categories mature and the previously double digit growth rates become harder to find. The ‘low hanging fruit’ of category development is becoming scarcer and marketers need to adapt to this new normal by shifting strategic priorities.

Skin cleansing categories provide a good example of this trend. Over the last ten years shower gel has grown rapidly on the back of massive expansion of user base while bar soap sales have been maintained by manufacturer push on larger packs. But habits continue to change and marketers need to ensure that strategy is optimized to best reflect the latest consumer needs and attitudes to their categories.

Kantar Worldpanel 1 has been continuously tracking individuals personal care usage over the last four years and is a unique position in be able to analyze how brands can best respond to the new normal through best serving your consumers’ needs.

Bar soap – managed decline

Bar soap is not a fashionable category. In the last couple of years bars have sales decline as penetration2 of shower gel has now reached 86% amongst women living in developed cities (tiers 1&23). We see limited creative media supporting it, and when we do, it is normally driven by legal restrictions over shower gel functional claims (see Safeguard & Lifebuoy range communications). However with over 78.5% families buying in a year, it remains widely popular and is sometimes the product format that consumers first experience a brand with.

How best to approach a category such as this? One of the key things to remember is that there are still a large group of consumers who remain loyal to the format as their preferred body wash format. Only half of men older than 46 currently use a shower gel to wash their body. Few shower gel brands cater for this generation, ignored by the specialized male brands targeting the 80s / 90s generations (Lynx/Adidas) and the more general, shared young family brands (Safeguard/Liushen). They are hard to talk to with few men of this generation involved in the purchase decision (Less than 30% of them are key decision maker) and key functional needs are normally best catered for by bar soaps as anti-germ is the most important function they seek. Consequently these men are not a natural target for upgrading to shower gel and will remain natural users of bar soap for body wash.

With communication channels likely to be ineffective at speaking to these men, product availability at point of purchase is crucial. Brands need to ensure that hero anti-germ SKUs have widespread distribution and that supply chain management is optimized to prevent product shortages.

Shower gel – developed doesn’t mean no development

We’ve seen how there remains limited headroom for continued category development for shower gel in China top tiers. But there remain powerful consumer trends in usage for brands to exploit.

The three most important benefits in shower gel are ‘moisturizing’, ‘smelling nice after use’ and ‘refreshing’. With men focusing more on refreshing and cooling sensations females priorities lie firmly with fragrance both during and after usage. Despite this, few product lines have fragrance as the core proposition. Do opportunities exist in this?

With shower gel, even beauty brands, traditionally being used across families (61% shared usage) there have been barriers to highly targeted female fragrance lines. But in 2013, Lux repositioned itself as primarily a perfume brand, and has seen strong performance from its perfume line – driving overall brand growth. Even for brands as diverse as Safeguard, 34% of users recognise fragrance as a trigger to usage (5 points above the category average).

Furthermore, shifts in usage habits are breaking down barriers to perfume lines. Over the last three years we’ve seen increased individual usage (change from 63% shared usage to 60% in 3 years), an increased number of women using a shower gel just for them. This provides more opportunities for highly feminised brands over the coming five years. There are opportunities for brand and product line innovation in order to cater for these trends.

In today’s climate, with categories’ growth slowing manufacturers need to understand the latest trends in consumers usage and needs to optimize performance. Speak to your Kantar Worldpanel representative to understand how our usage panel can help you further.


Notes to editor:

  1. Kantar Worldpanel China continuously tracks usage behaviours of all personal care categories in tier 1 and tier 2 cities of China.
  2. Usage penetration is defined as the percentage of individual using a particular category/brand in an average week
  3. Tier 1 and Tier 2 citiesFour key cities(Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu), provincial-level cities covered by Kantar Worldpanel research.
Green shoots in challenging times

Green shoots in challenging times

Get in touch

Elaine Liu
Senior Account Manager

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