Nonfood

The Color of Personal Care: Diversity in Health and Beauty Aisles

The pandemic underscored a lack of representation on store shelves of personal-care items created by and for Black and Brown consumers—and some retailers are working to change that
Walmart Baby Dove
Photograph courtesy of Walmart

Self-care came into its own in the early weeks and months of the COVID-19 pandemic, with consumers seeking out products they hoped would help fortify their immune system and support their mental well-being—or even just provide a 20-minute at-home respite from the day’s pressures and uncertainties.

Then, too, was the fact that many of the venues that consumers turned to for personal care for themselves and their families—salons, spas and gyms in particular—were operating under pandemic restrictions well into this year. And so, whether consumers found themselves buying more health and beauty products at retail by choice or by necessity, buy they did.

Grocery nail-care sales, for example, spiked more than 34% in the first half of 2020, according to NielsenIQ data. A survey from Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group late last year found 40% of women saying they were using skincare products more often than they did in pre-pandemic times. More time spent at home and an expanded willingness to try new products boosted the beauty and personal-care category overall. Despite a falloff in makeup and prestige-brand sales, the segment ended 2020 with 16% dollar growth for the year, NielsenIQ reported in June.

But while the pandemic prompted a surge in interest in buying personal-care products from grocers and mass merchandisers, whether in store or online, it also underscored longstanding gaps for retailers in the category—specifically, a limited representation on many large retailers’ shelves of products created with Black, Brown and other historically marginalized consumers in mind and a lack of culturally inclusive marketing of personal-care products.

“Multicultural beauty consumers had to pivot past the general population when spending on personal care during the pandemic,” NielsenIQ noted in April. More than two in five Black women (41%) said the pandemic prompted changes to their hair styling and maintenance regimens, NielsenIQ’s research found. And as many consumers scaled back their makeup purchases and cosmetics took a back seat, promotion-wise, for retailers, Latinx consumers continued to spend in the category: Latinx consumers were 1.4 times more likely than other consumer groups to buy lip cosmetics, Nielsen noted, and were the only cohort to increase their purchase of color cosmetics in 2020.  

The need for grocery retailers to revisit their personal-care product and supplier lineups—and their messaging to customers—became all the more clear in 2020 as not only the pandemic but also anti-racism and social-justice protests spurred calls for businesses to act with more urgency to advance equity and inclusion throughout their operations. Nearly two in five Black U.S. consumers (39%) surveyed by Nielsen this year said they planned to buy more products from Black-owned brands, and 29% indicated that they planned to buy from brands that have spoken out about Black Lives Matter.

That need for more-diverse personal-care category assortments carries continued urgency especially for brick-and-mortar retailers looking to avoid losing sales permanently to online-only brands and channels. “Hispanic and African American consumers have a track record of far outspending other ethnic groups when it comes to beauty and personal care, and we can expect multicultural consumers to fuel cosmetics growth,” Nielsen analysts wrote.

More retailers in the past year are taking note: St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets and Grand Rapids-based Meijer both launched supplier diversity initiatives in partnership with San Francisco marketing firm ECRM and its CPG product-discovery platform, RangeMe. Meijer and Dollar General, which last fall hosted its second Supplier Diversity and Innovation Summit with RangeMe, both cited beauty and personal-care products as top priorities within the context of their supplier-diversity programs.

“We want our suppliers to be more reflective of the communities we serve,” said Adrian Moore, who leads supplier diversity and category planning for Schnucks. Working with diverse suppliers not only helps Schnucks “bring our customers the products they are looking for when they visit our stores” but also helps the family-owned grocer “do our part to support equity and inclusion in our communities,” Moore said.

Minneapolis-based Target Corp., which now stands at more than 1,900 stores across the country, in April announced a commitment to spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by the end of 2025. Products designed for wavy, curly and coiled hair, including actress Tracee Ellis Ross’s Pattern hair-care line, and skincare created for melanin-rich skin also feature prominently in Target’s recent debut of Ulta Beauty at Target. That shop-in-shop concept, which launched in August in more than 100 stores and on Target.com, features 50-plus beauty brands and lets online shoppers virtually try on cosmetics, such as vibrantly hued eyeshadow palettes from Black-owned Juvia’s Place.

In addition to the Ulta partnership and its work to expand supplier diversity, Target maintains a dedicated “Buy Black” page on its website to showcase Black-owned brands in categories including hair care, beauty, and baby an essentials. Recent popular additions to Target shelves, the company noted, include Kinky-Curly’s Knot Today leave-in detangler, made with organic fruit extracts and herbs; Scotch Porter’s Immunity Boost Beard Health Kit; and Urban Hydration’s Bright and Balanced Aloe Vera Leaf Face Wash.

Earlier this month, Target publicly announced its Building Blocks for Better Products (B3P) program, an initiative through which the retailer is currently working with 27 Black, indigenous- and people-of-color-owned and founded businesses in the healthy and beauty space. A main focus of the program is on helping participating businesses in their work to develop and produce "clean" health and beauty products. 

“We have a rich history of working with diverse businesses, but there’s more we can do to spark change across the retail industry, support the Black community and ensure Black guests feel welcomed and represented when they shop at Target," Target EVP and Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington said in a news release in April.

For rival Walmart, better meeting the needs and expectations of a customer base as diverse as the U.S. itself—some 95% of Americans shop at or order from Walmart at least once a year, the company has reported—includes offering diverse product lineups for consumers of all ages.

In August, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer announced the launch of a new, Walmart-exclusive line of Baby Dove skin and hair products created in partnership with Unilever. More than half of babies born in the U.S. today are non-white or multiracial, and melanin-rich skin and hair have unique care needs, Walmart VP of Merchandise Ralph Clare noted in a company blog post. As a parent of multiracial children, Clare wrote, “I understand the frustration with the lack of baby-care products formulated for little ones whose darker skin and textured hair are more prone to dryness.”

The new Baby Dove line features Melanin-Rich Skin Nourishment products as well as Curl Nourishment hair products in gentle, hypoallergenic formulas. In supporting Unilever’s development of the line, Walmart sought to “serve the needs of polycultural families with an assortment that covers the full routine of caring for their babies’ skin and hair,” Walmart U.S. baby-care merchant Paulo Araujo told WGB via email. Intentional investment in promoting the new, Walmart-exclusive line, also is a priority to ensure that “parents who are watering down adult products or mixing their own products know that we made something specific for them with ingredients they already trust,” Araujo added.

The trust factor is crucial in building sales of personal-care products among consumers willing to spend elsewhere if a CPG brand or retailer doesn’t meet their expectations for choice and inclusivity. A 2020 survey of Black U.S. adults conducted by data and research firm Morning Consult found two-thirds of respondents saying they don’t see people like themselves and communities like theirs represented much or at all in marketing materials. And as far back as the pre-pandemic days of 2019, more than two in five shoppers polled by Accenture said they had shifted at least 10% of their business away from a retailer that doesn’t reflect how important inclusion and diversity is to them. Twenty-nine percent of all shoppers and 42% of ethnic-minority shoppers said they would switch to a retailer more committed to inclusion and diversity.

Equity in Self-Care
As consumer interest in “clean” self-care products—those made with a limited number of primarily plant-sourced ingredients, for example, and/or those made without undesired chemicals such as parabens—continues to grow, an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) initiative is calling out discrepancies in how these products are developed and marketed.

“Clean beauty is on the rise, but efforts are predominantly focused on products marketed to white women,” CleanBeautyJustice.org states on its website. Boma Brown-West, a director at the EDF who leads engagement with CPG manufacturers and retailers, noted in an EDF blog post last year that while “claims like ‘paraben-free’ and ‘phthalate-free’ are starting to appear for some beauty products, they’re not showing up as often in products marketed to people of color.”

Meanwhile, a 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Research found that 84% of chemicals detected in hair products marketed to Black women weren’t listed on the product labels. Further, the researchers found, hair relaxers for children contained five chemicals regulated by California's Proposition 65 (targeting chemicals that can cause cancer or birth defects) or prohibited by European Union cosmetics regulation. “Hair products used by Black women and children contained multiple chemicals associated with endocrine disruption and asthma,” the study’s authors wrote.

The need for equity in access at retail to clean health and beauty products that meet the needs of diverse consumers became only more urgent as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, as consumers shifted their personal-care routines and began spending more on at-home products. As of this spring, Black consumers were 2.4 times more likely than the average shopper to buy at-home hair treatments, NielsenIQ reported in April.

“The color of your skin or texture of your hair shouldn’t block your access to clean beauty products,” CleanBeautyJustice.org states. The organization urges consumers to look for products independently certified (as by the Environmental Working Group, for example) as containing safer ingredients. It also urges them to ask retailers about their definition of—and available assortment of—“clean” skin- and hair-care products.

 

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