BODY WASHES SCRUB AWAY AT BAR SOAP

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Body washes are cleaning up in the bathroom as marketers aggressively spend to float new products. But don't expect a sea change in consumer habits yet.

Bar soaps have hardly undergone a meltdown. But a rush of new body shampoos in the last year, with more still to come, is squeezing bar soap sales.

Total bar soap sales dipped 0.6% to $1.5 billion, while body washes, also called shower gels, came out of nowhere to reach $185 million in the 52 weeks ended July 2, according to Information Resources Inc.

By yearend, companies such as Dial Corp. and Kao Jergens are looking for body shampoos to jump about 48% to $275 million in sales, roughly the equivalent of the much older liquid hand soap segment in the $2 billion personal cleansing market.

Jeffrey Hill, managing director at Meridian Consulting Group, Westport, Conn., views the segment as a "niche opportunity with upscale women and peaking at $300 million to $400 million in sales" by the end of '96.

But some marketers expect that during the next two years, body washes could account for about $500 million in sales if they continue to drive growth. In 1994, body washes generated more than 50% of total category sales gains.

While the segment doesn't have the 85% market penetration here seen in some countries, so far body washes are more than a fad, even though not all marketers are convinced of their staying power.

"If there's enough consumer benefit, body washes will stick around," said one marketing executive whose company has moved into the segment. "Remember pump toothpastes. The consumer finally sat up and said, `This costs three times as much as my old tube of toothpaste, which worked just fine."'

But major marketers seem to be certain body washes aren't deja vu, having watched Jergens, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Oil of Olay and Unilever's Caress record big gains in the past year. To date, Jergens remains the leader in the segment with a 28.3% share for its Jergens Refreshing Body Shampoo, though it's down nearly 1 share point since the advent of both Olay and Caress with respective shares of 24.8% and 17.5%.

Unilever has already flanked Caress Moisturizing Body Wash with Dove Moisturizing Body Wash and by late fall will have a Lever 2000 body wash, handled by J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, in stores and supported by $40 million in marketing.

Typically, the launches are supported with lots of advertising, sampling and trial sizes that marketers claim augment bar soap spending. Retailers, however, believe this spending comes at the expense of bar soap since liquid soaps carry higher profit margins.

Unilever division Chesebrough-Pond's will introduce Vaseline Intensive Care Moisturizing Body Wash in September via McCann-Erickson Worldwide. Originally said to be slated for $20 million in advertising and marketing support, recent trade materials have indicated the budget will be closer to $35 million, almost on a par with spending by Jergens, Olay and Lever 2000.

Linda Sands, Dial marketing manager for skincare and soaps, recently oversaw the launch of Moisturizing Dial Plus Antibacterial Body Wash, targeted at families. She's now leading the charge on Dial Ultra Skin Care cleansers-bar soap, liquid hand soap and body wash-aimed at women. Ads for both are handled by DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago.

While Dial Ultra contains Dial antibacterial ingredients, it offers the additional promise of improved moisturizing benefits.

That has been a big draw for Olay, pitched that way from the start. P&G is also testing Ivory Moisture Care, a moisturizing bar soap in Phoenix.

Jergens, the No. 2 hand and body brand after Vaseline Intensive Care, hasn't only extended its body wash line with a moisturizing formula but is now introducing Shower-Active Moisturizer, an in-shower treatment for very dry skin. With ads by Suissa/Miller, Santa Monica, Calif., the brand is supported by $14 million in marketing on top of $40 million for Jergens body washes.

Even if it competes with existing Jergens products like body lotions, "it's a significant gain for us and our consumers if we continue to innovate in skin," said Jergens Senior VP-Marketing Tim Zimmerman.

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