Kimberly-Clark is launching an ambitious 20-item line of baby toiletries under the Huggies lineup, lavishing on infants and kids the kind of sophistication reserved for adult grooming products. The K-C line, which includes lavender-and-chamomile and shea-butter washes and lotions, also brings some firsts to the category, such as an oxymoronic liquid baby powder (containing aloe and vitamin E) and a bathing mitt.
After a big push in 2000 and 2002, baby toiletry launches have slowed lately-with only 33 new products through November 2004, down from 103 in 2002, according to Marketing Intelligence. But Huggies alone could boost by more than 60% the product count in a category that features such hot products as Boudreaux's Butt Paste diaper-rash ointment with healing Peruvian balsam. Concocted by a Louisiana pharmacist, Boudreaux's has been marketed in the past year with a Nascar entry and a ringing endorsement by Oprah, pushing sales up 220% to $1.5 million in the 52 weeks ended Oct. 31, according to IRI.
Huggies' line includes baby shampoos, lotions, diaper-rash ointment and several new varieties of baby wash, expanding more than tenfold the two-item lineup of Huggies baby wash and disposable washcloths launched earlier this year. And it pits K-C more squarely against Johnson & Johnson, whose Johnson's and Aveeno brands command more than half of the $550 million market for baby toiletries.
Though it's going up against such established brand names as Johnson's, Novartis' Gerber and Playtex Products' Baby Magic, Huggies has a strategic edge the other brands lack, said Mark Cammarota, marketing director for the Huggies bath and body.
The Huggies bath products will piggyback on the much bigger Huggies brand in the heavily marketed diaper category, using tags on Huggies diaper ads, on-pack promotions on diapers and Pull-Ups training pants and inserts in the company's direct mailings, Mr. Cammarota said. "We know from our direct-mail program when it's important to hit moms with coupons and information," he said. "That's something that would be very costly for someone else to do."
The toiletries will also get standalone TV and print ads to break by March from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, though he declined to disclose spending.
Innovation and marketing could boost sales in what "hasn't been a destination category," said Bruce Paynter, K-C's president-North American baby care. Even a more limited effort behind this year's two-item Huggies bath line boosted sales in that roughly $120 million segment 11%, he said.
The move into toiletries comes in the face of K-C's recent share losses to a resurgent Procter & Gamble Co.'s Pampers and Luvs in the much bigger diaper and training-pants categories, with sales of $1.8 billion for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 31, according to Information Resources Inc.
P&G has yet to tackle baby toiletries despite its huge business in adult soap, shampoo and skin care, though Pampers has extended into disposable bibs and-via licensing-infant wear and baby-safe household cleaners.
Instead, P&G is aiming a little higher-at toddlers-with two Pampers extensions planned for early 2005, said a spokeswoman. P&G will launch Kandoo wet wipes, designed to let toddlers clean up after toileting without help, and a Pampers foaming hand soap for toddlers.
P&G has chosen not to enter infant products yet, and "take on an already established competitor" in J&J, the spokeswoman said, but sees more potential currently in toddler products. Kandoo, she said, already has risen to the No. 2 position behind Pampers regular wipes in European markets where it competes.
The wipes come in a purple and green potty-shaped box with a distinctive push-button pop-up lid.
Kandoo has succeeded in Europe behind humorous ads by Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, London, that dub tots "Lord of the Loo" and "Princess of the Potty." But Jane Wildman, VP of the P&G infant and toddler wipes business, said last month the company isn't sure whether the same ad approach will work in the U.S.
Deutsche Bank analyst Andrew Shore believes P&G will watch how Huggies fares before trying baby toiletries. "The total market is only $550 million," he said, adding, "P&G probably doesn't feel it has anything as unique as liquid powder."
That product goes on babies' skin wet but quickly dries to a powder, Mr. Cammarota said, to address concerns from pediatricians and parents about babies inhaling airborne powder. The mitts are meant to be used either by parents or toddlers.
Without hinting at direction, Mr. Paynter said toiletries are only the first of several new categories K-C is exploring. "We see the Huggies brand going beyond toiletries," he said.