P&G targets Gillette for razor rivalry

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Procter & Gamble Co. steps into the razor market this winter with a line of women's shavers under the Noxzema name.

In doing so, the package-goods powerhouse goes up against a comparable competitor: Gillette Co., which not only dominates the $1.1 billion blade and razor market in the U.S. but commands a whopping 70% share of $6 billion in sales worldwide.

P&G has hedged its bet; for now, it will market only a women's line via a licensing deal with Universal Group, a maker of private-label razors for chains such as Kroger, Pathmark and Jewel.

SHIPPING NOW

The line, which Universal began shipping to stores this month under the Noxzema Skin Fitness label, includes a triple-blade shaver; disposable single-blade razors in fixed and pivoting-head models; and a Bikini-Size Disposable model with a smaller head.

The shavers will be supported by an estimated $5 million print and TV campaign that begins in the spring. Executives at Universal weren't available, but a spokeswoman said the company is reviewing several agencies for the advertising. Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, handled the introduction of the Skin Fitness skincare line last summer.

A P&G spokeswoman referred marketing inquiries to Universal.

Analyst William Steele, at Bank of America Securities, speculated that the Skin Fitness razors could be a cautious toe in the water by P&G to test the market without going up against Gillette's triple-blade Mach3 juggernaut.

Although P&G said it's just a licensing deal, "One has to suspect they're testing the waters in the category," he said.

The imperatives in the women's razor segment are the same as for men's razors--a good grip and a good quality blade. But the women's segment is smaller and more seasonal.

STIFF COMPETITION

Even without Gillette to contend with, Skin Fitness shavers would be a tough sell. Women's products comprise less than a third of the $181 million in U.S. razor sales. The top women's models--Gillette's Sensor and Sensor Excel for women and Warner-Lambert Co.'s Schick Silk Effects, Silk Effects Plus and Personal Touch--together add up to only 28.2% of total sales.

Gillette, also dominant in the $890 million blade segment, is expected to introduce a women's version of Mach3 next year.

P&G's Noxzema Fitness triple-blade razor, K-3, will retail at prices nearly identical as those for Gillette's Mach3: $6.99 for a razor handle and also for a four-pack of refill blades. Four-packs of the disposable shavers and three-packs of the bikini razors will retail for $3.99.

For Universal, a maker of private-label razors for international markets, Noxzema provides a much-needed shot of brand equity, Mr. Steele said. But he added that $5 million is too small a marketing investment, adding that a new razor will need more extensive advertising to gain market share.

Copyright November 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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