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Sales of Banana Boat, the 14-year-old suncare brand, started to heat up five years ago. Now, they're positively steamy.

So far this year, Banana Boat has left the competing Hawaiian Tropic brand in its wake, earning a 9.9% of market compared with Tropic's 9.4% share, according to Information Resources Inc.

Banana Boat VP-Marketing Ken Meeker predicts that by summer's end his brand will take second place in dollar sales in the $373 million mass market suncare category, beating out Procter & Gamble Co.'s Bain de Soleil's 10.1% share. The brand is already No. 2 in unit sales. (Schering-Plough is the leading marketer with a 30-plus share from its Coppertone, Shade and Tropical Blend lines.)

Propelling Banana Boat is a worldwide distribution agreement with Playtex, which has an option to buy the brand and has been able to leverage its clout with national retail accounts.

But Banana Boat also micromarkets to year-round and seasonal beach shops through a fleet of vans manned by local operators, and to consumers through local beach promotions tied in with radio stations and retailers.

Promotions also go off the beach, tying into everything from Nascar races to jazz festivals.

Another boost Mr. Meeker believes had a role: this year's switch to a $2 million all-radio ad schedule, handled in-house.

"I built Bain de Soleil on radio at Charles of the Ritz [he helped build that brand when both were at that company], but then later owners walked away from it," he says. "There can be a lot of promotional overlays with radio, and it really has a strong beach association."

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