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John Frieda

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KAO Corp.'s fledgling John Frieda brand has been battling the three biggest global haircare players in what one-Procter & Gamble Co. Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley-has termed the category's most competitive period in a generation.

The result has been more shocking than any look the brand's namesake stylist could create. Despite dual $100 million 2003 launches of Unilever's Dove and L'Oreal's Garnier Fructis into an already-crowded category, John Frieda has kept its five-year record of consecutive double-digit sales increases intact.

For the 52 weeks ended Aug. 8, Frieda's haircare sales grew 22.5% to $140 million, according to Information Resources Inc., even as the $3.7 billion business, as measured by IRI, shrank 3% to $3.7 billion. The Brilliant Brunette range, with sales of $26.5 million, was the star this year. But such existing lines as Sheer Blonde and Frizz Ease held their own, too.

Brigitte King, assistant VP-marketing for Frieda, attributes the brand's strength to Mr. Frieda's roots in bringing salon quality to the mass market and a "problem-solution" philosophy that tackles specific issues with frizzy, blond or brunette hair.

Ms. King, 35, joined Frieda in 2002 just prior to its acquisition by Kao. She had previously been at Colgate-Palmolive Co. and L'Oreal.

The haircare marketer has "made a conscious decision to look at haircare from a different standpoint than our major competitors," Ms. King says.

The brand's stylist tradition, the executive says, draws not only on Mr. Frieda but also other stylists to the stars. That "lets us react very quickly in bringing what we hear is going on in the salon world to the mass market."

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