Smooth selling

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 04, 2011 20:20 hrs

For a girl could there be anything worse than to find herself in a bad hair day! No wonder brands are finding an opening in the woman discomfort zone leading them to introduce niche hair care products. A more recent offering in the personal care segment is hair serum, a product which is designed to make tresses lustrous and shiny. L’Oreal Paris has now extended its personal care brand to hair serum. Last month, Garnier Fructis announced that it would straddle shampoo, conditioner and hair serum.

The use of hair serums in India has been largely restricted in the professional haircare space. Professional haircare brands like L’Oreal Professional and Matrix, Procter & Gamble’s Wella and Henkel’s Schwarzkopf Professional are made available for use in salons and also retailed through the salon channel. Henkel’s second hair care brand Indola is likely to extend its brand to the hair serums market by the end of the year.

As the Indian hair care market matures, mainstream brands too are increasingly looking at this niche category which is worth approximately Rs 45 crore. This may be miniscule compared to the Rs 6,000 crore hair care market (which includes shampoos, conditioners and hair oils), but brands remain serious about niche offerings to retain loyalty.

“This is because players have not invested much in the hair serums category,” says the head of a personal care products firm. To recall, Hindustan Unilever’s Dove extended its personal care brand to hair serum in 2007. It has two products Dove Hair Fall Rescue serum and Dove Nourishing Vita Oil serum. Marico introduced Silk and Shine in 2004, but the product remains a marginal contributor to Marico’s bottom-line. Likewise, Procter & Gamble’s, which introduced Pantene Hair Potion a few years ago pulled out the product from shelves in just three months. Surprisingly, the leader in this niche category is homespun brand Livon (previously owned by Paras Pharma which was acquired by Reckitt Benckiser in 2010), which owns more than 65 per cent share of the market.

However, with multinationals coming on board, the hair serum segment should be in for some action. For Hindustan Unilever, the Dove hair serums have been the key imagery driver for the hair care range and helped it build its credentials as a ‘damage expert’. “The product has done well in metros and modern trade outlets,” says an Hindustan Unilever spokesperson.

L’Oreal India director (consumer products) Vismay Sharma believes hair serum, whose application is closer to oil will be the stepping stone to other modern hair care formats like conditioners and deep conditioning masks. Thus, India is the first country where hair serums have been launched under the Garnier Fructis brand. For L’Oreal Paris, a similar product is available globally, but the fluidity has been modified for India.

With the two hair serum brands, L’Oreal is targeting working women, across SEC A, B and C categories who do not have time to oil their hair and also find the practice messy. They will, however, opt for hair serum which is to give their hair a classy and shiny look.

But changing consumer habits have never been an easy proposition. “As Indians we are somewhat culturally laid back in our beauty practices. To give an example, when it comes to skincare, most Indians will have a maximum of a three step skin cleansing program. Japanese women have a seven step skin care regimen,” notes Jignesh Shah, who has worked on Paras Pharma’s Livon brand. “For most Indians, using hair oil, shampoo and then conditioner is enough work by itself,” quips Shah.

There are other challenges too. Industry experts point out that pricing is a major barrier to consumer acceptance. Hair serums cost anywhere between Rs 55 (20ml) to Rs 200 (100ml), (four times higher than the price of hair oil). Thus, in a hair oil driven market like India, convincing consumers to use niche products like hair serums could prove to be a task.

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