We don’t need a blazing summer to worry about suncare, with anxiety about kids’ exposure prompting rising sales of higher SPF lotions, says Alison Coleman

Last summer should have been a disaster for suncare products. The summer was wet and overcast, and many overseas holidays were put on hold by the credit crunch.

But in fact suncare prospered in 2009, with sales up 2.3% to £228m, with sun protection showing a marked rise of 7.9% and aftersun up 5.2% [Kantar Worldpanel 52w/e 27 December 2009].

So did we decide to blow the budget and head for the Med anyway, or was pale and interesting the look for 2009? Fashion may have had an influence, but a more likely explanation is that consumers are more aware of the health risks of sun exposure and the need for effective sun protection even in a disappointing summer. 

This is reflected in falling sales of the lowest SPF products and stronger sales of medium and high SPF products, factors 30 and 50, which have a combined 45% share of the sun protection market.

Five years ago, Lloyds Pharmacy was the first major retailer to remove all sunscreen products with an SPF below 15. Last year value sales of SPF 30 to 39 rose 22% [Kantar 52w/e 2 January 2010]. 

"There has been a trend of trading up to higher factors over the past few years, as education around safe suncare increases," says a spokeswoman for Lloyds.

The trend has been driven in part by a demand for effective sun protection for children, available in high factors (30 and 50). Last year Tesco placed a greater focus on children and saw the category increase by 14% in volume.

"We expect to see a steady increase in sales of higher factor products, and have merchandised accordingly for 2010, which means products are merchandised from high factor to low, so they are more visible for our customers and aid them into doing the right thing," says a Tesco spokesman.

Clare O'Connor, technical expert in sun protection at Boots, which recently launched Soltan Once Lotion SPF 50+ and a Soltan Once Kids water play SPF 50+ for children, says: "Parents will do everything they can to protect children's skin even if they do not always protect themselves. Younger people have grown up with the strong ethics of sun protection and are then continuing to protect themselves with higher factors."

Growth has been led by the brands, which have a 70% value market share compared with own label's 30% [Kantar].

The sun protection market is topped by Nivea, with a value share of 24.5%, closely followed by Garnier Ambre Solaire, which saw a 13% increase in value share to 23.7% [Nielsen 52w/e 26 December 2009]. Nivea Sun's Invisible Protection, a spritz designed to be transparent and non-greasy, has been a key factor in its growth, according to brand manager Richard Duplock. "This product has also brought incremental shoppers into the category," he adds.

However, smaller brands argue the credit crunch has opened the market to brands that can compete on price without compromising on quality.

While Nivea Sun Moisturising Sun Lotion, and Garnier Ambre Solaire's Golden Protect Oil retail at £10.19 and £13.99 respectively, Malibu, with a total suncare value share of 0.9%, offers a dry oil spray SPF 20 that retails at £4.49 for 200ml.

"We have seen a growth in sales as people seek out value brands," says a spokeswoman. "They are realising that expensively packaged 'premium' products don't necessarily offer higher quality or greater SPF safety. Malibu's product development and customer advice is in line with Australian suncare brands, and always recommends a minimum of SPF 15."

Simple's market-leading position in facial skincare helped it to launch a suncare range suitable for the most sun-sensitive skin. The Simple Sun range incorporates ingredients like sunflower and green tea to help prevent sun-induced allergies, while protecting against harmful UVA rays.

Senior brand manager Rachel Snary says: "Consumers are savvier about what they put on their skin, and because there is a good overall fit with our brand philosophy of 'no perfume, no colour, no harsh chemicals', suncare could be a big area for us."

Gradual tans
However, one sector of the market that isn't looking so golden is gradual tanners. While instant self-tanning products have grown 4.5% in value and 6.0% in volume, sales of gradual tanning products plummeted 35.7% in value and 29.4% in volume [Kantar Worldpanel 52w/e 27 December 2009]. Gradual tanners were once the darling of the category. When Johnson's launched Holiday Skin in 2005, bottles were flying off the shelves and it created a whole new category. Scores of similar gradual tan products followed. So what's gone wrong?

According to retailers, the gradual tan was a victim of product innovation and simply gave way to better instant tans.

"Gradual tan was a massive hit when it launched, but I think it was a one-hit wonder," says one Tesco buyer. "Instant tan only has to be applied once, so consumers only have to worry about the application once and avoiding streaking etc once. With gradual tanning you apply the product every day, which increases the chances of streaking and uneven colour the biggest worries when applying fake tan."

Malibu has three self-tanners in its Tropical Skin range, including a gradual, a 24-hour developer, and an instant wash-off, which is the most popular tanner of the three. "In the absence of sun, our customers want instant results without the risk of patchiness and stained hands. Better formulated instant products mean that the reasons people turned to gradual tanners in the first place the offputting smell and the orange hue etc are far less of an issue," says a spokeswoman.

Sainsbury's has just introduced an exclusive range of St Tropez tanning products, including gradual tanners St Tropez Everyday Mousse (rsp: £20 for 120ml), and St Tropez Everyday Body (rsp: £14 for 200ml.)

Says beauty buyer Nicola Wing: "St Tropez has seen a 30% growth in sales year-on-year, with a complete split between self- tan and gradual tan. At Sainsbury's we are hoping that St Tropez will provide a new interest for our customers and growth in both instant and also gradual tan. The first few weeks of sales have been promising but with instant tan continuing to see growth ahead of gradual tan."

Gradual tan is, then, a blip in an otherwise healthy category, with every other subsector in value and volume growth. Whatever this next summer brings weather-wise, the forecast for suncare looks bright.

Focus On Suncare