This week, we take a look at how the startup aesthetic has finally made its way to mass hair care.
Terms like gender-neutral, vegan, clean and sustainable used to be synonymous with “expensive,” when it came to hair care. But mass retailers are now getting in on the action.
This month, Priyanka Chopra’s hair-care brand, Anomaly, entered CVS and Walmart, marking its biggest retail expansion since joining the shelves of Target last year. The brand is entering all CVS doors nationwide and over 800 Walmart locations, and is currently available online at both retailers. It also rolled out three new products in its lineup, including a hair and scalp oil, a bonding treatment mask and a leave-in conditioner. At $5.99 for a bottle of shampoo, Anomaly fits in with the Pantenes of the world on price point, but its branding is on par with trendy DTC startups and brands found in specialty retailers. As mass retailers expand their offerings for a millennial and Gen-Z customer base, their hair-care aisles are finally starting to evolve.
“It’s amazing to see the evolution” of mass hair care, said Rich Simpson, svp of customer development at Maesa, the brand incubator behind Anomaly. “If you had a static snapshot of the existing brands that were there, and then we fast-forward to all these brands that are new and coming into that space, it looks so different.” The company has launched multiple startup hair-care brands available in big-box retailers or drugstores, including Kristin Ess, Hairitage and TPH, as well as Jada Pinkett Smith and family’s body-care brand Hey Humans and Drew Barrymore’s makeup label Flower Beauty.
“It’s meant to be disruptive on the shelf,” said Simpson, of Anomaly’s modern and minimalist aesthetic, which includes bottles made out of 100% plastic trash. The brand emphasizes being vegan, clean and gender-neutral.
Simpson said the brand represents a “democratization of hair care, where you have products that are high quality and high value, at a very approachable price point.” Significant investment is needed for an affordable brand to take these new approaches.
“It’s always harder in the initial stages, and then it gets easier as you start to create supply chain elements that continue to carry that on,” he said of creating products with recycled materials on a large scale. “It will continue to get easier. You lay the gauntlet down as to what consumers should expect.”
In recent years, CVS and Walmart have been following in the footsteps of Target, which stocks a growing number of startup hair-care brands for a younger audience. These include made-for-retail brands like Odele and Eva NYC, as well as DTC brands branching into wholesale such as Function of Beauty and Hims/Hers.
Joining Anomaly at CVS this month is Eva NYC, which also entered the drugstore after an initial 2019 launch at Target, where it’s in 1,500 stores. It’s known for its tie-dye, aluminum-packaged products and started rolling out its hair-care products in physical CVS stores this month. They’re stocked on shelves with Anomaly and Kristin Ess, as well as other startups like Monday and Native.
“CVS really made the commitment of carving out a space and putting marketing behind it, and making sure that there was a whole dedicated section to bringing in new relevant and trendy brands,” said Annie Kolemainen, senior director of sales at Eva NY. She noted that Target “made the call early on” to bring in indie beauty brands. While CVS’ hair-care “assortment is a little outdated, and maybe a little less exciting when it comes to the new brands emerging on the scene,” the retailer is in the process of catching up.
Conglomerates have also begun to get in on the hair-care revolution, with the launch of new brands or startup-inspired updates to existing ones. Procter & Gamble’s Walmart-exclusive Nou was launched in August 2021 for Gen-Z consumers with textured hair, following Unilever and Sundial’s January 2020 launch of Emerge. P&G also sells its Waterless brand in Target.
Garnier, meanwhile, sponsored a 2021 survey, in which 60% of respondents said the reduction in their use of plastic products was their No. 1 priority for leading a more sustainable lifestyle. The brand plans to eliminate all plastic packaging by 2030.
Brands like Anomaly, Eva NYC and Odele are among a growing number of modern hair-care startups with a conglomerate mindset, heading straight into mass retail, rather than starting out in DTC e-commerce.
“DTC requires an enormous investment to get up and running, because you’re driving awareness into that business model,” said Simpson. For hair care, “it made more sense to partner” with retailers, rather than pursue “the heavy undertaking that a DTC launch becomes.” Online is still a priority, however. The brand will launch on Amazon in March.
Startup brands entering mass retail are interested in reaching both consumers who have been on the search for clean or sustainable products, as well as new customers to educate. That education is done both in-store and online; startup brands focus much more heavily on social marketing than TV ads, as favored by hair-care giants.
“Our research would show you that the consumer is there already” said Simpson, of demand for clean and sustainable. And for engaging new customers, “marketing has been slanted toward social communication.” Chopra is crucial to the consumer education aspect on social media. “Working with a celebrity with nearly a 75 million-person audience helps get that message out.”
“There is demand there. But there’s a lot of opportunity to continue to educate and expand the consumer set that is looking for all those things,” said Kolemainen. “You have to stay ahead of what the consumer is looking for, in order to stay relevant.”
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