Unilever is expanding its Michiru hair-care brand to the U.S. to capture customer dollars amid a boom in scalp-care brands.
Michiru, meaning “fullness” in Japanese, offers eight products for sale, including three shampoo-conditioner pairs for strengthening hair, adding volume and clarifying the scalp, plus a scalp tonic to nourish roots and an OTC minoxidil topical treatment for hair regrowth. The 2-year-old brand is produced in Japan and available globally outside the U.S. It will retail in the U.S. exclusively through Target.
“Michiru is for the minimalist who wants to start their [hair-loss] prevention journey. All she has to do is switch her current shampoo and conditioner,” said Jessica Grigoriou, salon and masstige hair portfolio director at Unilever. “The skinification-of-hair-and-scalp trend is more in the prestige spaces, but it hasn’t fully translated to mass [retail] yet.”
Other conglomerates have recently brought international hair-care brands into the U.S. as the category has matured and customers have looked for more sophisticated brands and products. The U.S. market is an opportunity for companies to grow hair-care sales without the extensive and expensive process of building or buying a new brand. In 2020, Germany-based Henkel introduced its then 1-year-old clean brand Authentic Beauty Concept into the U.S. Additionally, in 2020, Swiss-based Mibelle Group expanded its Lee Stafford professional hair care-brand to the U.S. And Filorga-owned heritage brand Lazartigue embarked on its own U.S. expansion in 2021. Unilever’s beauty and wellbeing sector earned over $11 billion in 2021 sales.
According to NPD Group, prestige hair-care sales grew by 23% in the third quarter of 2022, pushing the category to over $853 million. What began in 2020 with the terminology “skinification” of hair has given way to the more broad “scalp care.” Additionally, female consumers have shown an increased interest in hair regeneration and loss preventative products, with Unilever acquiring a majority stake in hair regrowth brand Nutrafol in 2022.
“As consumers continue to prioritize hair health, products with strengthening and restoration benefits are outpacing overall hair category growth,” said Larissa Jensen, beauty industry advisory for NPD Group. “[And] hair product sales continue to grow, despite the category becoming less promotional.”
Michiru was adapted with the American market in mind. While the brand proposition is the same, the packaging design was updated with gold caps instead of black pumps; new ombré green, pink and blue colors incorporated to denote the different franchises; and product reformulation to remove sulfates. Michiru will partner with both influencers and dermatologists on paid social content at the launch to promote and educate about scalp care. Grigoriou declined to share specific marketing investments but said the brand will take an always-on approach for 2023.
“The scalp market is more advanced [in Asia] than in the U.S., so it’s a bit of a different job in terms of education,” said Grigoriou. “We saw an opportunity to bring what we’re calling ‘holistic wellness meets advanced science,’ where you have both solutions for hair loss prevention and a treatment for hair regrowth.”