Sizzling sun care category led by technology and consumer needs


Sun care is a hot category that continues to grow. Regardless of seasonality in most parts of the country and many years of flat sales, this category has come back strong in the last few years thanks to new technology, specialized products, and an overall greater consumer awareness of the sun's dangerous effects.

This article is contributed by Jennifer Johnston of Hamacher Resource Group, Inc. (, a provider of category management, marketing communications support, and retailing strategies.

Sun care is a hot category that continues to grow. Regardless of seasonality in most parts of the country and many years of flat sales, this category has come back strong in the last few years thanks to new technology, specialized products, and greater consumer awareness of the sun’s dangerous effects.

Weather patterns and geography still have an impact on sun-care sales, but not as much as they used to. Many folks, concerned with cancer or aging skin, continue to wear sunscreen year round, regardless of their climate. This category includes tanning products, sun protectants for children and adults, after-sun items, and sunless tanners.

It may be one of the smaller health, beauty, and wellness (HBW) categories, but sun-care business is booming. According to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), for the 52 weeks ending October 5, 2008, sun-care products earned more than $605 million dollars in food, drug, and mass outlets (excluding Walmart), up 4.8 percent from the same quarter last year.

Consumer influence on the category

Growing consumer knowledge has affected the types of products manufacturers are developing. The information age has made it easier for the average shopper to learn about sun safety and the importance of ultraviolet protection. This has driven manufacturers to produce sunscreens with higher SPF values.

Harmful UV rays are responsible for both burning and aging. The FDA has proposed a new rule for sunscreen products and may soon require all packaging to contain a consumer-friendly star rating system to help users determine the level of UVA protection. In a proactive move, many sunscreens are already touting UVA and UVB protection on their package labels.

Consumer attitudes also affect the sun-care category. A study by research firm Synovate showed that sunscreen brand loyalty is 56 percent. You can draw shoppers in with a well-planned sun-care display that offers top-selling brands. While private-label products do not have a large market share in this category, it’s wise to maintain a small selection.

At one time, sun care was a one-size-fits-all category. However, today’s savvy shoppers demand customization in their sun-care products. They want products that fit a variety of needs. Manufacturers have responded with tanning products that contain moisturizers, sunscreens that contain insect repellant, and sunless tanners that reduce wrinkles, to name a few.


Many people are drawn to the convenience of continuous spray, and the incremental sales that this segment generates continue to help grow the category. The average dose of each application is increased when a spray is used. Spray is especially popular among children’s sunscreens because of its ease of use for both parents and children. Some consumers are still learning about continuous-spray sunscreen and it is these converted users who will continue the forward momentum.

Don’t disregard lotions, however. Lotions remain critical to sun care and still represent more than half of total category sales. In fact, many users of continuous-spray products still purchase lotion for their faces. These combination purchasers generate the largest market-basket total.

Sport sunscreens are also becoming increasingly important to the category. These are typically lighter, less greasy, and sweat resistant or waterproof. Sport sunscreens meet the growing needs of active and athletic individuals, including baby boomers who continue to participate in vigorous outdoor activities later in life.

The least amount of innovation has been seen in tanning products. Perhaps attitudes about tanning are changing. A recent survey by The Skin Cancer Foundation showed that 53 percent of respondents believe they do not look better with a tan. Sunless tanning products, which experienced an initial boom after introduction, are also seeing a decline in sales. Sales have been lost to the skin-care category that offers everyday moisturizers with bronzing properties. You can reduce your assortment in these declining segments to make room for more sport sunscreens and continuous spray products.

Tips for retailers

Despite category seasonality, it’s important to stock sun-care products year-round, especially in warmer parts of the country. Retailers can demonstrate the need for different types of sun-care products through their merchandising assortment. Growth can be driven through stocking a mix of continuous sprays and lotions.

The real challenge facing today’s retailers is to resist the urge to overstock the sun-care department with similar SKUs, which can confuse shoppers. At the same time, stores need to provide technologically advanced products and a clear variety to meet evergrowing consumer sun-care needs.

Make it easier for your shoppers to find their favorite brands by arranging your sun-protection products in brand blocks. This aligns with the sun-care consumer’s brand-driven shopping behavior. Children’s products can be placed together in a special section, allowing parents to spot the product they want quickly. In the warmer months, consider highlighting your best-selling sun-care items with an endcap display or special signage.

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