Consumers have adapted their everyday routines to contribute to their overall wellness goals, and the personal care products they choose are a reflection of this. As they increasingly seek out brands that offer transparency, sustainability and inclusivity, Walgreens has stepped up with assortments that deliver them.
In this recent fireside chat, ECRM SVP of Retail Wayne Bennett and Cheryl Loeding, Senior Director, DMM – Personal Care for Walgreens, took a deep dive into how the retailer is helping its shoppers take a more holistic approach to their personal care regimens. Loeding also offered some recommendations for brands looking to get on the shelves at the retailer’s 9,000 stores.
ECRM: Tell us a little bit about your role at Walgreens.
Loeding: As the DMM of personal care, my primary role is to develop and execute merchandising strategies to drive sales, profitability and overall business success within the personal care division, which at Walgreens includes hair care, oral care, shave, deodorant, bath and baby. And our purpose within the division is to create more joyful lives by providing everyone with the best personal care solutions that promote personal health and wellbeing.
ECRM: There’s been a lot of movement in the merge of personal care and wellness, and I want to explore that a little further with you. So how has the beauty and personal care industry evolved in response to this wellness convergence?
Loeding: I would say health and wellness expertise is the new job to be done in personal care. Customers understand that their everyday routines contribute to their overall sense of wellbeing and happiness. And we know that customers think that there are benefits beyond traditional hygiene within personal care that are important. There are a few ways we see the industry evolving, and three I’d like to point out.
The first is clean beauty. We’ve all seen a notable shift towards clean and natural beauty products, transparency in ingredient sourcing, production methods, and product efficacy has also become a key selling point for consumers. The second way is really in this more holistic approach. The beauty and personal care industries are recognizing that wellness is not just about external appearance, but it’s also about inner wellbeing. And so there’s this more holistic approach really incorporating self-care and mindfulness into routines. And we see that as brands develop and market their products to address both the physical wellbeing and the mental wellbeing
Finally, I’d say the way that the industry is involved – and we’re so happy to see it – is through inclusive beauty. There’s really a growing emphasis on beauty for all and inclusivity with brands expanding their ranges to cater to a wide spectrum of skin tones and hair textures. We at Walgreens operate with a customer first mentality and we want to make sure that our products reflect the communities that we’re in, so we are really happy that this inclusive beauty has really taken off.
ECRM: What are some of the key product trends or industry trends that you’re seeing as part of this evolution?
Loeding: I’d say the biggest is that consumers are just more conscious than ever, particularly about the ingredients that they’re putting on their skin. Customers are seeking things that are free from harmful chemicals, parabens, sulfates, and artificial fragrances. So it’s back to that clean beauty that I was mentioning, but it doesn’t just stop about what’s inside [the product]. It’s also how the package is being pulled together because we’re seeing sustainability become a significant concern with customers, and we need brands to be considering eco-friendly packaging and reducing their waste in personal care.
That’s really led to an uptick in bar soaps and plastic-free packaging. Shampoo bars are another way that we’ve seen products really evolve and push boundaries there. Another trend is really this idea of ingredient as hero. Customers really want to know what’s in their products, and so brands are calling out the key ingredients that make the difference.
ECRM: Are there specific ingredients, formulations or technologies that have really evolved and are really shining through as this convergence happens within personal care and healthcare? What are you seeing in terms of ingredients or product formulations or manufacturing processes?
Loeding: We’re seeing hyaluronic acid – which started in skincare a couple of years ago – has really exploded within personal care, particularly in hair care. Natural continues to become more mainstream. I think it might’ve once been considered more of a tertiary entry point into the category.
I’d say deodorant is actually having a moment right now when it comes to ingredient transparency, but also formats. So aluminum free deodorant is growing, gaining popularity, but we’re also seeing customers “cocktailing,” as we call it when it comes to their deodorant. They’re choosing the right format, whether it’s a stick or a dry spray, which is newer to the category, and then they’re coupling that with the protection level that they need for their day. So is it an aluminum free deodorant? Is it a clinical strength deodorant? Is it just a standard antiperspirant? Customers are really basing their routines off of their needs and they’re finding products that meet those needs.
ECRM: Are you finding any of this convergence happening in oral care?
Loeding: Yes. Oral health is directly linked to overall health, particularly as it relates to gum health. I think customers used to be really focused on cavities and protecting their teeth. But really what we like our customers and beauty consultants to really be educated about is gum health. We know that there are better products out there, particularly pastes that have the right type of stannous fluoride, which is found in clinical paste, and that has antibacterial properties that can really have benefits beyond brushing. With traditional sodium fluoride, you brush your teeth, you rinse, you go on with your day. The protection you get only lasts when you’re brushing. If you upgrade to a clinical paste and have a more advanced fluoride to stannous fluoride, you have that 24 hour protection, which allows that paste to keep working long after the brushing is through.
We know that if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or perhaps a heart condition, you’re more at risk for gum issues. So we really want our customers to be having a demonstrated routine with a clinical paste, floss and a rinse that they’re really managing their everyday health and we know that those habits can lead to much better health outcomes.
ECRM: What recommendations can you make for emerging suppliers to help them win shelf space at your 9,000 stores?
Loeding: I’d say our first recommendation is keep growing. Brands that don’t yet have broad distribution in the market can be a really tough sell for a chain that has 9,000 stores like Walgreens. So it’s really great if we can talk about potentially regional distribution and really think of it more as a crawl, walk, run, so that we are set up for success when we are reaching the heights of a full chain distribution.
I’d also say that innovation is great; it is the lifeblood of our business, but it needs to be customer-centric and easy to understand. Suppliers should think about being really simple in their approach of what they have to offer. New brands and new products need to cut through a lot of noise on shelf and in marketing to be successful and reach the customer. So we talk about ruthlessly prioritizing what it is that they do best so that it makes their product unique and it’s clear what whitespace is being filled in the market.
ECRM: Are there one or two areas of growth that we’re not seeing yet but are ready to break through in the personal care categories that you manage? What’s next?
Loeding: I think the future belongs to brands that really leverage technology and social media. We call it the TikTok effect. It is real and customers are hungry for this information, for these demonstrations, for this product knowledge. We find that it really reflects a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of beauty and health in today’s consumer culture. Brands that are able to really reach customers in a message that packages well and resonates on social media are going to see unprecedented growth.
ECRM: Walgreens has been a very important strategic partner, a collaborative partner to ECRM and RangeMe for many years. Can you just share a little bit more about how your team leverages our platforms to help save time or become more productive in your process, whether it’s line review or looking for new innovation?
Loeding: We utilize RangeMe and ECRM as we start planning for our resets each year. The ECRM team helps us connect with emerging suppliers and new brands to make sure that we stay on top of what’s new in the industry. As you said, we’ve been long partners and there’s been excellent collaboration over the years.
ECRM: Any final takeaways for brands?
Loeding: I want them to think about how customers know that they have agency over their health and good habits that help them stay healthy. So as it relates to routines and products, we’re seeing increased usage on functional categories like deodorant and body cleansing and even specialty categories. As they think about presenting to us, the biggest transformation is that customers and people are just more intentional about their choices, whether it’s adding a step or switching products that have multiple benefits or are more natural. We need to stay up with those customers and recognize that they’re more focused and intentional now than they’ve ever been before. And I think that that becomes a high watermark that we need to be really measuring our innovation against.
Editor’s Note: Brands can have private, prescheduled in-person meetings with personal care buyers from major retail chains at ECRM’s Personal Care Session, which will be held July 14 to 17, 2024 in Indian Wells, Calif.!