Suave is going after a more diverse customer base, specifically black women, with its latest hair-care launch.
Dubbed Suave Professionals for Natural Hair, each piece in the six-piece line of shampoos, conditioners, curl creams, serum gels and detangler sprays retails for $4.99. The line began rolling out to value chains including 8,200 Dollar General doors and 8,250 Family Dollar locations in December 2018. This month, the line makes its mass-market play starting with Target.com, and beginning in March, Walmart.com will be an added distribution channel, as will 31,000 drug and grocery retailers like CVS, Kroger and Rite Aid. By summer, Suave Professionals for Natural Hair will be in nearly 48,000 stores.
Unlike Shea Moisture, which Suave parent company Unilever acquired along with the rest of Sundial’s brands in November 2017, Suave’s latest line is an attempt to serve woman who are making the first steps in the natural hair process. (Sundial’s portfolio included Nubian Heritage, Madam C.J. Walker and Nyakio, and was valued at $240 million in 2017. Unilever acquired it for an undisclosed amount.) From a positioning standpoint, Shea Moisture is Unilever’s heritage player, while Suave is intended to attract “new naturalistas,” said Soumya Donkada, Unilever innovation and strategy business leader.
“The natural hair journey is an expensive process, and our customers do not want to break the bank, especially if they are trying something new. We found that some of our most loyal Suave [brand-wide] consumers were already using Suave in other categories, like hand and body lotions and personal wash within body care. They’re looking for products they can use every day for a great value and price,” she added.
Knowing the textured hair category was outside of Suave’s and Unilever’s existing expertise, Unilever enlisted 5,000 women with diverse natural hair types for R&D purposes. Most were customers with Type 3 and 4 curl types, according to popular industry categorization, meaning their natural hair texture ranged from light curls to tight coils. “We wanted to know what these women were currently using, how they were using product, what they were satisfied with and what they were not,” said Donkada.
Over the course of four years, Suave conducted 26 research studies, where the aforementioned women could try product at home and in salons, and give feedback. This resulted in the six launch products, which highlight on their packaging ingredients including natural shea butter and pure coconut oil for moisture. Three more items are scheduled to launch in 2020. A “Natural Hair-Approved” seal is displayed on all product packaging, along with the phrase, “co-created with women w. natural hair.”
According to Nielsen 2018 research, spending by consumers of color is at an all-time high in all categories, contributing 42 percent of total spend on soap and bath needs. Additionally, black shoppers accounted for $473 million of the total $4.2 billion spent on hair care in the U.S.
As Suave tries to tap into larger cultural trends and raise its profile in hair care — it is currently ranked fifth among all hair brands in retail sales, according to market research firm Euromonitor International — the beauty brand is leveraging what it calls its “co-creators.” In February, Suave activated the Natural Hair Trust, a group of three beauty and fashion influencers, including Enocha Tellus (with 119,000 Instagram followers), Temitope Adesina (223,000 followers) and Charlize Glass (626,000 followers) in a paid capacity. Suave would not disclose the investment in this activation. Like the 5,000 women who participated in the pre-launch R&D testing, these women are meant to serve as sounding boards for upcoming natural hair launches and messaging.
From the initial three influencer posts on Instagram in February, Suave saw 30,000 likes, which is significant as Suave Beauty’s channel has 18,000 followers. For now, Suave is focused on awareness through its retail partners and via influencers and is not selling products direct-to-consumer on Suave.com. (For online shopping purposes, the site currently redirects shoppers to Target.com.)
“This type of co-collaboration on this scale is unprecedented for Unilever,” said Donkada. “The influencers are driving the credibility here for this line. The brand is not doing the talking, and we feel like putting real women front and center is what is going to drive our growth and make us a trusted option in natural hair.”