Multicultural products enter the mainstream

Stocking an “ethnic” set apart from the rest of the aisle is no longer the name of the game.

As retailers and suppliers realize the benefits of carrying products made to meet the needs of an increasing number of black consumers who don’t want to relax or straighten their hair chemically — as well as shoppers of all backgrounds with curly and textured hair — the category is growing, both in terms of sales and its presence in the beauty aisle.

The result: As consumer demands merge more retailers — dare we say most — are combining their multicultural offerings with traditional brands to create a single spot for all hair care needs.

Mintel has reported that black women spent an estimated $1.66 billion on beauty products, including cosmetics, nail care and facial skin care/antiaging categories in 2017. Hair care represents an especially fruitful category, with the natural hair movement driving sales of shampoo — which saw a 13% increase in shopper dollars between 2015 and 2017, the most growth of any hair care segment during that time period. Mintel projected that shampoo sales in 2017 would increase 7.3% to roughly $473 million, with conditioner sales going up 3% to roughly $491 million.

“The multicultural consumer is the fastest-growing consumer in the market,” said Osman Mithavayani, vice president at Miami Gardens, Fla.-based Xtreme Beauty International, which makes OKAY Pure Naturals brand hair care and skin care products. “Our products can be used for all hair and skin types, which cover the multicultural spectrum.”

A key factor driving the growth of beauty products for various hair textures is that the items have a broader appeal than just among black consumers. According to Kline, a market research and management consulting firm, the multicultural hair care products category has been defined less by the ethnicity of the consumer and more by what the products are designed for, such as products designed for curly hair. “Consumers are not rejecting mainstream products for ethnic alternatives, but instead pulling multicultural products into the mainstream,” the firm wrote in its 2016 report on ethnic hair care products.

The move of these products from the “ethnic” set to the broader hair and personal care set has been something several brands have strongly supported. Sundial Brands’ SheaMoisture launched a 2016 campaign that encouraged consumers to #BreakTheWalls between the “ethnic” aisle and the beauty aisle.

Another company taking this approach is Sashapure, a Red Lodge Beauty brand, whose focus is on delivering results for a certain hair type rather than ethnicity. “Some say multicultural, but we prefer multi-textural,” said founder Jim Travagline. “It should be about textures, and hair damage, and is it straight or is it curly.” As the brand’s advertising focuses on curls, Travagline said the products should be merchandised in the dry/damaged hair section.

Besides its multi-textural approach, Sashapure also has a unique ingredient. The products — which include Healing shampoo and conditioner, as well as Perfectly Defining Curl Cream, among others — contain sacha inchi oil. The company said it is a 3,000-year-old superfood from Peru that is USDA-certified organic and sustainably harvested. Sacha inchi oil is rich in protein, omegas-3, 6 and 9 and vitamins E and A, and is a light oil that can absorb quickly and keep all textures of hair soft, shiny, hydrated, well-nourished and resilient. Travagline said it was difficult to come up with the formula, partly because oil and water do not mix, and also because he had to travel to the Amazon rainforest to meet farmers and to look for the right ingredient.

“It took four and half years,” he said. “I didn’t want to do argan oil, or coconut, or shea butter. I wanted something fresh and new. Innovation sparks new customers and new ways of thinking.”

Xtreme Beauty International’s Mithavayani said consumers want to see themselves and their various hair types acknowledged in the hair care products they purchase and use. They respond to eye catching packaging that resonates with them, and they want products that work. OKAY products can be used for all hair and skin types. “Our shampoos are uniquely formulated so that they can be used on fine hair, as well as coarse thick hair and everything in between,” he said, adding that the company manufactures the products in Miami, so it can maintain control over the quality of the ingredients.

The newest line from OKAY is the Black Jamaican Castor Oil Coconut Curls Collection, with shampoo, conditioner and leave-in conditioner. There also are new moisture and curling sorbets. The company formulated these new collections specifically for curly hair care, and the products work to moisturize, hydrate and style.

Natural ingredients also are contributing to the growth in multicultural product sales. Consumers have become more aware of the benefits of certain ingredients, and also of how the ingredients affect the quality and performance of products, said Courtney Adeleye, founder and CEO of Huntsville, Ala.-based The Mane Choice. “Across all hair care categories, natural-based products that deliver on performance promises have shown to be leaders and drivers of general market and the multicultural beauty industry.”

Adeleye added that consumers also are looking for shampoos, conditioners, stylers and oils that improve the overall integrity of the hair. “Not only do our consumers crave fresh, new products, they also love products that cater specifically to their own needs,” she said. “People love exclusivity.”

Many manufacturers said that innovations are key to expanding the category. “The needs of the consumers are heavily evolving, partially due to the fact that more and better options are becoming available,” Adeleye said. “Brands that capitalize on this and deliver on what consumers want are helping drive this growth trend.”

Another trend that can help retailers boost sales in the category is that consumers are looking for complete regimen care within a brand and are moving away from single-item purchases. The Mane Choice recently launched the Tropical Moringa Sweet Oil and Honey Endless Moisture Collection. Adeleye said the line is an expansion of what was formerly known as the Tropical Moringa Duo, with an enhanced formula. The products are designed for curly, wavy and kinky hair, and include shampoo, conditioner, mask, restorative spray and sealing cream. There also is a new men’s collection and a collection for highly textured hair.

Consumers are choosing products that are not only more healthful, but that make hair care an easier process. That means complete sets of shampoo, condition, deep treatment, styling solution and other products. “It takes a lot of thinking out of the purchase,” said Christian Maxwell, brand manager of Crown Point, Ind.-based Mielle Organics. “Stores are very receptive to collection initiatives. I have seen across the board a wide variety of brands are creating multiple product collections.”

The newest collection from Mielle Organics is the Pomegranate and Honey collection, with Curl Smoothie, Twisting Souffle and Leave-In Conditioner. The three styling solutions are designed for women who want to style their natural hair.

As products with natural ingredients that can help care for curls rises, chemical relaxers and products that permanently straighten hair are on the decline, because chemicals that get th