“With the United States, there is always an attraction effect”. In San Francisco, Lucie Bruno, Art de Vivre & Beauté advisor for Business France, assists French cosmetic companies in their establishment on the West Coast, and there is no shortage of requests: “For a cosmetic company, being exhibited in an American department store, it’s necessarily a catalyst for its export image.
EXISTING IN A COMPETITIVE MARKET
Indeed, with 330 million consumers and an average annual cosmetic budget of $190 per capita (for a total market of $89 billion in 2018), the United States continues to attract covetousness: “It’s a very competitive market, with quality products offered at competitive prices by local leaders,” says Laura Landry, Art de Vivre & Beauté consultant in Montreal and specialist of the US East Coast. One third of the cosmetics market is dedicated to premium products (with strong trends in dermo-cosmetics or hair dyes). It is therefore necessary to arrive with a good financial base to be able to invest in distribution and marketing”.
This means working on brand awareness, but also on the innovative positioning of the product: because the United States is no exception to its reputation as a trend-setter. “On both American coasts, phenomena such as Clean Beauty or Beauty Tech – and, to a lesser extent, CBD Beauty (Cannabidiol) in California – form a fabric of innovations to watch out for”, confirms Lucie Bruno. During the last CES in Las Vegas, a Beauty Smart corner appeared under the impulse of major groups such as Johnson & Johnson or Neutrogena. In San Francisco – where L’Oréal opened its Tech Incubator a few years ago – there are more and more Beauty Tech related services (for example: personalised recommendation of dermatological products according to skin data). These services aim at enriching the customer experience with more and more individualised advice.
THE CLEAN BEAUTY CRAZE
“But the number one opportunity for French companies is probably Clean Beauty”, Laura Landry summarises. From the East to the West coast, she has seen brands such as Nailmatic, Manucurist or Bastide, Melvita, Alès or Yonka set up shop, and each time, distributors have shown interest in the terroir and organic image of Made in France. “Of course, French cosmetics are mostly associated with a luxury and high-end positioning. But the Clean Beauty phenomenon is creating a windfall that could benefit smaller companies: manufacturers of sustainable cosmetics, companies specialised in ingredients or packaging… it’s time to take advantage of it!
Because the leaders of the sector are increasingly involved in the movement: in 2019, the L’Oréal group thus launched the intrapreneurial brand Seed Phytonutrients on American soil, and more recently the group partnered with Business France for the French Beauty Booster programme: “Their desire is to identify French nuggets,” confirms Lucie Bruno, “and this immersion programme could facilitate opportunities for meetings.
In the United States, where the overall growth of the cosmetics sector has been 3.4% for the last five years, the good health of the Clean Beauty sector (with annual growth forecasts of 11% over the 2018-2026 period) is bound to make people envious. “When asked, 59% of US consumers say they are interested in trying a new brand if it has a Clean Beauty label. And, even if sales of natural and organic cosmetics only represent 6% of sales for the moment, we can expect more for the Clean sector… because it is not limited to organic and vegetal concepts,” says Lucie Bruno.
Clean Beauty”… The definition is indeed broader: it would thus include products that limit chemical ingredients, but also those that consume fewer resources, or those that commit to more ethics in customer-supplier relations… “The concept is a bit heterogeneous, and it is necessarily accompanied by a good storytelling around the healthy character of the product, because 86% of Americans declare that they read the ingredients of their products, so it’s a very well-informed population,” confirms Lucie Bruno. But, unlike in other countries, there is no power of the label or of the organic origin of a product: Clean Beauty remains more of a trend than a norm”. The only exception: in California, the “cruelty free” label for animals remains a basic standard…
Marketing and distribution are therefore the key factors: “If Clean Beauty has developed so quickly with brands such as Tata Harper or Drunk Elephant, it is because it has benefited from the growth of specialised distribution networks,” confirms Laura Landry. Among them are Credo Beauty (opened in 2015) or The Detox Market (launched in 2010 by Romain Gaillard, a Frenchman). And very influential e-commerce sites in the field such as Goop, Follain or Shen Beauty”.
All segments considered, this role of accelerator of the distributor is also a key element to be taken into account when one wants to develop an export strategy in the United States: “Many companies often consider exporting to the United States from the perspective of the East Coast. But many distributors operate throughout the country and therefore want to have access to a reactive supply chain, whether it’s for transporting goods or accessing information without too much time difference: setting up in the US is therefore highly recommended,” advises Lucie Bruno.
Because although e-commerce is developing more and more (13.5% of distribution), the hold of large retailers such as Walmart or Target is still very strong in the American Midwest. As do more specialised chains such as Sephora or Ulta. “And the American specificity if you are looking to get a distributor is the targeting by ethnic statistics: on some cosmetic products, there can be differentiated strategies… an approach that can sometimes be surprising,” says Laura Landry.
A CHALLENGE OF NOTORIETY
As a reservoir of consumption and an international showcase, the United States continues to attract with low customs duties for cosmetic products (below 6%) and FDA regulations aligned with European standards. The registration procedure is also limited to products with medical characteristics, such as sunscreen or anti-dandruff shampoos for example.
“But beware, underneath this apparent openness, we must not minimise the challenge represented by the American adventure, warns Laura Landry. The marketing must be well thought out, starting with the digital strategy: in the United States, even an SME must gather several thousand followers…”. And showcase elements such as the website or the brand ambassador must be adapted to American culture: concise texts and visuals for the website, choice of a local influencer or a partnership to develop the brand (e.g. take inspiration from unusual collaborations such as Nailmatic x MoMa).
“Brand awareness will always be a decisive factor for success on American soil, concludes Lucie Bruno. In the end, it’s a major and competitive market, but it has the advantage of stability: when the 2008 crisis hit, we realised that the cosmetic budget of households was not decreasing. It is probably this solidity associated with the image stake of a presence on American soil that pushes so many companies to try the adventure…”.