Failure of Danone beauty yogurt is a learning opportunity

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Danone pulled beauty yogurt Essensis from French shelves last week and left behind a lesson in how not to market edible cosmetics.

Launched with much aplomb in Spain, France and Italy two years ago, Essensis seemed to suggest the beauty food trend was spreading from its Japanese roots. But news of the French failure casts a cloud over the frenzied excitement sparked by the boundary defying products.

Some would suggest that the whole beauty-from-within trend is overblown.

“It’s a Bridget Jones kind of product… but even she will only buy it once,”​ said Peter Wennström, chief consultant at Swedish-based Healthy Marketing Team.

Wennström said the product lacked credibility. French consumer watchdog UFC-QC came to a similar conclusion last year dismissing Essensis as a mere marketing concept that has no tangible effect on the skin.

Those who buy into the magic of such products may therefore be viewed as “somewhat stupid”​, to borrow a phrase from Wennström.

Stupid or not, people are interested in the concept of beauty food and drink. In August last year, Mintel published the findings of a US survey in which 16 percent of respondents said they want skin, nail, and hair beauty benefits from their functional beverages.

So there is a market out there for beauty drinks but Danone has quite simply failed to reach out to those Bridget Jones types who would lap them up.

Packed with vitamin E, green tea-derived antioxidants, probiotics and borage oil, Essensis has all the right ingredients to attract the beauty consumer but was let down by an over-ambitious distribution strategy.

Danone launched Essensis in supermarkets alongside an array of big-branded and invariably cheaper yogurts.

There was nothing that differentiated the product from its neighbors apart from unfamiliar beauty claims and an inflated price tag.

Realizing that not enough had been done to set Essensis apart, Danone announced last year that it would re-launch the yogurt in smaller Actimel style pots in 2009.

Too little, too late. Essensis needed more than just a packaging make-over to save it from the French scrap heap.

New Nutrition Business​ magazine astutely diagnosed the supermarket as the cause of Essensis’s woe long before the product was pulled from the shelves.

“That’s not a place where a brand can acquire any cachet or mystique,”​ the magazine wrote in October last year. “Moreover, it’s easy for consumers to see that it’s a brand that’s at quite a premium to other yogurts.”

Most consumers are totally unfamiliar with the idea of beauty food and drinks and need to have the product concept explained to them before they buy into it.

Nestle understood this and bypassed the supermarket aisles and launched its beauty drink Glowelle at luxury retailer Neiman Marcus in the US where the drink will be sold alongside conventional cosmetics.

The product is the brainchild of Kimberly Cooper who told that in supermarkets beauty-from-within products have to compete with other big food and drink brands in front of consumers that are not looking for cosmetics.

By contrast, consumers at a store like Neiman Marcus are looking for beauty products and have the means to be unconcerned about how they affect their weekly food shopping bill. Sales assistants are also on hand to explain what the new products are and how they work.

However, Mintel analyst Nica Lewis told that the removal of Essensis from French shelves does not prove conclusively that supermarkets are not appropriate for edible or drinkable cosmetics. Lewis said the distribution debate is still open.

She pointed out that in Japan beauty foods and drinks are sold in both supermarkets and specialty stores. This may be, but edible cosmetics are well-established in Japan where the adage “you are what you eat”​ is truly engrained in the culture.

In Europe and North America, once the concept has been established and a sizable following gathered, beauty foods may be ready to move into the supermarket. For the moment consumers are just not ready to see a product like Essensis on the supermarket shelves.

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