Women are supposed to be the fairer sex, but Chinese men, too, have been captivated by the growing national preoccupation with looking young.
Just ask L’Oreal. The French group is one of the leading cosmetics firms in China and says the market for men’s skincare products in the country rose 27% last year, and has risen 40% so far this year – about five times the growth rate for women’s skincare products.
“It’s huge, one of the biggest surprises of this market,” Jochen Zaumseil, managing director of L’Oreal Asia Pacific, told the Financial Times.
L’Oreal, which only started introducing products for men three years ago, says men’s skincare now accounts for up to 23% of the group’s flagship brand, L’Oreal Paris’ sales, in China. In western Europe, the percentage is between 7-10%.
“I don’t think it is strange for men to use beauty products,” Jason Ma, a 25 year-old graduate student in Shanghai, who uses facial wash, body wash and lip-balm regularly, told the Shanghai Daily. “Almost every guy in our class uses cleansing products.”
L’Oreal is not the only company that sniffed the market opportunities. Japan’s Kao launched a new line of men’s cosmetics line last year. Large cosmetics brands like Nivea and Mentholatum have also recently introduced products to target Chinese men.
Why is the Chinese male suddenly in bloom? Market observers say men increasingly see appearance as a key to social and professional success. Some also speculate that the shortage of marriageable women in China – a result of the country’s one-child policy – might be fuelling competition among men to improve their looks (see WiC52).
Still, women are the biggest shoppers for men’s cosmetics in China. Shaun Rein of China Market Research reckons that a large percentage of the purchases are actually made by women who buy skincare or other cosmetics for men.
At Rmb140 billion ($21 billion), China now trails only the US and Japan in terms of cosmetics sales. Market research firm Euromonitor expects cosmetics sales in China to increase 11% a year through 2012. By contrast, it expects Japanese sales to grow just 2% annually.
Despite the growing Chinese interest in anti-ageing and skin-care products, domestic cosmetics companies have had a rough time gaining a significant foothold. According to China Cosmetics Marketing Research Centre, 70% of the Chinese cosmetics market is controlled by big foreign names.
Shanghai Jahwa, a domestic cosmetic producer, is hoping to change that. It recently relaunched a high-end personal care brand called VIVE. The brand, which means ‘two girls’ in Chinese, was hugely popular in the 1930s in Shanghai and the reinvented line will target the high-end segment dominated by foreign brands.
“The launch of VIVE, targeting middle-class women in their thirties, is an important part of the company’s strategy to place itself in the market of high-end products and to promote its overall branding power,” says Wang Zhou, vice president of Shanghai Jahwa.
To add a touch of luxury, the location of the first VIVE boutique is at the legendary Peace Hotel on the Bund, which was Shanghai’s prime venue for high society and celebrity events in the first half of the last century.
The prices are also top-notch. A 50-millilitre bottle of VIVE perfume costs around Rmb1,000, higher even than imported perfume – which usually costs between Rmb500-900.
Snack food producer Want Want also wants to grab a piece of the beauty pie. The Taiwanese firm recently launched a new product called Sawow, a sweet-tasting alcoholic drink that comes with a lady’s best friend added in – collagen – an ingredient widely believed to be good for the skin.
“Lots of girls drink in China and we want to make an alcoholic drink that all girls drink,” says Tsai Eng-meng, the company’s chief executive.
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