Last year marked another year with less-than-normal daily commuting to and from offices, and that resulted in mixed reviews for convenience stores’ health and beauty aids (HBA) category.
“With a lot of customers working from home the last couple of years, they’ve had access to their own medicine cabinets, which has hurt purposeful trips to stores to shop our HBA set to meet their needs while on the go,” said David Cole, category manager for Plaid Pantry. The Beaverton, Ore.-based retailer owns and operates 107 stores in the Pacific Northwest.
Cosmetics sales lost major ground in both dollar and unit sales despite price per unit increases nearly across the board. Facial beauty products incurred the greatest drop-off — nearly 80% in both dollars and units, per IRI data collected from U.S. convenience stores for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 26, 2021. Eye makeup fell by 57% in dollar sales, and lip cosmetics lost more than one-third of dollar sales.
On the other side of the HBA aisle, items like analgesics, cold remedies and vitamins posted double-digit dollar sales growth for the same time period, according to IRI. Price increases pushed some of that momentum — more than $1 per unit for vitamins — as volume for each product line only moderately improved. Over-the-counter weight-control formulas turned out to be last year’s biggest gainer, registering more than +48% for both dollar and unit sales.
Supply Chain Woes
Cole’s main concern for the entire HBA category this year is maintaining appropriate inventory levels. “We’ve experienced supply chain issues across multiple HBA segments since 2020, from analgesics and cold medicines.”
John Archer, owner of the Shell Food Mart in Hinsdale, Ill., concurred. A February restock order for his single site contained “manufacturer delay” notifications for approximately 15 brands. “Toothpaste came in. Clippers came in. But many of the pain relief and cold/flu products did not,” he said. “I hope things in that category rebound. If in two months we’re not getting what we need, I’ll have to look for alternative (products).”
Archer noted that the HBA category consumes approximately six feet of tall shelving in his store. Even with current supply shortfalls, he has no intention of reconfiguring the layout.
“Our HBA section is probably larger than most convenience stores, but I wouldn’t rethink the size. We’ve always done well with that category,” he said.
All things considered, Cole remains optimistic about HBA, too. What excites him the most is the possibility of a back-to-the-office trend: “I’m excited to see customer commuting and shopping habits return to normal for this set.”