Slippery slope for bar soap as sales decline 2% since 2014 in favor of more premium options

August 22, 2016

It may be the most traditional of personal care products, but new research from Mintel reveals that sales of bar soap are in decline as US consumers banish the bar in favor of the liquid variety.

Households using bar soap dropped 5 percentage points between 2010-15, from 89% to 84%.
Accounting for 30 percent of soap, bath and shower product sales, the market for bar soap continues to fall. Indeed, between 2014-15, sales of bar soap slipped 2.2 percent compared to an overall market growth of 2.7 percent. What’s more, usage of bar soap is also sliding, as the percentage of households using bar soap dropped five percentage points between 2010-15 from 89 percent to 84 percent.

Mintel research reveals that bar soap suffers from several negative perceptions. Today, almost half (48 percent) of all US consumers believe bar soaps are covered in germs after use, a feeling that is particularly strong among consumers aged 18-24 (60 percent), as opposed to just 31 percent of older consumers aged 65+. Meanwhile, over half (55 percent) of all consumers believe bar soaps are less convenient than liquid varieties.

While 45 percent of consumers believe traditional bar soap can be used to wash their face, men (53 percent) are considerably more willing than women (36 percent) to do so. Sometimes suffering from an old fashioned image, bar soap is more widely accepted among more mature Americans, with as many as 60 percent of those aged 65+ happy to use bar soap on their face, a figure which declines to just one third (33 percent) of those aged 25-34.

Today, just under two thirds (64 percent) of all US consumers use bar soap, with usage peaking among males (68 percent vs 60 percent of females).

“The market for bar soap is being impacted by preferences for alternate formats, including liquid body washes and liquid hand soaps. The market is also seeing increased pressure from the sale of in-shower moisturizers in the body care segment, which may discourage consumers from spending more on soap, bath and shower products that highlight intensive moisture. This can result in consumers using more basic, lower-priced bar soap options in order to splurge on in-shower moisturizers,” said Margie Nanninga, Beauty Analyst at Mintel. “In order to turn sluggish sales around, new bar soap product launches could incorporate a wider variety of claims, especially for more luxury and premium bar soap offerings.”

Valued at $2.7 billion in 2015, liquid body wash products account for nearly half (47 percent) of category sales, profiting from higher price points and widespread product usage. Meanwhile, although 66 percent of Americans say that they prefer taking a shower to a bath, bath products experienced the strongest category growth in 2015, with gains of more than five percent from 2014.

However, bath products remain a small portion of the overall category, accounting for just four percent of sales, buoyed by the nearly one quarter (24%) of consumers who occasionally treat themselves to more expensive bath products. Overall, sales of soap, bath and shower products grew 15 percent between 2010-15.

“Strong sales of bath products are the result of increased spending for premium benefits, with consumers seeking aromatherapy in bath products and natural ingredients across all segments. Strong bath product sales may also be tied to stabilizing average household incomes, as adults become willing to spend more on discretionary items,” concludes Nanninga.

Press review copies of Mintel’s Soap, Bath and Shower Products US 2016 report and interviews with Margie Nanninga, Beauty Analyst, are available on request from the press office.

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