Newly Entrepreneurial, Unilever Launches ApotheCARE Essentials

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Unilever Apothecare Essentials

Meeting the demand for natural beauty products, Unilever is launching ApotheCARE Essentials in the U.S., the CPG giant’s first new brand in decades. The description: “Purity of Nature. Progressed by Science. Tailored hair and skin cleansing products with unique ingredient combinations powered by advanced science.”

The development and launch of the new premium hair care and skin cleansing line, 18 products in total, breaks all the rules for Unilever’s typical product development pipeline, involving just a core team of five people working for just over a year—one year, one month and 15 days, to be exact.

Traditionally, a new product takes about 20 people and two to three years to develop, as Piyush Jain, Unilever’s GM and VP of hair care, told CNBC—but this brand was developed with a startup mindset, marking a more entrepreneurial attitude for the company.

In its search for growth and innovation, Unilever has acquired startups such as the Californian category disruptor Dollar Shave Club, Australian tea purveyor T2, US condiment rethinker Sir Kensington’s, Brazil’s Mãe Terra, British herbal tea-maker Pukka Herbs and Carver Korea, whose AHC skincare brand is a best-seller in South Korea.

“The marketplace is evolving so rapidly and there are so many different business models and new brands coming in, it’s exciting that we as Unilever are piloting some of the new trends and even leading the trends.”

ApotheCARE Essentials / Unilever

Biochemist Matthew Seal, a member of the brand development team, said they drew inspiration from the days of yore when chemists and pharmacists worked in apothecaries and crafted remedies, often natural ingredients like chamomile, rosehip oil or witch hazel. “We select revered ingredients from nature, renowned for their hair and skin benefits,” Seal told Refinery29.

Unilever research indicated that its portfolio was lacking in natural products and that brands like TRESemmé and Dove weren’t satisfying consumer demand in that regard.

So the R&D team selected six base ingredients (burdock, white willow, rosemary, ginkgo biloba, sage and seabuckthorn) and four fragrances (lavender, vanilla, jasmine and geranium) then used a technique called phytoextraction to optimize and blend them in a process called slow infusion. Hence the tagline, “Selected. Extracted. Perfected.”

Another tagline: “Crafted. Customized. Complete.” The alluring copy in a Facebook post: “Healthy-looking hair and skin is essential. The Mender and The Rejuvenator collections combine all you need to help repair and renew while intoxicating your senses with notes of white jasmine, warmed coconut and vanilla.”

ApotheCARE Essentials labels feature pictures of the base and fragrance ingredients inside a test tube filled with water, highlighting the blend of nature and science. The packaging looks more independent beauty purveyor than CPG giant.

The target customer, according to Jain? “She has a reverence for technology and understands it has a role to play along with nature. She isn’t going back to making it yourself in the kitchen and knows that isn’t necessarily a solution for beauty. She believes in the scientific method.”

“We’ve obviously learned a lot in the crafting of this and we can leverage some of what we learned here,” Jain continued. “There will always be a combination of doing things fast and entrepreneurial and also doing things traditional to match the rigor with what we launch with the resources put behind it and testing it.”

The name is a play on “apothecary” which derives from the Ancient Greek word ἀποθήκη (apothḗkē, “a repository, storehouse”) and as a profession, dates back to circa 2600 BC in Babylon. Apothecaries’ pursuit of herbal and chemical ingredients led to the modern sciences of chemistry and pharmacology.

ApotheCARE Essentials products are available in select stores now including CVS and will be available more widely and online in January for less than $20.

Unilever expects ApotheCARE Essentials to become one of its core brands and stand as a model to more quickly develop other brands, keeping pace with smaller brands attracting consumers eager for natural and premium products.

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