Inside Retail: Can you tell me about the Supergoop brand?
Natalia Obolensky: Supergoop was founded by Holly Thaggard in 2007 off the back of a close friend of hers getting diagnosed with skin cancer. They were in their late 20s and a dermatologist friend told her that “it’s not about beaches and bikinis, it’s about that everyday incidental exposure that we’re getting”.
She started looking into the reasons why we don’t wear sunscreen all the time, why we let our kids run around on playgrounds without wearing sunscreen. It came down to a couple of different things: [it’s] a very sleepy category with very little innovation in it, [it’s] a product that is often sticky, smelly and isn’t great, and then, a real brand didn’t really exist. There aren’t any other sunscreens that people get excited about and love.
So she set out on a mission to essentially eradicate skin cancer. This is not one of the cancers that’s more complicated to understand. [With a few exceptions], there is a very direct and unique connection between those who wear sunscreen and don’t get skin cancer, and those who don’t wear sunscreen, get a lot of exposure to the sun and may get skin cancer.
Amanda [Baldwin], the CEO, said this to me very early in my journey with Supergoop: “The nice thing about having a brand with a mission is you can always come back to that mission. You can ask yourself if what you’re doing is helping the mission to eradicate skin cancer.” I’m making decisions across the region, and it’s much easier to do that in the context of whether [those decisions] are on-mission or not.
One of the key moments [Thaggard faced in launching the brand] was a meeting with Sephora, which wanted to pick up the brand but as a two-month pop-up in suncare. Many people would have jumped at it, but she said, “Absolutely not.” She said she would take a much smaller space but all-year-round, rather than a big flash that positioned [Supergoop] as something that people should wear in the summer to go to the beach.
If you fast-forward 14 years, Supergoop has created a category in the US that did not exist. There was not a year-round suncare category in the US cosmetics market, which is an amazing thing from a retail perspective. The brand is very much about positivity. It’s bright yellow. It’s about giving you a really cool and fun experience and explaining why it’s important.
IR: What does your presence in the APAC region look like?
NO: In China, we have a direct-to-consumer business through Tmall, Little Red Book and a couple other platforms, a cross-border business through some department stores in Beijing, Little B and Sephora. We are a cruelty-free brand, so we’re only able to enter China through the cross-border market.
The rest of Asia is currently Sephora distribution, and we’re happy with that footprint, but we’re looking at accelerating that, so opening places like Korea and India. Australia is very much on our list, but there are some product regulation complications.
IR: When did you enter APAC and what have you learned about the market so far?
NO: The brand entered the market in 2017 with Sephora. I think the brand was just keen to understand how its success in the US could translate internationally, particularly in Asia, which is a more difficult SPF market in that there’s a huge amount of competition and the consumer is very well educated around the requirements to wear SPF.
The model of Supergoop has always been to test a market, and then go big with marketing and the full weight of the organisation when you have proof of concept. 2018 and 2019 were big years for us, and the brand did really well in Southeast Asia with Sephora, but then Covid wrought havoc on all our plans. We still did well in 2020 and 2021, we still grew, but we’ve been using this time to get much more specific and hone in on the key elements of the Supergoop brand that resonate in each market.
When you look at our mix of business globally, it remains pretty consistent, but you do see changes in the top SKUs. In Thailand, we’ve had huge success with our Play [product line], which is more outdoor and sporty. That makes sense, people are going to the beach a lot, whereas in China, our Unseen sunscreen, which is our transparent sunscreen, is by far the number one product. And in Singapore, where there’s a bit more of a mix, our Glow sunscreen does really well. We’ve got 40 SKUs globally, so it’s not like a full-on colour cosmetics brand with hundreds of SKUs, but we do have differences in the region, so we’re looking to figure those out.
We’re also trying to figure out what the post-Covid world is going to look like. Hong Kong used to be a very offline market, but we’ve seen it shift online. We’ve seen Tmall move into Hong Kong and open up; we’ve seen Hong Kong TV Mall start to premiumise. There’s a lot of movement in these retail channels. It’s still shaking out.
IR: What sort of opportunities do you see for growth?
NO: When we look internally at what we think we can do in Asia, it’s massive. We’re targeting [nearly] doubling the business in size every year consistently over the medium term. We can do that because we’re able to show incredible like-for-like growth — we’re over 40 per cent ahead of Sephora’s projections for 2021 even in a Covid environment where we’ve pulled back on spending — and because there’s a huge amount of incremental distribution that we can go after across Asia.
We have a number of big markets and players within those markets that we haven’t even begun to tap into. We’ve got markets like Korea that we think will boost us even further. The brand is on fire at the moment, which is wonderful.