Unilever sees great potential for haircare in travel retail and launches Living Proof in Orlando

Unilever will be launching its Living Proof range of haircare products into travel retail in Orlando this year during the 2019 Summit of the Americas Exhibition. TMI had the opportunity to speak with Michelle Brett, Senior Vice President, North America, who has been with the company for more than 10 years, since she “fell in love with the product.”

Michelle Brett

Living Proof is the #1 Prestige haircare brand in the U.S. domestic market (source: NPD 2017). It uses breakthrough science and patented technology originating from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to solve common hair issues such as frizz, damage and fullness. The brainchild of hair stylists and biotech scientists who were frustrated by the limitations of conventional products, the brand aims to solve hair problems differently, by directly addressing their root causes.

Living Proof offers much more than a quick, superficial fix, says the company. Its products are designed to deliver visibly healthier hair and styles that last. All Living Proof products are free from silicones, parabens, phthalates, and are not tested on animals. They are also safe for use on colored and chemically treated hair.

The Living Proof portfolio includes at least 20 patents and over 50 different products, which have won more than 150 awards to date. The Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo is currently the #1 Prestige haircare SKU in the U.S. domestic market and is anticipated to dominate travel retail sales. Living Proof’s top 7 best sellers are also available in travel size and are the perfect grab-and-go solution for travelers. Unilever says it has identified a huge opportunity for Prestige haircare in travel retail and intends to launch in major U.S. airports in Q2 of this year.


Living Proof’s Michelle Brett: Preparing for global markets


TMI: Can you give us a brief history/background of Living Proof and its trajectory to such success?  I know there is science behind the brand, but how did you communicate this to the public to create such a loyal following?


MB: Living Proof was founded on the idea of solving problems by looking at the root cause – and delivering results you can see from across the room. Built off of our proprietary technologies, our problem-solution product architecture allows consumers to easily identify the products they need. Through the use of strong before & after photos and scientifically backed claims, we are able to grab consumers’ attention and explain the benefits quickly. In the end, the proof is in the results – our loyal following is driven by superior product performance.


TMI: Do you have a star product and how has it shaped the company?


MB: While every product is a star – our Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo is our ‘cult’ product. It is the #1 selling dry shampoo in the U.S. and the #2 selling prestige hair product overall. It actually cleans your hair without water, saving time, energy and resources, all while keeping your hair looking like you just washed and styled. It is the perfect companion for travelers.


TMI:  Why does the time seem right now to introduce the brand into travel retail? Who is your target audience among travelers?


MB: We have been receiving interest from the global travel retail community for many years. As a smaller company, we wanted to ensure we were strategically building awareness before expanding global distribution. As the #1 prestige hair brand in the U.S. we have developed a strong global consumer base. Some of our strongest markets are retail doors that cater to global travelers such as Times Square, Soho and Herald Square, (NYC), Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto. Prestige hair is a top growth driver globally, when you combine this with the demand for our products, the timing is perfect.


TMI: What are some of your key marketing strategies and how will you adapt these for the travel retail consumer?


MB: With our strong social media focus, we collaborate with a diverse group of influencers and media partners who have a global reach. We identify key players in international markets with a local influence to ensure we are engaging with meaningful and authentic content. Combined with a high investment in sampling we believe our strategy will work across all channels.


TMI: Can you tell us a little about the rollout of Living Proof in travel retail—current listings? Plans in the pipeline? Special POS events, initiatives?


MB: We are very excited to be focusing on key markets in Q2. Miami airport (with DFA) will be our first launch in North America, with great interest in Atlanta, JFK to launch quickly. Globally, we will be launching in Dublin. As a prestige brand, we want to ensure our brand comes to life in the TR environment and resonates with the consumer. We will pay close attention to these initial markets and use key learnings to roll out further global locations over the next 18 months. We have worked with our marketing partners to develop custom merchandising units and are in the process of planning some exciting initiatives.


TMI:  How has the acquisition by Unilever impacted the growth of the brand? I understand that Living Proof was the first “prestige” hair care brand that Unilever purchased. When did the purchase take place and what key changes are you seeing?


MB: The Unilever Prestige division acquired Living Proof in January 2017. Living Proof runs as a wholly owned subsidiary, keeping our headquarters in Boston and remaining with our core values, strategic vision, positioning, R&D and operations. The positives of working with our UL partners is that we can learn from their global capabilities and use them as a resource in areas where we have yet to develop. The team is supportive of our prestige positioning and how important that is to the brand’s identity.


TMI: What Living Proof products will Karen Granit’s travel retail team be showing in Orlando at the Summit of the Americas? I understand Living Proof is about to launch a major new hair care system. Will that be at the show and can you tell us anything about that yet?


MB: Karen and the team will focus on our core, hero products that focus on instant transformation – such as Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo, Full Dry Volume Blast, and No Frizz Instant Defrizzer. These are our most popular products and are universally beneficial for a diverse hair type. We will be launching a new product line in an entirely new category for Living Proof. Stay tuned – as we launch globally we will include our Travel Retail partners.


TMI: What do you see as the most successful strategy you have used for Living Proof to date (I STILL think of Jennifer Aniston when I think of Living Proof!)?


MB: Jennifer surely brought awareness to Living Proof rapidly as her reach is obviously huge. However, we were founded by MIT scientists and hair stylists whose mission was to create solutions for some of the toughest challenges – in a way never done before. Holding true to our foundation, our proprietary technologies allow us to create superior performing products without relying on old, industry standard ingredients such as silicones and heavy oils. We strongly believe that bringing top performing products and innovation to consumers is our best strategy!

In conclusion, we’re very excited to be able to bring a new category to the travel retail world. As a growing brand which is in demand, we are now able to make it easier for our global consumer to find us, and offer the Travel Retail partners an incremental way to build their business in an ever competitive environment.