I Want to Eat the In-Edible: Part 2

On discovering the creative, quirky, attractive, salivating and sometimes outright bizarre creations being churned out by body care creators, particularly those inspired by food, I chose to investigate why these trends existed, and which market segments they target. Admittedly, I would try some of these indulgent treats myself, mainly out of curiosity or the tremendous buzz surrounding them. However, not many businesses can survive strictly on fads; something sustainable must exist, and one of the many steps in success is a well carved target market.

My admiration for Me! Bath’s unique line up of products and virtual market leadership (one may argue Lush conquered this arena first, but honestly Me! Bath occupies its own niche ice cream segment!) was strengthened by hearing about the brief history of the way it started up, which although does not indicate how the food inspiration factor was a key driver, is an interesting story nevertheless.

For why these trends have come into existence, the classic life cycle stage of body care is an adequate, albeit textbookish explanation. Having been around since the age of cavepeople, body care and bathing products in general have been quite similar, varying recently in textures (from soaps to gels to scrubs to bubble baths; or by thickness of crème and lotion), or by innovative breakthroughs that claim ultimate moisture, wrinkle free skin, irritation banishment and food-like nourishment, but ultimately fall into a similar bracket. The non-food inspired trend of having almost medicinal claims is still on the rise, luring consumers into the cosmo-ceutical element of body care products, touting lists of active ingredients and effectively tested claims, showing remarkable before and after photographs, leaving a lot to question, yet enough evidence to take things forward. Whether all these actually work or not is a grand topic of debate, with some answers more obvious than others.  However, keeping with the theme of a surge in food inspired body care products, I believe that three motivating trends have emerged, which continue to be prevalent drivers of the business, and are all tied to consumer behavior.

Calorie Free Indulgence

With increasing focus on reducing calorie intake, which inevitably leads to people cutting down their favorite, sugar packed indulgences, it seems that the body care market has seized the opportunity to let consumers fulfill their cravings without the consumption aspect. Paradoxical as it seems, research indicates that the consumption aspect of eating, or the art of swallowing, aka deglutition, is not what triggers cravings and indulgences. Cravings come about from a combination of a visual or market stimulus, which classically applies to the four P’s of marketing (price, promotion, place and product) along with external stimuli (economic, technological and social surroundings). In our context, the stimulus is more like something one gets a whiff of (hence aromatherapy), a glimpse of (hence a quick flash ad or media promo) or a taste of (hence the free samples with many purchases, in small enough quantities to draw you back for more). It is more a combination of multiple stimuli that come together to force you to, well, swallow food. Removing the health concern aspect of swallowing (i.e. the act which leads to the outcome of increased calories when something that has appealed to all your senses is consumed), yet incorporating all the sensory elements into body care, is the new business model. It has worked, and allows for a calorie free indulgence! Lip balms are a particular success, since you can still taste your favorite food. The outcome? Happiness and confidence are at the top, along with a series of much debated claims about how tasting the flavors reduce your calorie intake (or conversely, induce more cravings!). Either way, the topic does generate buzz!

Nature’s Roots and Powers

The influencer of going natural is hitting every industry. This is the lifeline of many brands, who inject the notion that what consumers are applying are not harsh chemicals (when in fact, most of the time, they still are, albeit not the destructive ones), but grandma’s homemade recipes, ancestral remedies that worked in the days of yore, or simply powerful forces of nature. Combine this with the fact that these products are made sustainably, cater to a certain cause, are cruelty free, and are ultra pampering, and voila! It is a fabulous story, and one that sells.

Frivolous Human Nature

The human mind is frivolous. Marketers have been diving deep into the minds of consumers to understand what excites them. Creators have found that it is not always the efficacy of a product or the Photoshop perfect skin of a model, since these have saturated the market in the 90s and 2000s. Today, consumers are turned on by something new, funky and borderline bizarre that induces first trial purchases and perhaps escalates repeat uses. This is the foundation of the psychology of a fad, and is a tactic used for making items ‘seasonal’, thereby increasing their perceived value. And with the foods industry being imperishable, what is better than this source of inspiration? The ‘try’ factor is thus a growing contributor to the business, and inevitably has become a crux of many food-inspired body care businesses. With controversy and buzz being everyone’s fork and knife for the day, it is no wonder that phrases like ‘love it or hate it but you cannot ignore it‘ have held true. Even those who cannot fathom strange flavored lip balms for instance, try them simply to strengthen their opinion, thereby contributing to the producer margins! It is a fantastic business model, but how long can it survive strictly on buzz and fads? Is the market segment of loyal followers that large to sustain a business? Perhaps!

(Courtesy: Me! Bath)

So, what is it that drives people towards indulging in something that is almost edible, but is actually used for the skin? The psych of active body care users is determined by their strong emotional reaction to products. Although these vary between individuals, they can be placed into two broad dimensions: emotional attraction and emotional intelligence, that is, the inner force that binds us to a product and what it makes us feel towards it. If these are weak, they will not induce a trial or purchase. Thus the dimensions for positive (and possibly recurrent) uses vary from strong to very strong. This gives rise to four mindsets, which can be perceived as four target markets, in what I would like to call the Mindset Framework, made for those driven by emotional decision making.


Loyalists are a strong category for all marketers to explore, as these are the ones who have sustained the tests of time and changes in trends to really prove their affinity towards a certain brand or a certain type of product. Kiehl’s capitalizes on individuals like this, with its zero mass advertising and reliance on loyal customers since 1851 to flagship products. Since this target group is less likely to try new things and are perhaps the late adapters of Roger’s adoption curve, theirs is a market that will be less likely to try the unique food inspired variations hitting the market. This is the group that in short, will not be bored of the vanilla.


This market segment focuses on social responsibility, and is thus high on emotional intelligence. They believe that the benefit of going natural is the new revolution. This segment also enjoys the cyclical nature of body care products that is repeating itself today, given that our ancestors used to use raw ingredients to bathe and pamper themselves with (grandmother tales or historic icons like Cleopatra bathing in milk, or the sustained Indian tradition of applying turmeric paste pre-marriage for a glowing skin). The aforementioned 100% Pure line, or Body shop, with their philanthropic overtones, are a perfect fit for this market segment. This market segment will try the new and unique varieties, as long as they promise to be as natural as they seem to look. Thus, no mass market chocolate inspiration here, but give them fruits and they will consume them! (no pun intended)


High strung on emotional attraction, this group seeks adventure, as these are the people that will not grimace at the beer soap or wasabi scrubs, but would indulge in them with open arms and minds alike, unlike the Loyalty mindset for instance. Due to the more momentary emotional appeal, this market segment would be one perfect to target for seasonal variations in food inspired body care items, or for businesses with a paradoxical or wildly creative idea as their driving force. Consider this to be a akin to a fad in my favorite marketing matrix. Be it a cheetos lip balm or chocolate chip body icing or a baked cookie body spray, this segment will consume, utilize and unleash them all! The risk is, they may also forget them all when the next new, cool, awesome thing hits the shelves with jazzy promotion and maddening hype.


Cliched as the mindset may sound, these are the futurists, who recognize the lovemarks from the fads, an ability not prevalent in the Passion mindset. They bring more attraction to the Responsibility mindsets, thus landing them in an enviable position virtually akin to fortune-telling. On identifying the applicability of trends that can be made sustainable and extended into the future, they readily accept these for a longer term appeal, unlike those that are seasonal. Making the responsible trends more sustainable and efficacious, this group thus determines the combination of both Passion and Responsibility. This is the segment that brought forward the idea of infusing fruit into body care a few decades ago, which is such a success today. Other seasonal trends that sell way past the seasonal life are credited to this mindset, too, with examples like the global success of the iconic brand Lush. Talk about (literal) power in the hands of the consumer!

With much written about the millennials of the world, the Passion segment is definitely growing, hence the introduction of quirky body care products inspired by food, a passionate phenomenon of the world. The Responsibility segment is growing virtue of social changes and the green movement. Loyalty remains a rock solid one which may grow with time depending on brand addiction, whilst probably the smallest segment is that of Innovation, for it relies on the successes and failures of the other three. And moreover, who knows what the most prevalent trends are?

So, is the food inspired body care trend a bubble that is going to burst?

I do not think so. The market is segmented to allow enough profits for the topmost viable segments and popular concept-based line extensions. Fruits and naturals are just gaining momentum, and the food inspiration trend at least can take a free ride on this roller coaster. Regarding the lip category, Chaptsick continues to reign in the market and continues to embody fruity flavors that are widely accepted. Food inspiration will certainly not languish, although the market may become more segmented, particularly with the growing appeal of cosmo-ceutical lines or other OTC treatments that promise magical efficacy sans fluffy associations, or even newer launches of lip balms focusing on luxury, thus magnifying the price point too. Other forms of segmentation include demographic segmentation, such as a focus on only men, a trend adopted by every brand within the decade, taken to a new level by the controversial and much hyped Gaultier Monsieur line!

With lips being an attractive and sought asset, possibly next in line after the forever loved perfect body, the obsession with both will possibly never languish. It seems that it will always be a win-win situation, as consumers will continuously look for different ways to manage their skin, either by treating it, or by treating it. Pun Intended.

7 responses to “I Want to Eat the In-Edible: Part 2

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