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Korean Cosmetics Firms Put Best Face Forward in Asia

clock03-29-2010, 12:37 AM
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FEATURE-Korean cosmetics firms put best face forward in Asia

By Kim So-young and Vinicy Chan

SEOUL/HONG KONG, Sept 8 (Reuters) - After a half-hour of browsing the lipsticks and moisturising creams in an upmarket LANEIGE boutique, Hong Kong undergraduate Kelly Kong picked out a whitening cream she thinks will make her skin like porcelain.

"You know, my mother keeps telling me we look prettier with fair skin, so I use a whitening mask every other day," said 24-year-old Kong, a regular customer at the popular Korean cosmetics chain. "Also, I think they are quite a good bargain."

Star marketing and products catering to the craze for skin whiteners are enticing more Asian women to turn to LANEIGE and other South Korean make-up brands, which are priced for the market between cheap local brands and foreign luxury labels.

European brands such as L'Oreal are perceived as less in tune with Asian needs, while Japanese competitors such as Shiseido Co. Ltd. are two or three times more expensive.

Cosmetics exports from South Korea, which relies on Asia for more than 70 percent of shipments, grew about 25 percent a year between 2001 and 2005, bucking the local market's contraction over the same period, according to Korea Cosmetics Association.

China, Taiwan and Hong Kong accounted for nearly 40 percent of South Korea's cosmetics exports in 2004, up from 32 percent a year earlier, powered by a 150 percent jump in sales to Hong Kong.

Market experts say South Korean products have an edge over western rivals in skin whitening -- a form of fashion which emerged in Japan in the late 1990s, blossomed in Korea in the 2000s and is now fast gaining popularity in China.

AmorePacific , which has a third of South Korea's market with brands such as LANEIGE, Sulwhasoo and Mamonde, has 15 percent of its sales coming from whitening products, only five years after it rolled out whitening care lines.

"The functions have become default in many of our general products, not only in whitening-specific lines," said Lee Sang-wook, an AmorePacific official. "This has opened a niche market because non-Asian brands have less variety in that area."

What has also paid off is star marketing that capitalised on the current surge in interest in Korean pop culture in Asia, and with it the growing popularity of South Korean celebrities such as actress Jeon Ji-hyun and pop singer BoA, the faces of LANEIGE and Missha of ABLE C&C Co. Ltd. , respectively.

"I like Jeon Ji-hyun so much, I've watched every movie she was in," said college freshman Mable Wong, 18, in Hong Kong, who uses LANEIGE foundation and mascara. "I want to look just like her."

One LANEIGE saleswoman at a Shanghai department store said Jeon was the main reason average monthly sales at the store more than doubled from two years ago to top 400,000 yuan ($50,260).


Marching into Asia's $40 billion cosmetics market is a must for South Korean cosmetics makers like AmorePacific, because stagnant domestic demand after a 2002 credit card bubble burst means little room for growth in the country's mature industry.

The local cosmetics market, Asia's third-largest after Japan and China, shrunk to $5.7 billion in 2005 from $6.1 billion in 2002, according to industry data. Over the same period, exports more than doubled to $213 million in 2005.

The Asian market, which makes up a quarter of global cosmetics demand, is forecast to grow by 3.5 percent every year up until 2009, according to London-based research firm Datamonitor, as double-digit expansion in China is set to outweigh sagging growth in South Korea and Japan.

AmorePacific expects its overseas sales to grow more than 40 percent this year to $170 million -- far bigger than its 9 percent growth forecast for domestic sales.

Smaller rival The Face Shop also aims to double overseas sales to 40 billion won ($42.16 million) in 2006 from a year ago.

"I think Asian brands are more tuned in to our needs," said Cora Ng, a 29-year-old office worker in Hong Kong. "For example, I find the European moisturising products are a little too rich for a hot and humid summer here."

But analysts say South Korean cosmetics firms still face obstacles, particularly in the prestige segment, which yields higher margins and is dominated by Japanese and European brands.

They note that while Korean products are very popular among 20-somethings, women over 30 still prefer pricier upscale lines.

"Korean brands are growing, yet China is a very competitive and fragmented market, with international and domestic brands Fighting for market share," said Rita Chan, marketing and sales director of Nielsen Research in China.

"Korean brands need to find their niche and they still have a long way to go."

($1=7.958 Yuan) (Additional reporting by Fang Yan in SHANGHAI)
clock07-07-2012, 05:11 PM
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