How Bath & Body Works expects to maintain soap and sanitizer momentum

Columbus Business First

COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–Sanitizer sales predictably soared amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but Bath & Body Works expects to maintain that momentum even as demand may decrease.

The Columbus-based brand, which soon will stand on its own after the spinoff of its current corporate sibling Victoria’s Secret next month, held a virtual investor meeting Monday morning laying out what its future will look like.

One of the questions the leadership team was asked was how the swine flu impacted the company, and what that could suggest about our current pandemic.

“It was a real charge to our growth,” CEO Andrew Meslow said of the 2009 pandemic.

At the time, Bath & Body Works had just launched its PocketBac hand sanitizer. The health crisis helped turn what was a small business for the brand into a meaningful one. More importantly, Meslow said it verified that the product was conceived and executed correctly.

Sanitizer was a “sterile, clinical” product, he said. Bath & Body Works took that under-marketed commodity and added some flare to it, with fragrances and fashionable packaging.

When that pandemic subsided, sanitizer sales at Bath & Body Works slowed for about a year, but then settled into a path of meaningful growth after that.

That’s the history. But what does it mean for the present?

“We were well-poised when Covid hit because we have a well-established business,” Meslow said.

Soaps and sanitizers were about 20% of Bath & Body Works’ $6.4 billion 2020 sales and have about $800 million in growth potential in the next three to five years, the company said Monday. The segment historically represented around 14% of sales.

Meslow said a slowdown in sales is certainly possible, but the company has a few reasons to remain bullish.

First, executives think consumer behavior has changed. Even if there is a step back from last year’s sales, they still believe the normalized level of sales is going to be higher than it was pre-pandemic.

Second, Bath & Body Works was able to expand its sanitizer lineup last year. When the pandemic hit, it just had the PocketBac. Through the course of last year, it added both spray sanitizers and a full-sized bottle line. The company is also developing a bar soap which will be in stores this fall.

So while it was leaning on a single product 18 months ago, it now has a wider offering that’s still growing, giving the company confidence about its ability to retain customers and attract new ones.

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