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The Next Beauty Destination? The Grocery Aisle

With no end in sight to the pandemic, beauty labels may need to rethink their distribution strategies. Grocery stores may be the next frontier.
Customers waiting in line outside of Whole Foods | Source: Getty Images
  • Rachel Strugatz

NEW YORK, United States — Imagine a world where shoppers can pick up high-end moisturiser and vegan almond flour tortillas in one place.

What started as a quirk of the pandemic lockdowns – for a while this spring, supermarkets were among the only options for buying cosmetics or skin-care products in person — may become a more permanent feature of the beauty retail landscape.

Most Sephora and Ulta Beauty locations are open again, as are department store beauty counters. But beauty brands are looking for new distribution channels in case the lockdowns return. They are also hedging their bets as beauty stores work out how to attract customers without being able to offer testers and other pre-pandemic draws. SpaceNK, an upscale beauty retailer based in the UK, said in June it would close its US stores.

Target and large drugstore chains were already in the process of upgrading their beauty aisles before the pandemic hit. But beauty insiders are speculating that grocery stores, long an also-ran in the category, may be the next hot sales channel.


Historically, grocery beauty aisles have been stocked with staples such as shampoo and shaving cream, as well as cheap makeup. This is changing, though, as supermarkets are among a handful of essential retailers poised to take advantage of the “one stop shop” mentality consumers have adopted. Even when there isn’t a lockdown, the behaviour may stick if the beauty selection at the grocery store is compelling enough. If people can get their produce and foundation at one place, why not?

Pixi Beauty, a skincare brand most well known for its exfoliating Glow Tonic, recently entered H-E-B, a supermarket chain based in Texas. The brand has always worked with a wide range of retailers, including Ulta and Sephora but also Target, Kohl’s and Walgreens. Grocery stores were a logical next step, said Felix Strand, the brand’s president.

“There’s a space for beauty in every type of retailer,” Strand said.

H-E-B, along with Kroger, another large supermarket chain, Wegmans and Whole Foods, are primed to make inroads in the beauty category, said Kevin Spight, a consultant.

Whole Foods, in particular, has seen certain categories in its beauty and grooming section boom since March, including face masks (the ones that make your skin nice, not the kind that protect from viruses), bath accessories, hair colour and nail polish, said Amy Jargo, global category manager for beauty at the retailer.

There's a space for beauty in every type of retailer.

The Amazon-owned grocer has always offered beauty products, but sees an opportunity as a “one-stop shop” when consumers are looking to make fewer trips to stores. Top selling items include Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap, Naturtint Permanent Hair Color and Dr. Hauschka Rose Day Cream.

“We’re really focused on those categories that matter most to our customers at this time,” Jargo said of items that have increased in popularity as a result of the pandemic. “[We’re] ensuring we’re in a good inventory position.”

Whole Foods' reputation for selling organic and sustainably sourced food meshes well with the current trend toward "clean" beauty products. Its customers are already more likely to care about ingredients and where food came from, making them potentially receptive to beauty brands that tout natural ingredients and minimal packaging.


An annual Beauty Bag program will evolve into more frequent beauty events throughout the year, Jargo said. Every March, Whole Foods sells a “beauty bag” that’s filled with $100 worth of the retailer’s favourite products for just $20 — and it always sells out within hours. Whole Foods has also long kept a list of ingredients that can’t be used in beauty products it sells, though it hasn’t branded these policies along the lines of “Clean at Sephora” or “Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty.”

But for Whole Foods or other supermarket chains to become the next Sephora, they’ll need to work on how they present their beauty products.

“They’ll need to come up with ways to create experiences in those stores that might make them feel still quite premium,” said Lucie Green, a forecaster and founder of consultancy Light Years.

I don't know if you will ever see a Diptyque candle sold in Duane Reade.

Consumers may have adopted a high-low mentality but it will take more time convincing the prestige labels to start selling somewhere where the beauty category is thought of as somewhere to get vitamins and holistic health remedies.

“I don’t think there is any resistance to buying a (YSL) Touche Éclat, especially when replenishing, in a drug store,” Greene said. When it comes to luxury beauty, it’s becoming increasingly popular to replenish on Amazon, she pointed out.

Greene added: “I don’t know if you will ever see a Diptyque candle sold in Duane Reade.”


Boots now stocks M.A.C cosmetics. The British drugstore chain, which counts the likes Fenty and Huda Beauty as part of its cosmetics offering, announced everything from M.A.C's Studio Fix foundation to its retro matte lipstick is now available on


The Hut Group appoints several banks for a potential IPO. The Manchester-based online health and beauty retailer has reportedly called in JPMorgan, Barclays, Citi, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Numis to handle a potential IPO this year with a stock market floatation valuation of more than £4 billion.

The UK government issues guidelines as beauty treatments are given the green light. In a press briefing, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced all beauty treatments, including high contact services like eyebrow threading and facials, will be able to resume from August 1.

Victoria Beckham eyes China's growing beauty market after launching on Tmall. The British designer's beauty segment debuted on the platform with a livestream featuring one of China's biggest KOL's, Viya — showcasing it's clean beauty products.

Black-owned beauty e-tailers offer a platform for brands. As the beauty industry pivots to increase the representation of Black-owned brands, newly formed platforms like Geenie are amplifying BIPOC-owned, culture-first businesses.

A new campaign celebrates natural hair. Football development and mentoring programme Goals4Girls has launched "My hair, my identity" in an effort to tackle the discrimination faced by young Black students in schools for wearing their hair in natural styles.

Beauty brands are transforming the products that women once felt were too embarrassing to purchase. Companies like Nue Co., Honey Pot, Megababe, Jupiter and Billie are just some of the brands that are using packaging to reduce the stigma around everything from dandruff to toe hair.

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