Suncare war hots up as Boots reduces prices

THE price war in suncare products intensified yesterday when Boots, the biggest retailer of sunscreens and suntan lotions, cut prices by up to a third on selected brands in its 1,100 shops.

Its biggest rival, Superdrug, sparked off the war last month, announcing 25 per cent reductions on brands such as Ambre Solaire, Nivea and Piz Buin. Tesco and Lloyds Chemists followed. Boots and Superdrug, the second-largest player in the pounds 110m suncare market, are locked in a legal battle over their own-label lotions. Boots, maker and retailer of the Soltan brand, has accused Superdrug of 'passing off' with its Solait brand. On 19 May, in the High Court, it will seek an injunction to have Solait removed from Superdrug shelves.

Boots has 47 per cent of the suncare market and makes gross margins - the difference between the buying and selling price - of about 60 per cent, Superdrug claims. From today in Boots, 200ml of Ambre Solaire Milk is down to pounds 4.79, compared to pounds 5.39 at Superdrug; 400ml of Nivea Sun Lotion is cut to pounds 6.99, compared to pounds 7.49 at Superdrug.

Superdrug is owned by the Kingfisher group, which also owns B & Q and Woolworth. Last year it started selling cut-price luxury perfumes in a campaign which ended with the industry being referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Geoff Brady, Superdrug's buying and marketing director, said he aimed to double its market share of suncare products from 8 to 16 per cent this year.

Superdrug had identified several other areas where Boots made large margins because it had market share of more than 30 per cent, he said. These include skin care, photographic films, photographic developing and printing, and vitamins.

Mr Brady said that with ozone depletion and the increasing risk of skin cancer, it was irresponsible of retailers to treat sun protection products as luxury items.

A Boots spokeswoman said: 'It's all about giving our customers the best deal on the high street.'

Manufacturers of suncare products suggest to retailers a recommended selling price. This is not binding, but until recently most retailers have stuck to it.

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