Store of the Future   //   August 11, 2021

As sales rise again, mask and sanitizer companies focus on longer-term branding

After another influx in U.S. Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, consumers are once again stocking up on masks and hand sanitizer.

In July, Instacart reported that sales of hand sanitizer and medical face masks were up 24% and 16%, respectively, compared to June. Moreover, in the first of August, sales in both categories outpaced the week prior, signaling continued growth.

However, this time around, growth is not as explosive as it was at the beginning of the pandemic. Instead, consumers are looking for more stylish and buzzier versions of formerly un-sexy necessities, rather than just snapping up whatever they could find in bulk, as they did in 2020. In response, brands are investing in more fashionable styles and sexier messaging, to address consumer fatigue.

While the two categories are experiencing renewed interest, hand sanitizer sales in July were still down 52% year-over-year at Instacart, suggesting that these products still won’t experience the same sales boom that they did last year.

Instacart’s Trends Expert, Laurentia Romaniuk, said over email that products that treat symptoms are seeing more yearly growth than products that prevent illness. In July, pain relievers, cough suppressants and cold and flu medicine sales at Instacart were up 19%, 39% and 85%, respectively, year-over-year.

“We’re seeing noticeable shifts in consumer spending behavior that differ considerably from the start of the pandemic,” said Romaniuk. “This could be due to the fact that consumers are already well-stocked on preventative items after a year of pandemic living and are facing a greater need for products that treat symptoms as they continue to re-enter into the world.”

Masks get stylish

Without a shortage on preventative products during this latest coronavirus spike, brands are free to move from necessity to style, said Scott Geftman, president of New York City fashion brand Rowing Blazers.

“Early in the pandemic, there was an urgent need for masks and a mask shortage,” said Geftman. So when Rowing Blazers started selling masks in April last year, the company decided to donate one mask to the Food Bank for NYC, for every mask purchased.

“There’s no longer a face mask shortage in the city, of course, and so now we are just focused on producing cool, upcycled, affordable masks that are made in New York and that people will actually like wearing,” Geftman said.

The retailer’s mask sales have grown 170%, 57% and 503% week over week, over the last three consecutive weeks, respectively. Geftman said that this period is the largest uptick the company has seen in the category since the masks’ initial launch last year. The number of masks Rowing Blazers sold in the past week, for example, were over 200% higher compared to the same period last year.

Playing towards fashion, the brand is currently working on releasing a new mask style with sweater brand Warm & Wonderful. The mask will feature a black sheep pattern that matches Rowing Blazers’ and Warm & Wonderful’s replica of a famous sweater worn by Princess Diana.

Similarly, John Lin, director of operations at accessories brand Pacific Mason said its origami mask styles have sold three times more overall than the brand’s standard masks.

“The origami masks are more versatile — [with] better coverage from nose to chin – [and] almost eliminate fogging of glasses,” said Lin. “Not to mention, it’s [more] fashionable and trendier to most people.”

Sanitation gets sexy

At hand sanitizer brand Touchland, style is also on the mind, explained brand founder and CEO Andrea Lisbona.

Last week, the brand released four new sanitizer scents — Blue Sandalwood, Velvet Peach, Applelicious, Lemon Lime Spritz and Rainwater — with assistance from fragrance house Givaudan. At the same time, the brand created a new ad campaign featuring young party-goers using sanitizing products before heading to a party, high-fiving friends and making out with strangers. The brand is using this content on its own social handles as well as on paid advertising on Facebook, YouTube, Google and out-of-home placement.

This campaign tries to strike the balance between sanitation and fun, said Lisbona. “Ninety-nine percent of the hand sanitizers in the market [today], they launched to just profit off of a pandemic,” said Lisbona. “[We wanted to] enable people to live fearlessly, curiously, passionately, but not recklessly. Because at the end of the day, the easiest way to stay healthy is to keep your hands clean.”

Last August, Touchland also released a new B-to-B dispenser, “The Hub”, and partnered with buzzy brands like Equinox and Sweet Green to bring the brand’s mist sanitation technology to gyms and restaurants. The elevated scents and format of the products are a solution for a pandemic boom right now, but also for a future of a long-term focus on health, said Lisbona.

“During the pandemic, [brands realized] … ‘it looks like this is going to be the world from now on, this is not going away,’” said Lisbona. “They could have gone on to select any cheap [hand sanitizing] option, but they trusted us because they said ‘I don’t want any customers walking into my business and be reminded of Covid or anything fear-driven.”

With that, brands like Rowing Blazers, Pacific Mason and Touchland all believe preventative product demand is here to stay.

“We do believe that masks are going to play some part in our lives for some time to come, whether we like it or not,” said Rowing Blazer’s Geftman. “Regardless of whether there is a second wave, there will be some people who will choose to wear masks, especially in situations like air or train travel, even if there comes a time when they aren’t required.”