The Italian skin care brand, steeped in truffle farming heritage, adapts its brand-building strategy to keep pace in a rapidly-evolving marketplace.

Skin & Co, the family-owned truffle farming business, is chartering a nimble brand trajectory in line with ever-evolving market dynamics.

“We are truffle farmers, maybe high-end farmers, but we’re still farmers,” said Gabriel Balestra, Executive Director, Skin & Co, and third-generation entrepreneur. “We call our DNA farm-to-face. The story of our heritage and farms is in Italy, the passion of the people who have been doing it for generations.”

At the same time, Gabriel cited a need for agile brand-building in an age of reduced barriers to entry. “We are in a very fast-moving industry. Once you’ve figured it out, it changes all over again. The challenge is to rebuild the beauty model. It’s clearly not working in the same way as it was 15 to 20 years ago.”

Skin & Co is well-positioned to adapt itself to changes in market conditions. “We are proud to control the whole supply chain from harvesting of the ingredient, manufacturing the product to distribution. We have a direct relationship with retailers. We don’t use distributors.”

Since launching in 2013, Skin & Co, owned by the Sabatino Group, which distributes gourmet foods and ingredients (Oprah Winfrey has consistently cited Sabatino’s truffles as one of her ‘Favorite Things’), is available in 16 countries, including North America, Europe, Asia (Japan and South Korea), and most recently, Russia. “Our business started on television: QVC in Europe; HSN in the US. So far, in 2018, including products launching in fall, we will be delivering over 3.4 million full-sized products in the U.S. this year,” said Gabriel.

The brand’s unique selling proposition is black truffle. “The truffle extract is very specific to our company and our sister company, developed by our grandparents. The average cost of black truffle is $3,800 per pound during high season. We’re not talking about chamomile.”

Gabriel has brought his family’s formulas into the modern era, while preserving and respecting the ancient Umbrian lands from which they’re derived. He explained that the specific enzyme in truffles, superoxide dismutase [SOD], is a strong enzyme that works in tandem with the natural renewal process of the skin, and has the capacity to destroy free radicals, and regenerate and increase skin elasticity. “Not all extracts are created equal,” said Gabriel.

Interestingly, the average age of Skin & Co’s customer has decreased significantly over the past 18 months. “She has become a lot younger. Up until two years ago, our customer was aged between 45 years old and 60 years old. Today, our customer is aged 23 plus,” said Gabriel.

Gabriel attributed this change to some of Skin & Co’s partnerships, especially Ipsy. “Ipsy’s reach is with the younger consumer who loves product. She’ll start with the cleansing products. The Truffle Therapy Face Toner is the bestseller across all our partners. Our cleansing routine is the bestselling category, especially among millennials. The Truffle Therapy Serum is the bestseller within treatment.”

Gabriel noted that there is no set path to success in today’s world. “One of the mistakes we made in the beginning is trying to walk the path that a beauty brand has to walk on, the necessity to be with a certain retailer, or to listen to reports that tell you millennials love this or that. By the time the report comes out, it’s already different. Skin & Co started spiking in sales when we walked away from traditional box thinking, and stopped focusing on launching with certain retailers. We underestimate the brands that are doing very well and that didn’t launch in standard ways.”

In addition to working with a number of beauty boxes (“a very fast and changing player”), Skin & Co is also sold at Ulta Beauty, HSN, QVC, Dermstore, Amazon Luxury Beauty and Nordstrom, among others. The brand recently signed agreements with Albea Travel Designer, a distributor of products in the airline industry, giving Skin & Co exposure in the airline industry. The brand also inked a new partnership with an American conglomerate (to be announced shortly) that will license Skin & Co products in hotels. “We will be creating a new line for hotels, obviously featuring truffles. This will help our travel reach. We will be in direct touch with our customers when they are traveling and on vacation, a time when customers pay attention.”

As for new products, Skin & Co launched Truffle Therapy Whipped Cleansing Cream two months ago. “It’s a makeup remover and moisturizer in one, an evolution of the cleansing routine.”

Skin & Co is also exploring using the oil part of the truffle extract for various skin types. “I don’t believe that millennials use one brand only. With the oil from truffles, you can add it to other products. We have noticed synergies with other brands and products. Our customer is very receptive, and wants to try a lot of different products.”