Grocers that carefully consider consumer insights and are willing to continually review their eye care offerings can increase sales in the category.
By Craig Levitt
If the old proverb is correct, and the “eyes are the window to the soul,” what does that make eye care? For retailers it makes eye care a billion dollar industry with the potential for growth and profit.
To achieve the success that industry observers say is possible, there are a few things food retailers must do. Observers say first and foremost, food retailers need to look at the bigger picture and decide whether or not they want to be leaders in OTC and other health care categories. Following that, observers say it is imperative that grocers feature the proper eye care assortment and that it is merchandised correctly. They also need to stay competitive on pricing and promotion.
However, perhaps most important is that when manufacturers introduce new products, food retailers carry and promote them immediately. Observers say that too often grocers take a “wait and see” attitude with new health care products, often letting drug stores and mass merchants get the jump on capturing new customers.
“We have found that food retailers who are out there early and get their fair share of a new item hold a better and longer share of that product in the long run,” says John Conos, associate director of customer development for Rochester, N.Y.-based Bausch + Lomb. “Our recommendation to our strategic partners is to have the same innovative, if not a broader, assortment that drug has and not treat eye care as a convenience category.”
Eyes on the SKUs
While it is important for food retailers to be first to market with new items, observers say it is equally important to follow current trends and know when to exit a brand or SKU as well. Retailers also must make sure they are carrying the brands that doctors are recommending to their patients.
“The loyalty factor for some of these brands is extraordinary,” says Sandra Harrison, market manager, OPTI-FREE products for Alcon Laboratories, based in Fort Worth, Texas. “Get out too soon and you lose a consumer and the basket purchase that goes along with them. Stay in too long and you wind up investing dollars into SKUs that don’t turn.”
As essentially a fixed consumption category observers estimate that consumers taking proper care of their contact lenses should use approximately one average size bottle of lens solution a month. However industry statistics show that the typical purchase cycle is about four bottles per year. Thus, manufacturers are attempting to increase usage through innovation and technology.
In June, Bausch + Lomb launched Biotrue, a multi-purpose solution that Conos says is “inspired by the biology of the eyes,” to help lenses stay clean and moist. He adds that Biotrue is pH-balanced to match healthy tears, helping maintain the eye’s natural condition, uses hyaluronan, a natural lubricant found in the eye that helps attract moisture to lenses and lifts and dissolves denatured proteins.
“By studying the eye, we’re able to observe natural processes that have been proven through evolution so we can better develop health care solutions that work with the body, rather than interfering with it,” explains Mo Merchea, director medical affairs, North America, vision care at Bausch + Lomb. “Biotrue uses the science of the eye itself, and therefore the lens care solution is designed to work like the eye.”
In addition to new product innovation, Conos say Bausch + Lomb is attempting to drive consumer behavior with new clear bottle packaging. Along with Biotrue, which is available in the clear bottle, Bausch + Lomb re-launched its renu fresh multi-purpose contact lens solution in the clear bottle as well.
“The clear bottle allows the consumer to look at it and say, ‘I’m almost out of this stuff, I have to go pick some up.’ as opposed to them kind of skimping on it when they get down to the bottom of the bottle,” says Conos.
Fueled by an aging population, observers say dry eye products are one of the fastest growing within the eye care category. As the dry eye market continues to grow, Alcon introduces new members to its SYSTANE family. Harrison says SYSTANE Liquid Gel marks the first liquid gel product for the brand while the SYSTANE Ultra 2 by 4 ml. Pocket Pack offers consumers carrying convenience. SYSTANE Balance Lubricant Eye Drops offers a new technology platform designed to treat those consumers who are suffering from Meibomian Gland Dysfunction, a severe type of dry eye.
“New products are a reflection of new technologies that are continually being developed by manufacturers to address consumers’ eye care needs,” says Harrison. “Doctors turn to these new technologies to improve patient compliance and patient experiences. These new products in turn fuel category growth and profitability for the retailer.”
Prestige Brands, based in Irvington, N.Y., has taken advantage of new technology as well. This month Clear Eyes Compete, an enhanced formula that provides relief for up to 12 hours for seven symptoms including redness, dryness, itchiness, grittiness, irritation, burning and watery eyes reaches retailer shelves.
In addition to the launch of Clear Eyes Complete the entire Clear Eyes line has undergone a restaging, according to Dean Siegal, director of communications for Prestige Brands. The restaging includes a redesign of graphics enhancing the products’ 8-hour relief claim as well as differentiating the function of one product from another.
“We wanted to restage the line in order to unify all the products to present a more uniform look on shelf,” says Siegal. “We think this not only enhances the consumer appeal but also emphasizes that we now have multiple products such as redness relief, itchy eye relief, contact lens relief, the tears line for dry eyes… the list goes on.”