Something to sink your teeth into

Specialty and image-enhancing products are growing segments within the oral care category.

By Craig Levitt

Baby Boomers are aging and health care costs continue to rise. As a result, many employers are cutting dental coverage, forcing employees to take oral care into their own hands. The three main tenets of oral care remain brushing, rinsing with mouthwash and flossing, and retailers must provide an ample product selection to remain competitive.

However, retailers that also dedicate space to secondary segments will be flashing their pearly whites, say industry observers. In addition to basic oral care products, consumers are seeking over-the-counter solutions for dry mouth, bad breath, teeth whitening and other issues that used to be addressed with a visit to the dentist.

Observers say that not only are products in these secondary segments driving consumers to the oral set, many of these products offer retailers potentially higher margins than traditional oral care items. For example, TheraBreath, a specialty brand that targets dry mouth, bad breath and other underserved needs in the oral care section, provides margins in the 40-plus range, according to Phil Rubin, vice president of marketing for Los Angeles-based Dr. Harold Katz, maker of TheraBreath. On the market since 1994, Rubin adds that though TheraBreath is more expensive than other similar products, it outperforms them.

“Users who are looking for specific solutions tend to gravitate toward our line,” he says. “TheraBreath is to toothpaste what a specialty hair care product is to shampoo. It is not something consumers replace regular commodity products with every day, it’s something they keep on the shelf. If they have a concern, it is there.”

One of TheraBreath’s newest products is a lozenge for breath freshening. As they developed the lozenges, company officials also saw an opportunity to alleviate dry mouth conditions. A salivary inducer that stimulates the body to produce saliva was added to the lozenge and the product now serves a dual purpose. It is this type of innovation that Rubin says makes TheraBreath a program rather than a group of products.

“We introduce to the consumer that there are all these advantages to using specialty products,” he adds. “Once they discover our mouthwash or toothpaste, they say, ‘OK, this is neat, this applies to me, what else do you have?’”

Something special

It seems that some retailers are beginning to experiment with specialty oral care subsets that bring together products such as TheraBreath, Biotene, which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, Colgate Peroxyl and Colgate Phos-Flur. The benefit in doing so, say observers, is that shoppers are no longer comparing a $10 apothecary/medicinal product to a $3 everyday item. The strategy seems to be working. Rubin says recent sales of TheraBreath products were up 22% in a recent four-week span, according to data from The Nielsen Co., based in New York.

Bad breath and dry mouth may be brought on by various health issues, but yellow teeth are more than likely self-inflicted. That doesn’t mean consumers are any less motivated to address the problem. Retail whitening products cost significantly less than professional treatments, which is prompting many consumers to try at-home alternatives.

According to Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group, dollar sales for tooth bleaching/whitening products increased 4.55% at food, drug and mass merchant outlets (excluding Walmart) for the 52-week period ended June 12. Furthermore, the SymphonyIRI Group reports that seven of the top 15 toothpastes boast some sort of whitening feature.

“Typically, when the economy is down, people are looking for opportunities to brighten their lives, so to speak,” says Dunnan D. Edell, president and CEO of CCA Industries, the East Rutherford, N.J.-based maker of the Plus White brand. “So a cosmetic uplift, whether it be whitening or lipstick or nail polish, which are both hot right now, that’s what people are looking for.”

Observers say that for grocers to get the most out of the whitening category, they must recognize that these products can be very profitable and provide a strong shelf presence. Like the specialty oral care subset, observers note that retailers that have created a whitening section within the oral care department have fared well. Displays, floor stands and endcaps, when combined with timely promotions, will also drive sales.

“We do a lot of retailer specific marketing,” says Edell. “We come in and during periods of advertising try to work with retailers to get displays into their stores, tying in co-op advertising to drive business.”

Edell says Plus White benefits consumers even more because of its price-point, typically between $7 and $12, versus $19.99 up to $40 for some of the higher-priced kits. Not surprisingly, private label whitening products have also fared well during these recessionary times. According to the SymphonyIRI Group, private label is the third leading brand of bleaching/whitening products. Other SymphonyIRI Group categories in which private label oral care products have been successful include mouthwash, dental accessories, dental floss and manual toothbrushes.

Whether branded or private label, it is important that retailers offer high-quality products that perform as promised. Duff Lewis, senior director of marketing for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Ranir, maker of private label oral care products, says quality is a key factor in determining consumers’ perception, particularly with private label.

“Beyond good, quality products, it is important for retailers to partner with manufacturers who provide excellent customer service,” says Lewis. “In addition, these companies will provide retailers with new and innovative products, assist in maximizing their oral care planogram sales and profitability through product mix, pricing product placement and promotional programs.”

Working together

Part of the innovation consumers are seeking includes oral care systems in which floss, toothpaste, toothbrush and mouthwash all work together to maximize oral health. Many of the national brands have developed product bundles such as Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble’s Crest and Oral-B Pro-Health line.

“P&G is unique in that it is the only oral care company that competes in all the major forms,” says Kevin Kelley, P&G oral care category sales manager. “To help drive sales in the smaller household penetration categories like rinse and floss, P&G creates regimens that offer enhanced consumer benefits when used together that retailers can feature with strong merchandising support.”

In July, Crest launched its third regimen line with Crest Complete. The property includes an array of products led by two new toothpastes, Crest Complete Deep Clean and Crest Complete Dual Blast. The later features a new technology to eliminate food odors for fresher breath.

Dr. Fresh understands that innovation is one of the most critical requirements in order to keep the oral care category relevant with consumers. Puneet Nanda, president and CEO of the Buena Park, Calif.-based company, says new product development is the company’s top priority.

“At Dr. Fresh, we bank our success on being ahead of the curve in terms of offering the consumer new and better ways to practice superior oral care,” says Nanda. “We also listen very carefully to retailer feedback to move quickly to respond to turns and we are always working with retailers to develop in-store programs and promotions.”

A product line that Dr. Fresh is continually updating is toothbrushes; specifically its FireFly line of light-up timer manual toothbrushes for kids. Additions to the line include Looney Tunes Tweety Bird, Batman, Superman and the Original FireFly with Suction Cup. Batman and Barbie rotary toothbrushes are also being introduced and will incorporate the proprietary FireFly light-up technology. In addition, Nanda says the new line of Sonic+Guard toothbrushes in the Batman and Barbie models have been thus far been well-received by retailers. 

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