An eye toward building sales

The eye care category is a steady performer, but grocers must pay attention to merchandising and product mix to keep pace with other channels.

In some categories, growth is subject to the whim of ever-changing consumer preferences. The eye care category is not one of those categories.

John Conos, director of sales and category management for Bausch + Lomb, based in Rochester, N.Y., refers to eye care as a “fixed consumption category” that is not easily influenced by outside factors, noting that the eye care category historically records growth in the low single-digits each year. “The eye care category continues to be a consistent performing category year over year for several reasons, one of which is due to the fact that people have and always will need to properly take care of their eyes and contact lenses,” he says.

However, industry observers say even consistently paced categories need to regularly innovate. “Future growth will likely come from those companies that incorporate new materials, technologies, bottle designs and packaging into their product lineup,” Conos says. “Additionally, look for prescription-to-OTC switches to continue to play a large role.”
Aside from contact lens products, eye care products that address specific conditions are also driving sales. Alcon officials say eye care continues to be a top-performing category for the company. Matt Gibson, associate brand manager for U.S. lens care for the Fort Worth, Texas-based company, says dry eye and chemical disinfectants are behind much of the growth in the category today. According to Gibson, some of the biggest contributors driving sales in these sub-categories are the SYSTANE line of dry eye products and the chemical disinfectants CLEAR CARE and OPTI-FREE brand lens solutions.

Melissa Mursch, product manager with Similasan, based in Highlands Ranch, Colo., says another reason eye care sales have been steady are the number of Baby Boomers entering the category. “Baby Boomers comprise a large portion of eye care product users today.

They may control a large portion of the spending power in the U.S. but they are also suffering from various age-related issues like dry eye and eye strain,” she says.
There are a number of qualities consumers look for in eye care products, but experts say topping the list are products that help them achieve crisp, clear vision. “Paramount in their decision making process as to which product to chose are those that can help them see better, live better, are efficacious and easy to use,” says Conos. With that in mind, Bausch + Lomb recently introduced a lens care multi-purpose solution called Biotrue, which company officials say is the first lens solution inspired by the biology of the eyes.

“It works just like your eyes do and is pH balanced to match healthy tears,” he says, adding that the brand has been one of the most successful launches in recent category history. “Consumers and eye care practitioners are raving over the performance of this product.”

Seeking help on the shelf

Experts say the number of people going online to learn about their ocular conditions and identify what OTC treatments are available is one of the biggest shifts impacting the consumer and the OTC eye care category today. “Add to this the government’s focus on getting costs out of the system which results in healthcare costs being pushed down to the consumer and you find more people looking to explore OTC products than ever before.

With a U.S. OTC market of $143 billion there is opportunity for everyone to increase their OTC sales,” says Gibson.

Despite the growing number of national and private label eye care brands on the market today, Gibson says consumers gravitate to products they can recognize and trust. “Even though the consumer has an ever-growing menu of options to choose from, we still see strong loyalty to brands with a trusted and proven track record,” he says.

Price, adds Gibson, is a factor but is not a top consideration with eye care products, noting that 61% of eye care product purchases fall in the $4 to $12 range, which is slightly higher than last year. “The bulk of the eye care products being purchased average around $9, which shows consumers are willing to pay a premium price for a premium product,” says Gibson.

While U.S. consumers may be turning to eye care products more frequently, as Mursch notes, they are also willing to seek out alternatives to traditional offerings. “Across the board, homeopathic medicines have been growing in popularity among mainstream consumers in recent years due to their natural ingredients and safe and effective formulas,” says Mursch. “Increasingly, consumers are growing wary of traditional OTCs and the chemical ingredients they can contain. The multiple recalls that have taken place in the past few years have certainly contributed to this and encouraged people look at other options such as homeopathy for their eye care needs.”

Industry observers note that a chief way retailers can build sales in the category is by being first to market with segment-based, insight-driven innovations. “Retailers must carry consumer preferred and doctor driven brands. Aligning with manufacturers leading in this space is a must,” says Conos.

David Labanara, Alcon’s Northeast region manager for vision care, says that by paying close attention to their product assortments and planograms grocers can be competitive with other trade channels and build sales in the category. “An annual review of their product assortment is a must for grocers in order to keep up with product innovation and ensure that they are stocking all items that are being sampled and detailed with the eye care professional,” says Labanara.

Shelf management focus, particularly within the chemical disinfectant segment, he adds, is also critical to ensuring that shelf space is being properly allocated to brands based on sales and market share. “Regarding retail pricing and promotion, grocers have the opportunity to be very competitive with drug and mass retailers within the chemical disinfectant segment through regular promotional activity tied to the manufacturers, FSIs and supported by off shelf display or [other] activity,” he says.

Building incremental sales

According to Bausch + Lomb officials, there is also an opportunity to promote incremental purchases by cross merchandising. “Offering an allergy eye drop like Alaway Eye Itch Relief [10 ml] in the systemic allergy aisle or an eye vitamin like Ocuvite Eye Health Formula Vitamin & Mineral Supplement [30 count] in the eye care aisle has proven to drive incremental sales. Many of our retailers are now executing strategies like these more broadly in store,” says Conos.

Bausch + Lomb officials are continuing to innovate in the eye care and ocular nutritional categories through a series of new product offerings this year. In addition to the successful launch of Biotrue multi-purpose solution, Bausch + Lomb is also driving bottle design and packaging innovations.

Officials say the company recently launched the first-ever clear bottle design in the lens care category. This innovation is available in its Biotrue multipurpose solution and renu fresh multipurpose solution. “Consumer feedback on the design has been outstanding. Our patients love the fact that they can see how much solution is remaining and can repurchase accordingly,” says Conos.

Within the dry eye segment, Bausch + Lomb recently launched Soothe Hydration Lubricant Eye Drop (15 ml), the latest addition to the successful Soothe brand. Similar to natural tears, Soothe Hydration with Povidone, moisturizes, comforts, and protects against further irritation, according to company officials.

Bausch + Lomb has also made some additions to their ocular nutritional line up. Earlier this year, the company launched PreserVision Eye Vitamin AREDS 2. According to company officials, the formula builds on the original PreserVision Eye Vitamin Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) Formula by adding omega-3 fatty acids (1,000 mg) per daily dosage, lutein (10 mg) and zeaxanthin (2 mg), replacing beta-carotene.

According to Conos, the company has also refined the packaging on its Ocuvite and PreserVision products with contemporary graphics. “In January, we will be supporting our Ocuvite Adult 50+ Vitamin & Mineral Supplement items with a 360-degree consumer campaign. We are really excited about the future of ocular nutritionals,” he says, noting Bausch +Lomb is committed to launch three to five major new items each year across all their lens care and lens franchises.

Alcon’s Labanara says that a recent study showing 16% of patients stop purchasing contact lenses each year due to discomfort was the impetus for the creation of a new multi-purpose contact lens solution from Alcon. In July of 2011, the company launched OPTI-FREE PureMoist Multi-Purpose Disinfecting Solution. It contains HydraGlyde Moisture Matrix which provides comfort and moisture from lens insertion to removal.

“The product has had a successful start in grocery with over 97% ACV headquarters distribution through this fall,” says Labanara. “This breakthrough technology is backed with a professional sales force that calls on eye doctors around the U.S. to create demand and drive patients from the eye doctor’s office into the store to purchase the product.”

For officials at Similasan, addressing eye strain issues has been one of their chief product focuses this year. According to Mursch, their Similasan Computer Eye Relief product was created to relieve symptoms of eye fatigue such as blurred vision, hypersensitivity to light, redness, and strained eyes due to PCs, TVs, gaming, reading or driving.

“Figures from the American Optometric Association show computer eye strain affects 100 million Americans annually. As technology develops and the use of computers, 3-D televisions, pads and mobile devices grows, eye strain will become even more prevalent among consumers,” says Mursch.

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