Sprucing Up HBC Assortments

There are dozens of HBC categories from which consumers can choose. To help increase sales, grocers would be wise to narrow the list a bit.

Generation Xers are about at the age where they are trying to recapture their youth. Generations Y and Z are trying to look good and be cool. Baby Boomers are trying to eliminate those nagging aches and pains. No matter the age or product line, consumers—male as well as female—are shopping retailers’ HBC sections in droves.

With more foot traffic than any of other outlet, grocery retailers are in prime position to capitalize on the influx of sales. Yet for some reason the grocery channel often lags when it comes to moving HBC product. Industry observers say that over the years it seems as if consumers’ view of the HBC aisle at grocery has shifted.

They say that when grocery was once a destination shop, HBC is now viewed as a convenience, along with the perception of being a high-priced, limited-assortment option.

That is not to say some grocers are not doing well. “Kroger, H-E-B, Meijer, Wegmans, Ahold and Hy-Vee are doing some interesting things within HBC,” says Keith Wypyszynski, vice president business development/chief member officer for Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Global Market Development Center. “Especially beauty and personal care with new shelving and lighting, integrating natural products and really capitalizing on the whole approach to health and wellness.”

With products designed to tend to the head, the feet and everything in between, some observers say supermarkets would be best served to focus on specific individual categories instead of trying to carry something for everyone.

“[Grocers] should utilize key categories and use them as destination categories with unique visuals and expanded sections, using impactful end of aisle displays to draw consumers into the HBC aisle,” says Wypyszynski. “Secondary placement of HBC can also create incremental sales.”

He says some of these categories include vitamins and supplements and lower cost alternative OTC’s in the health and wellness area. There are a couple different reasons for the growth, say observers. Some credit the strong educational message and preventive care articles being delivered by the media. Others say that the new customers that entered the category in 2010 are remaining and becoming repeat buyers.

While the drug channel is still the leader in these categories, grocery stands to continue to gain share. Vitamin and supplement sales, for example, have increased more than 7% at grocery in the past year according to industry data.

“Grocery needs to keep looking at ways to engage store personnel with consumers and offer assistance,” says Gary Pigott, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Miami Lakes, Fla.-based Mason Vitamins “Having HBC personnel working the section will bring new sales. The successful regional retailers have proven this concept for many years.”

Watery eyes and runny noses are a sure sign that allergy season has arrived. During this time one of the most valuable staffers in the HBC section, particularly for OTC items, can be the pharmacist. Study after study has shown that consumers regularly consult with their pharmacist, placing as much—if not more—value on what they say as they do their own doctors. Much of that has to do with the fact that consumers usually interact more with their pharmacist, than their doctor.

Beyond allergy relief, another area that consumers usually consult with pharmacists is pain relief. While most look toward pills to eliminate relief, increasingly, consumers seem to be trying to lower the number of pills they take. This has shined a light on external pain relievers.

Jannelle Aslam, product manager for Floram Park, N.J.-based Hisamitsu America, maker of the Salonpas line of pain relief products, says grocery has enjoyed recent growth in topical analgesics sales.

“A lot of the growth has been because many grocers are taking on topicals for the first time,” she says. “Historically food retailers have carried more of the creams and gels, but not much of the patches. Many are starting to and that is bringing growth to the category.”
She adds since women are generally the first to try pain relievers, then influence the rest of the household, it makes sense that grocery be a leader in the category. Salonpas recently launched four items—supported with heavy television advertising. One, Aslam calls a breakthrough in the category because “it is the only FDA approved item that provides pain relief for 12 hours—50% more than any other pain relief patch, or topical pain reliever for that matter.”

The other items launched include the Salonpas Gel Patch Hot, which comes in two sizes: large, available in a three count and a regular in six count; a massage foam and a jet spray.
Some observers say these, and other new items can go a long way toward sparking consumer interest in the entire HBC aisle. However, for a retailer—specifically a grocer—to take advantage of that “hot” product, it must do a better job getting that product on shelf early in its lifecycle.

“Retailers that do a better job of ‘announcing’ and ‘launching’ new items are winning,” says Wypyszynski.

And there are a lot of new products being launched. With so many new product launches, Wypyszynski says it can often be difficult for retailers to manage, “But they pay dividends with the key female shopper.”

Ladies night
When it comes to female shoppers, one of the most important HBC categories is obviously feminine hygiene. Procter & Gamble is drawing women to the HBC aisle with innovation to its line of Always and Tampax brands. An example is the new Radiant Collection, the first time Tampax and Always products are to be featured under the same collection branding.

According to Sarah Innes, North America feminine care marketing director for Cincinnati-based P&G, the Radiant Collection combines the most superior products from Tampax and Always, with a new stylish, glittery look. In addition to Tampax tampons and Always Infinity pads, the collection includes Always Incredibly Thin Liner and Always Radiant Wipes-to-Go. Innes says the collection also features a first of its kind resealable tampon wrapper.

“Feminine care is a very brand loyal category with quality and trust being the two most important attributes for choosing a brand,” says Innes. In addition to loyalty regimen usage is very common and 70% of women use two or more forms. Feminine care products are also often the trip driver to additional products being purchased.”

Disposable diapers is another category that can be a trip driver and has a high rate of brand loyalty. It is also a category in which grocery is continually losing share to dollar, club and mass merchant channels. Observers say the grocery channel is down about 9%. As a result it is important for grocers to take an opportunistic approach with mothers during their routine trips. Effective advertising, merchandising and trial-based promotional plan can simulate sales and loyalty.

Of course, gaining a new mother’s trust can be difficult. Chris Ferdock, vice president of marketing for Duluth, Ga.-based Associated Hygienic Products (AHP), says the foundation for doing so is by exceeding expectations in the form of leakage protection and fit. “Often in this category, manufacturers attempt to market non-important product features like printed patterns or colorized materials that mothers quickly dismiss as disingenuous,” he says.

While all new mothers buy diapers, because of the brand loyalty the category has, attracting that first-time mother is all the more important. Ferdock says AHP has developed interesting new marketing concepts designed to attract those first-time mothers.

“It’s our first impressions marketing campaign, and it is a comprehensive tactical plan designed to encourage product trial and continuity with new mothers,” he says. “The campaign is supported by a robust social media initiative that is designed to assist retailers to identify demographic targets, social media forums, discussion content, consumer advertising and navigation strategies.”

For older kids, a category grocers should focus on is oral care. While characters on a diaper may not be very important to an infant, the wrong character on a toothbrush for a grade schooler can lead to a lifetime at the dentist. Staying current with today’s trends, Dr. Fresh has added Looney Tunes Tweety Bird, Batman and Superman to its FireFly family of light-up timer manual toothbrushes. Daniel Enriquez, vice president of sales for the Buena Vista Park, Calif.-based company, says that Batman and Barbie rotary toothbrushes will also incorporate the FireFly lightup technology.

For adults, Enriquez says whitening products, dental accessories and mouthwash are doing well. “Assortment is always key to growth,” he says. “Since grocery plans have been a bit more rigid over the years, speed to market and constant change is always important.”

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