Watch your mouth

The oral care category continues to grow with innovation.

Years ago, the choices in oral care amounted to white (regular toothpaste) or blue/green (mint toothpaste).

Today people are doing much more than brushing their teeth, and consumers are demanding a greater variety of products. WWE-4pack_010914According industry observers, companies that integrate more benefits into their oral care products are succeeding in bringing more dollars to the oral care category.

Retail sales for the oral care market are estimated to be around $6.4 billion and expected to reach $7.1 billion by 2017. Part of the increase is due to the fact that the population is expected to grow 4% from 2013 to 2018. Additionally, as the senior age group is set to expand, oral care needs such as managing tooth decay and gum disease become more pressing.

Value-added features are also helping to grow the oral care category. According to Chicago-based Mintel’s 2013 Oral Care report, toothpastes that offer benefits such as cavity prevention, enamel protection and whitening, continue to drive sales for the segment. Observers say innovation is the key to success in this category and consumers will pay more if they perceive that the new products offer important benefits.

“The consumer is starting to understand that it’s not necessarily a bargain to go for the lowest price in oral care,” says Phil Rubin, vice president of marketing for Los Angeles-based TheraBreath. He points to Greek yogurt and organic juices as examples of foods that consumers are buying now as they examine ingredients more closely than ever.

“People ignored the notion that mouthwash and toothpaste are something they ingest every day. It was not something you think about in terms of ingredients, but finally they came around,” he says.

According to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, sales of mouthwash in grocery totaled $337.8 million for the 52 weeks ended January 26, an increase of 3.5% compared to the same period the previous year. Unit sales totaled nearly 78.3 million, an increase of 3.3%. Growth at grocery outpaced overall sales, which totaled nearly $1.38 billion, up 2.8%. Unit sales were more than 319.8 million, up 2.9% compared to the previous year.

Rubin says though TheraBreath products are slightly more expensive than other brands, they are seeing growth as shoppers are willing to spend more on innovative products. People want rinses that are not harsh, he adds. Years ago, it was a given that mouthwash contained alcohol, but not anymore.

“It tasted like death but we were convinced that was the reason it was working,” Rubin says. “Now we know that alcohol works for a while, but it dries your mouth, which can cause infection because you do not have saliva.”

TheraBreath’s new products include Icy Mint Oral Rinse. It is the first flavor extension of the rinse and features cool menthol and crisp citrus. There is also a new 24-count Mouth Wetting Lozenge that contains jambu, or dragon fruit extract. The lozenges are designed to freshen breath and help stimulate saliva production. That can be an important feature for the Baby Boomers and other adults taking blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density and other medications. “Seventy-five percent of all medications cause dry mouth,” Rubin says.

On the other end of the age spectrum, kids need to develop good dental hygiene habits, and fun toothbrushes can help. Brush Buddies, based in Fontana, Calif., will have 20 new products this year, says CEO and owner Anish Patel. Recently the company launched a line of Garfield manual toothbrushes, sonic powered toothbrushes and a travel kit. The kit consists of a manual toothbrush, cap and bubble gum flavored toothpaste.

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Toothbrushes are a challenging category right now, say observers. According to IRI, toothbrush sales are flat in grocery. Sales of manual toothbrushes totaled $182.9 million, down 0.5%. Consumers bought fewer toothbrushes, totaling 75.6 million units, for a decrease of 3.5%. Power toothbrushes saw 0.6% growth, totaling nearly $52.5 million in grocery. Unit sales for power toothbrushes were up 1.7% to 7.3 million.

Manufacturers such as Brush Buddies are trying to counter that flat trend with licensed products that bring some novelty to the shopping cart. Patel says consumers are looking for upscale products at affordable prices. “We have aggressive price points, and we add entertainment,” he says. “As manufacturers we are expanding both value and innovation.”

Also new from Brush Buddies is the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) line of manual toothbrushes, sonic toothbrushes and travel kits. The 4-pack of brushes feature wrestlers The Rock, John Cena, Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan. A battery operated brush features the theme songs for wrestlers The Rock and John Cena. With the push of a button the user can hear one song in the morning and one at night. According to the American Dental Association, children should brush their teeth for two minutes twice a day, so the musical toothbrushes are designed to help parents get kids to reach that goal.

Another factor that helps parents is to have the items in grocery, say observers.
“The supermarket plays a big role in oral care,” says Patel. “Moms are the ones who shop for oral care. They are shopping that aisle, looking for products that are going to work for their children.”

Brush Buddies’ other new children’s product is a battery-operated toothbrush that plays Ylvis, a Norwegian duo, singing What Does the Fox Say? Most of the new products are geared for kids age four to teens, Patel says. For adults, Brush Buddies offers the Soniclean Pro 2000, Soniclean Pro 3000 and Soniclean Pro 5000. The latter has four brush heads for adult, kid, sensitive and whitening.

Whitening is a promising area for oral care. While toothpaste sales were flat, sales of products related to whitening were up. IRI reported that sales of toothpaste in grocery totaled nearly $724.2 million, up 0.7%. Sales of some brands of whitening products were up in the single digits. Private label tooth bleaching products were up nearly 6%, to $6.8 million. Among the new private label entrants are Whitening Dental Strips from Morristown, Tenn.-based DentaCare. According to the DentaCare website, the products are comparable to various Crest 3D whitening products.

Observers say young consumers—adults age 25 to 34—are more likely to buy whitening products that improve the cosmetic appearance of their teeth. This age group is also interested in technology, and some manufacturers have responded by connecting oral health to smartphones. Last year Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble’s Oral-B brand launched the Oral-B App, a digital tool for brushing routines. The app is to be used with any Oral-B power brush, and offers automated activation of a brush timer through recognition of the brush motor sound. The app also has a statistics function to track the user’s progress.

Sensitivity is another growing area. Tooth sensitivity can be caused by many different factors, and consumers are seeking relief. One newer entrant is Senzzzzz Away, a single dose gel from South Fallsburg, N.Y.-based Majestic Drug. The treatment is designed to eliminate tooth sensitivity to heat, cold and sweets.

Many consumers are finding out about new products and features online, says Rubin. “Retailers have to figure out the opportunity for user reviews in stores,” he says. Some retailers are experimenting with electronic signage while others have nurses in the aisles answering questions and making recommendations. 

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