FOOT CARE -- STEPPING OUT

August 18, 2010
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Makers of private label foot care products can be excused for grinning like the owners of comfortable new shoes. That’s because in a market buffeted by declining sales, private label products seem to be a perfect fit for what consumers want when it comes to foot care these days.

While overall foot care product sales haven fallen overall in the past 52 weeks, private label foot care items kicked a hole in that trend, rising in sales and gaining market share in the process.



 
Makers of private label foot care products can be excused for grinning like the owners of comfortable new shoes. That’s because in a market buffeted by declining sales, private label products seem to be a perfect fit for what consumers want when it comes to foot care these days.
 
While overall foot care product sales haven fallen overall in the past 52 weeks, private label foot care items kicked a hole in that trend, rising in sales and gaining market share in the process.
 
Overall foot care product sales fell 9.0 percent to $616 million in the 52 weeks ended June 13, when compared to the prior 52-week period, according to data from SymphonyIRI Group, Chicago. SymphonyIRI data includes supermarket, drug store and mass merchandiser sales, but excludes Walmart.
 
The pain was most acute in the foot care device category, where category sales fell 13.6 percent to $356.5 million in the period.
 
But private label foot care device sales rose 4.0 percent, in contrast, to roughly $64.5 million, while sales of private label foot care medications rose to $55.2 million in the same 52-week span.
 
The story was the same in external rubs, where overall sales were down 7.2 percent, while private label sales rose 7.7 percent. In athletics foot medication, private label sales rose 3.2 percent, while overall category sales were down 1.8 percent in sales. In wart removers, overall category sales inched up 0.5 percent, while private label dollar sales jumped 31.8 percent.
 
The march toward private label foot care is expected to continue this year, manufacturers and analysts agree. SKU rationalization means some retailers are considering only stocking one branded foot care line along with private label. Dr. Scholl’s, owned by Merck & Co., is the 800-pound bunion in the foot care section.
 
“There isn’t an account that we serve that doesn’t test [foot care products] against Scholl’s,” says Arnold Werner, vice president of sales at Aetna Felt Corp., Allentown, Pa.
 
But pressed to maximize returns, some retailers are winnowing out lesser-known foot care brands and stocking more private label next to the “good doctor.” And private label suppliers are searching out new products and new display options to draw consumers who do need foot care to their side of the shelf.
 
“There will always be a balance between private brand and national brand offerings. But we are seeing many retailers moving to [a] ‘100 percent solution’ of private brand - only offerings in sub-segments that are stable, and where the quality of the private brand is clearly equal to or better than the brand, and the consumer does see a difference. This trend results in increased retailer ‘penny profits’ while still satisfying consumer demand,” says Steve Corsun, president at Premier Brands of America, Mount Vernon, N.Y. Many retailers also are increasing the amount of shelf space they devote to foot care, Corsun notes.
 

THE DOCTOR TRIPS

Dr. Scholl’s share of the market has fallen to 30.5 percent from 30.9 percent a year ago, while private label’s share has risen to 20 percent from 17.9 percent, says Kat Fay, senior beauty, personal care analyst with Mintel International Group, Chicago. Those numbers demonstrate that second-tier brands are being squeezed while private label grows.
 
“Foot care products are categorized as grudge purchases, purchases you don’t really get excited about; they’re a necessity,” Fay says.
 
And when consumers think of necessities these days, they increasingly think of private label. Two of the largest suppliers of private label foot care products - Premier and Aetna - are seeing sales rise this year, say executives at the firms.
 
“People are turning to private label more, absolutely,” says Werner. “Our business is very good, we are ahead of last year,” he says.
 
And Aetna hopes to stay ahead by innovating. It knows from sales in its podiatry division which foot care products are the most popular for podiatrists to sell to patients. It plans to introduce a group of roughly 10 such items for private labeling and market them in a professional foot care section, Werner explains.
 
Aetna has pitched Walgreens and CVS the new line and hopes to have the products in stores by the first quarter of 2011, Werner says. The line will include items Dr. Scholl’s doesn’t offer or, when it comes to some types of pads, offers only in foam - Aetna will be offering them in felt to differentiate its products, Werner explains.
 

“Everybody looks to Dr. Scholl’s as the leader, and they want to do everything that Dr. Scholl’s does. That’s not really what the accounts today want; they want new and innovative [products],” he says.

 

PICKING YOUR SEGMENT

Premier this year is seeing “many examples of further segmentation of the foot care category including a significant increase in items developed exclusively for the needs of women,” Corsun writes. “Additionally there is a shift toward continuous spray delivery systems in many of the aerosol foot sprays for consumer convenience reasons.”
 
Given that foot care products are a point-of-purchase decision, Corsun recommends that retailers devote attention to packaging graphics and marketing.
 

“The use of block ads, promoting multiple items, shows a strong return,” he says. “And the lift generated by promotional displays supports the utilization of this important tool.” PLB

 

 

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