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“It’s not seasonal, it’s not demographic, and it’s not age specific. You start [using oral care products] when you’re two, and you use them until the day you die. Oral care products are a mainstay,” says Joel Warady, president of Evanston, Ill.-based Wisdom Oral Care.
But surprisingly, private label oral care products’ mainstay quality combined with the soft economy hasn’t equated to the typical boost in private label sales that other categories have experienced. According to data from Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group, Inc., for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 20, private label mouthwash-typically the most popular of private label oral care products-brought in $101.2 in dollar sales, 1 percent below the same period last year, and holds a 14 percent share of the total category. The tooth fairy did smile on private label toothbrushes and dental accessories, however, which saw a 9.4 percent growth in sales and raked in $161.8 million in sales. Interdental, manufacturers agree, is an area that has seen strong growth, in part simply because consumers are taking better care of their teeth, employing picks, mirrors and other accessories to do so.
While the economy hasn’t spurred quite the same growth as in other categories, retailers and manufacturers still need to keep biting at the new possibilities in front of them.
“The one thing that private label manufacturers need to understand is that we’ve had a really rare opportunity, unfortunately because of the bad economy,” says Tony Clark, vice president of sales for Dentacare Industries, Morristown, Tenn. “It’s offered us a lot of opportunity for people to try our products that they hadn’t in the past. More people are looking to save money, and if you put out a good product and people try it, you’ll keep them. If it’s not [a good quality product] then you won’t-they’ll go back to the national brand.”
Thankfully, consumers are cottoning on to the fact that private label products are just as good-if not better than-national brands. “As the economy improves,” says Duff Lewis, director of category marketing for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Ranir, “we don’t see consumers switching back to national brands, as they have come to appreciate the quality and value that private label products represent.”
“People are getting very wise to the fact that these products are made in the same factories, with the same technologies, and so the consumers are realizing more and more-especially in oral care-that there’s no reason to stick with the brand if the technology is the same on the private label,” Warady notes.
However, having products that are national brand equivalent is not enough to keep enticing consumers over to the private label side. Innovation and new products also are key to increasing awareness and sales in the category.
“There’s been a focus over the last year for retailers to increase their penetration and their market share of offerings of private label oral care as consumers begin to trust the retailers’ private label,” Clark notes. “And that’s a good thing. You’re seeing objectives from some retailers that have 20 to 25 percent of their offerings in private label. That’s very high compared to what it used to be. Five or 10 years ago, the objective was half that.”
One way for retailers to increase private label penetration is to roll out new products. Private label oral care companies have been doing just that. Clark notes that Dentacare recently rolled out a dry whitening strip that has stay-put technology and is activated when you put it on your teeth.
“The national brands had a big focus on the whitening category, and this is a product we can offer as a savings to the consumer that is national brand equivalent,” Clark notes. “We launched it this year, and we’re excited about the opportunity of that item. It will be on average $10 less than the national brand at retail level.”
Paul Cira, director of marketing for Markham, Ontario-based BrushPoint Innovations, noted that his company launched a successful co-branded Scooby-Doo children’s power toothbrush and manual toothbrush program. “Aimed at children aged three to nine,” Cira explains, “we can now offer the retailer a national brand recognized property like Warner Bros.’ Scooby Doo with the retailer branding on it as well. It is unique from traditional private label and has been very successful.”
A number of new manual, power, floss, flosser and whitening products rolled out from Ranir in the last year, notes Lewis, giving retailers the opportunity to compete against national brands with ultra mint fresh and ultra whitening toothbrushes, SmileSonic power toothbrush replacement heads, xtreme clean floss and one-hour whitening products.
Once you roll out new products, how can retailers get consumers to bite?
“If retailers want to sell more private label brands, then they need to consider shelf location and shelf space, and do some plain old advertising,” says Howard Kerr, consultant for Gravette, Ark.-based Massco Dental. “They have to become more visible.”
Becoming more visible on an already-crowded store shelf may not be easy, but it’s certainly doable for retailers. The first step? Act like a brand.
“The successful retailers treat their private label as a brand,” says Clark. “They don’t just treat it as an offering, they create a brand equity within their private label, and that’s important because national brands do things to push their brand-they advertise, they do couponing. The retailer has to treat the private label very much the same way if he wants to create market share and increase market share with his private label.”
Grouping products together is also key. As an example of a retailer who has successfully and creatively marketed their products, Wisdom’s Warady points to Woonsocket, R. I.-based CVS, which developed private label oral care products that go beyond their national brand equivalent line of products.
“They developed them because they believe, along with carrying the CVS brand, that they can sell the product,” Warady explains. “Not because it’s a less expensive version of a branded product out there.”
Rite Aid has had success by cross-promoting its oral care and other products, he adds.
“One of the things they’re doing is looking at the data from their new loyalty wellness card, and they’re finding that people who buy analgesics also buy oral care products. So they’re doing a lot of cross-promotion, pushing the Rite Aid brand across multiple aisles in the store.”
Creating a solid partnership between retailer and manufacturer is essential to putting out a good private label product that will, in turn, get consumers to walk multiple aisles of your store.
“Retailers and their suppliers need to be strategically aligned in their private label objectives for their private label program in general and the specific product categories in particular,” says Ranir’s Lewis.
A collaborative approach is key, as is, notes Massco Dental’s Kerr, giving the supplier a little more leeway in packaging and product input. “Retailers don’t have the product expertise, they have the retail expertise,” Kerr says.
Staying ahead of the curve is also essential to solidifying partnerships, as BrushPoint Innovations’ Cira notes that retailers and manufacturers need to get beyond the “national brand equivalent” mentality.
“This is a strategy from 30 years ago. Retailers need to partner with manufacturers to bring their own and combined innovation and uniqueness to the category in addition to having retailer brands that offer the same benefit as national brands,” he says. “This type of innovation will create greater store loyalty.”
Looking toward the future of private label oral care products, innovation, new consumers and solid partnerships will continue to strengthen the private label presence in the category-something that four out of five dentists would probably agree on.
Though the dollars and category share for private label oral care products may be a little soft according to SymphonyIRI Group data, the national brands that drive the oral care category are holding pretty steady, and in some cases cutting a few new teeth. For the 52 weeks ending Feb. 20, according to Chicago-based SymphonyIRI, portable oral care, for example, saw a 34 percent increase in sales. Branded dental accessories saw a 12.7 percent increase for the same time period.
National brand products “are trending toward treating specific issues such as sensitivity, gum care and plaque reduction with more advanced features like pivoting brush heads, anti-bacterial bristles, etc.,” says Duff Lewis, director of category marketing for Ranir LLC, Grand Rapids, Mich. One of the primary trends seen in oral care is umbrella branding. Examples of these umbrella brands include P&G’s Pro Health line for mouthwash, toothpaste, toothbrushes and floss; Johnson & Johnson’s Reach Total Care line of products; and Colgate’s Total oral care items.
Additionally, as consumers move toward a lifestyle that puts a bigger focus on more-natural-less chemical products, natural oral care products continue to see robust growth. According to a Euromonitor International report, Tom’s of Maine remains the biggest player in natural oral care products; there are few private label equivalents on the market.
The future of oral care products will include the continued expansion of the whitening products sector as well as products for sensitive teeth.