Awash with Opportunities

November 7, 2008
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Category Review: The advent of disinfectant wipes, portable hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps and lotions has put to rest the anxiety millions of consumers face, and more new products are on the way.

These days, germaphobes can rest a little easier, despite being bombarded by media reports of avian flu epidemics, the proliferation of “superbugs” (viruses that are resistant to common antibiotics), E. coli outbreaks and the unavoidable daily threats posed by germ-ridden doorknobs and handrails everywhere.
The advent of disinfectant wipes, portable hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps and lotions has put to rest the anxiety millions of consumers face, and more new products are on the way.

Myth Busting

Brian Sansoni, vice president of communication at the Washington, D.C.-based Soap and Detergent Association, says certain groups of consumers perpetuate what he calls “suburban myths” about antibac-terial products. When hand-sanitizing gels and soaps started to become more widely used, some medical officials warned that overuse of such products could breed resistance to other, more dangerous bacteria.
However, Sansoni says no scientific reviews of antibacterial products demonstrate a connection between overuse of those products and resistance to bacteria.
“As much as the publicity machines try to point to the link, it's just not valid,” Sansoni stresses. “Antibacterial products are a part of safe and effective hygiene routines for millions of Americans every day.”
Recent medical advances have made it easier for many Americans to bring health care resources into their own homes, whether it’s to care for elderly parents, treat chronic conditions or assist in post-surgical recovery. In these households, the need for more advanced germ-fighting products is critical.
Antibacterial soaps are considered to be more effective than regular soaps because they eliminate most harmful bacteria, as well as prevent their spread. The same goes for antibacterial or disinfectant wipes.
Antibacterial ingredients such as triclosan are designed to stay on the skin after washing, where they continue to fight off bacteria, Sansoni says.
“These types of products are important to people who are immune-suppressed,” Sansoni notes. “They offer that extra ounce of protection. They shouldn't serve as the only means of bacteria prevention - we just want people to wash their hands more effectively.”
To counter the myths surrounding antibacterial products, many companies that make these products have taken steps to educate consumers about safe use - offering tips and guidelines about hygienic practices.
Sansoni says retailers can use these educational campaigns to help market their private label antibacterial products. He suggests forming partnerships with local health care institutions, or with schools and educators.
Placing hand sanitizers at store checkouts is helpful during cold and flu season, which Sansoni says seems to grow longer every year. (Although colds and flus are caused by viruses, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are thought to be somewhat effective here.) He also recommends that retailers work with their suppliers to develop antibacterial and disinfectant products with a strong portability component. 
“I think we're seeing a greater variety of products available in portable containers. For a long time, it was just the sanitizers. The newer trend is the surface cleaning products - travel-size disinfectants,” Sansoni says.
He adds that a new market for portable disinfectants opened up when airports began cracking down on flyers who try to bring liquids aboard their flights. Sansoni concludes that smart retailers and private label manufacturers could help to fill this gap.

Beyond Band-Aids

Again, as more medical care moves away from clinical settings and into the home, over-the-counter supplies such as bandages, gauze pads and triple-antibiotic ointments aren’t going to cut when it comes to effectively preventing and eliminating bacteria. As such, antibacterial and antimicrobial products present a growth opportunity for private label.
According to Mark Bolling, vice president of sales and marketing at Sarasota, Fla.-based Aso LLC, the market for dressings that use antimicrobial ingredients such as silver for burns, chronic wounds and infections is vastly untapped. He says Aso has met with success by identifying this need.
“The typical store brand consumer continues to be aware of these technologies and has already developed a trust factor with store brand wound care,” Bolling says. “In fact, we have already begun to displace the major brands’ wound-care products in several major North American retailers, based on the efficacy and quality associated with store brand wound care.
“We believe that next-generation wound-care items such as antibacterial/antimicrobial wound dressings will only accelerate the current trends,” he adds.
Dan Baron, vice president of sales and marketing for Aaron Industries Inc., Clinton, S.C., says private label rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide enjoy high levels of household penetration. These levels could improve even more, he says, if retailers use marketing strategies such as quarterly promotions and end-cap merchandising.
“Aaron sees growth in our antibacterial and astringent liquid first-aid products such as rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide,” Baron says. “Because many of the antibacterial sprays, wipes and hand lotions contain isopropyl alcohol, we believe the consumer is smart enough to simply buy the best product on the shelf representing the actual ingre-dient. Both products are used often as disenfectants for cuts and abrasions. Consumers know that these products perform as [well] or better than many alternatives.”
Although convenient packaging drives growth for antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers, packaging for wound-care antimicrobials/antibacterials needs to be more straight-      forward, Bolling says.
“We have not seen consumers accept any new innovations in wound care,” he says. “3M introduced a plastic case several years ago [that] was deemed unsuccessful by both the trade and consumers. Johnson   & Johnson has attempted several launches of new packaging with no success.
“Consumers in the wound-care category are more interested in efficacy, quality and a good value versus contemporary packaging,” he adds. “They want packaging that clearly communicates features and benefits of the product and how this product will address their particular needs.”
Baron says plastic continues to be the packaging type of choice by retailers and consumers for both isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen. PLB

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