Category Review: First Aid - No Pain ... Impressive Gains

May 20, 2008
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Although most consumers wouldn't describe it as a glamorous or wildly creative category, the first-aid products segment certainly is generating excitement on the sales side of retail.

Although most consumers wouldn’t describe it as a glamorous or wildly creative category, the first-aid products segment certainly is generating excitement on the sales side of retail. In fact, data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) show the total first-aid accessories category up 3.2 percent in dollar sales and 1.9 percent in unit sales for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 24, 2008 (excluding Wal-Mart). Even more impressive are this category’s private label stats - with dollar sales rising 37.4 percent and unit sales up 18.9 percent.

It’s also a positive story on the first-aid treatment side, with IRI data indicating a 4.1 percent increase in dollar sales and a 1.6 percent rise in unit sales for the total category (4.8 percent and 0.6 percent gains, respectively, for private label).

Mark Bolling, vice president of sales and marketing for ASO Corp., Sarasota, Fla., says he, too, is observing a huge rise in store brand sales. In fact, many major retailers are displacing the national brand in certain first-aid product subcategories in favor of 100 percent store brand products.

“One of the big initiatives that we’ve been working on with many of the major retailers is what our company calls the 100 percent solution,” Bolling says. “If you take a look at the Safeway wound care segment, they’ve displaced all of the [Johnson & Johnson] in favor of our Safeway store brand product. And we have that initiative underway with about five other majors at this point.”

The secret to private label’s impressive growth in the first-aid category is its value proposition, says Joseph Giaquinto, president of Oakland Park, Fla.-based Life Wear Technologies Inc. (formerly NDL products).

“Today’s shopper in this category has a picture in mind of what they want to buy - a knee brace, a wrist brace, whatever,” he says. “They’re not thinking of a brand. In their mind, they’re thinking of a part that is hurting them, a body part that they need to fix, so they go to the store, see a private label offering that’s less money, the same or better quality, and it’s an easy choice.”

It’s also a matter of trust, Bolling stresses.

“They trust the Safeway brand, the CVS brand, the Walgreens brand, whatever it may be, and it’s at a favorable price,” he says. “So that’s the win-win proposition for the consumer, and also the win-win proposition for the retailer - they’ve been able to increase their margins and increase their penny profits, but they’ve also been able to increase both their top line and their bottom line by shifting more of their sales to the store brand versus splitting them with a brand.”


Beyond value and quality, private label first-aid products also are serving up a healthy dose of innovation.

Giaquinto points to material technology advances in areas such as moisture management - resulting in products that offer the consumer the same level of protection and compression while also controlling heat and moisture.

“We’re always working on new products,” he says. “Our [existing] products are always evolving - it’s never a standard thing. We’re a custom organization for every account. We’re trying to stay ahead of the brands in terms of technology and want to drive innovation.”

And consumers appreciate the steady stream of new product materials and technologies, Bolling says. ASO is positioning products for different skin types, for example, because the very young and old need something designed for more sensitive skin.

“Part of our objective is to continue to launch as many new technologies as possible,” he notes. “We believe new technologies and new types of materials have definitely been a big winner for us, and they’ve been successful in the category.”

Speaking of innovations, Alan Nash, CEO of Gastonia, N.C.-based SciVolutions Inc., believes that his company’s new bandage line will take the treatment of bed sores and diabetic ulcers to the next level. The Advanced Healing line includes two versions for treating each ailment: a gauze rendition and a hydrocolloid version. The four-layer products, also available for private label programs, are designed to maximize absorbency and healing, he says, as well as repel dirt and germs.

Each product box also comes with a spray atomizer that delivers a metered dose of a sterile aloe vera and ionized water.

“When you’re ready to take the bandage off, you wait about 15 or 20 seconds, and the aloe remoisturizes the skin surrounding the pad,” Nash explains. “The adhesive completely disintegrates, and the disintegrated adhesive goes back up into that surround dressing but not into the gauze. ... The skin isn’t torn or ripped. And with the hydrocolloid, there’s reduced pain and you’ve probably minimized scarring.”

Nash notes that all of SciVolutions’ Advanced Healing products are now available with or without a doctor’s prescription, enabling Medicare and Medicaid patients to purchase them with only a co-pay. The company also can enable such a scenario for private label programs with partners.

First Aid for Sales

Although sales in the private label first-aid products sector certainly need no emergency treatment, opportunities exist for further growth. Beyond staying current with material and technology advances in the category, retailers can take key steps to improve merchandising and promotion.

Bolling says ASO is seeing more retailers opt for brand blocking in lieu of a checkerboard setup, placing all of the store brand in one section and all of the national brand in another.

“The consumer can very easily look through each of those brands and decide which one best fits the needs they’re seeking,” he says. “And we’ve tried to do more with the labeling of our product [so consumers] can clearly identify what types of wounds [the products treat] and so forth because it’s a very confusing and complicated section to shop.”

And bonus packs work well to spur trial, Bolling adds.

“We find that the bonus packs, which might be combined in off-shelf displays to give a value-added type of promotion are very, very effective for us,” he says. “… scan-downs are effective as well, as are tie-ins with certain retailers than have loyalty cards to scan [and the consumer gets] a coupon or bonus bucks.”

ASO spends a lot of time with its retail partners during planning sessions and other meetings to examine how to sell more product, Bolling adds.

“We look at the packaging; we look at where it’s merchandised; we look at promotional aspects; and we’re constantly making recommen-dations and challenging the retailers in all of those areas.”

On the packaging side, retailers constantly are upgrading, Giaquinto says, and Life Wear Technologies is flexible enough to make frequent changes.

“We offer the latest in terms of the type of packaging, whether you want to reduce space overall or reach another objective,” he says. “We want to go green, be environ-mentally friendly, all those things.”

Still, consumers aren’t always willing to pay for some packaging “advances,” Bolling says. For example, 3M introduced plastic bandage cases a few years ago, but that rather costly innovation failed to attract consumers. Ditto with Johnson and Johnson when it tried to reintroduce its traditional metal tins.

“I think what people are trying to do now is to make a prettier box, a foil or a pearlescence,” Bolling says. “I think there is some room for packaging that might differentiate what types of bandages or wound care products are in each. We’re focused on making it more consumer-friendly and easily identifiable.” PLB

Sidebar: First Aid for Fido

You might not have heard about it yet, but a new market is emerging in the first-aid products sector - and this one focuses on our furry four-legged companions.

According to Susan Smith, CEO of New York-based Rayco International Inc.’s First Aid-USA, pet products currently are challenging both baby products and video games in sales, so a first-aid kit for Fido makes a logical and potentially lucrative subcategory.

First Aid-USA initially designed a line of pet safety first-aid kits for the American Kennel Club, Smith says, as well as pet safety evacuation kits that aim to help prevent the evacuation fiascos associated with Hurricane Katrina and the California fires. Now such kits and components are available for retailers’ private label programs.

“Pet safety is very new in the industry, but it’s becoming one of the more important growth areas of pet products,” Smith says.

In addition to traditional first-aid type offerings, the company offers waterproof and writeable collars, disposable water bowls, reflective vests and much more. It can customize kits to suit retailers’ specific demands. Typically such products are merchandised within retailers’ pet departments, which Smith says also are becoming bigger and moving closer to the registers.

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