Oral Care Products
by LORI SICHTERMANN
Changing the Standard
The oral care category is down, but the industry is making strides in the right direction that will help private label manufacturers, retailers and consumers smile brighter.
Sticks and stones can break your bones, but who knew they were the first oral care products? According to numerous online sources, the earliest known toothbrush was created by users chewing the end of a soft twig. In fact, physical evidence from well-preserved Egyptian tombs, dating back more than 5,000 years, suggests that the Egyptians used such smashed sticks for dental hygiene.
Back then, there was one option for dental products — and it was a best-seller. However, that’s not the case today. Since chewing on twigs went out of style, a myriad of innovations have come about to benefit teeth-conscious consumers. We’ve gone from sticks to sonar, but industry professionals say that the oral care market is a bit stagnant — lacking the innovation it has seen in the past. So the question stands, how can manufacturers and retailers continue the growth of the oral care segment?
Let us not discredit the strides oral care products, particularly private label, have made. The category, which includes everything from toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, denture cleansers and numerous other accessories, has shown some substantial growth. According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), one of the heaviest hitters, with regard to private label growth over the past year, has been tooth-bleaching and whitening products, which experienced a 51.4 percent increase for the 52 weeks ending August 7, 2005. The entire category of bleaching and whitening products only experienced a 19.1 increase. Private label power toothbrushes had an increase of 41.7 percent followed by private label toothpaste, which clocked in with a 41.3 percent increase compared to one year ago.
While these numbers are promising, there still is room for concern. Case-and-point: private label denture cleansers/paste/powder dropped 90.1 percent over the past year while the total category saw only a 4.7 percent decrease. Private label breath freshner sprays/drops fell to 22.5 percent while the total category saw a 21.3 percent decrease. Even the ole’ faithful, the private label manual toothbrush, slipped 4.3 percent while the entire category saw a 3.6 percent increase compared to one year ago.
|ORAL CARE Performance |
|Dollar Sales (in millions) ||% Change Vs. Yr. Ago ||Dollar Share || Unit Sales (in millions) ||% Change vs. Yr. Ago ||Avg. Price Per Unit |
|Total private label||$81.2||-0.6%||6.8 %||50.1||2.3%||$1.62|
|Total private label||$8.1||17.5%||0.7%||5.0||44.3%||$1.68|
|Oral Pain Relief|
|Total private label||$6.5||20.5%||0.5%||1.5||22.6%||$4.63|
|Total private label||$0.6||41.7%||0.1%||.08||17.1%||$8.82|
|Total private label||$3.7||41.3%||0.3 %||2.0||19.4%||$1.89|
|Total private label||$15.4||51.4%||1.1%||1.1||44.9%||$13.75|
|Total private label||$82.2||-3.9%||14.7 %||36.0||0.2%||$2.28|
|Breath Freshner Sprays/Drops|
|Total private label||$0.4||-22.5%||3.7 %||0.8||0.4%||$0.48|
|Total private label||$17.0||2.6%||6.8 %||5.1||1.0%||$3.32|
|Total private label||$2.3||12.2%||1.0%||0.7||13.3%||$3.25|
|Total private label||$7.0||-90.1%||0.0%||4.0||84.6%||$1.67|
|Total private label||$14.5||1.2%||5.8%||4.4||-0.8%||$3.33|
|Source: Information Resources Inc. Total supermarket, drug and mass merchandiser sales for the 52 weeks ending August 7, 2005, excluding Wal-Mart.|
So why the slow growth and sporadic downturn? One argument is the combination of external pressures placed on today’s consumer. The current price of gas, the increasing cost of groceries, even the expanding cost of entering the housing market has made consumers a bit more conscious of how they spend their disposable dollars. Another argument points to the fact that the market has become saturated and has reached its peak in terms of innovation.
“Oral care is a tough area in terms of explosive growth,” says Gregg Cevallos, owner of Premier Products, Alameda, Calif. “A toothbrush is a toothbrush — there’s only so much you can do with it. While there have been changes with electronic brushes, and manual brushes have gotten better in terms of quality and ergonomics, the category is still very similar to what’s been available for the past 40 to 50 years.”
A toothbrush may remain a toothbrush, but one advantage to manufacturers and retailers is that consumers will continue to buy them. Consumers aren’t likely to eliminate oral hygiene because of the price of gas, but price and quality do play a role in influencing purchasing decisions. While disposable incomes have reduced, performance expectations have not.
The Price of Quality
Over the past several years, consumers have developed a stronger sense of trust with private label oral care products. “I think that consumers are starting to recognize the value of a private label brand in terms of savings versus a national brand,” says Cevallos. “Generally speaking, the quality of a private label product is just as good, if not better, than national brand equivalents.”
Customer acceptance of private label oral care products is more than just the high-hopes of manufacturers. According to IRI, for the entire category of mouthwash and dental rinse, private label ranked second in terms of dollar share compared to he leading brands. What’s more, in the category of toothbrush and dental accessories, private label was the number-one seller, bringing home 3.8 percent of the category’s dollar share.
“Consumers are becoming more aware of private label brands and the improved quality, industry-wide,” says Cevallos. “At the same time, retailers are realizing the value of offering private label products — they’re a great avenue of growth for them.”
Worth Smiling About
It’s safe to say that the chewing stick is out. But, what’s in? Viewed from the keen eye of private label manufacturers, a few interesting consumer-purchasing trends have been observed. One of the most evident of these trends is the consumer’s tendency to steer toward products that are more health-centric.
“We’re seeing a significant trend toward products that allow consumers to opt for home treatment of dental concerns versus a costly visit to the dentist,” says Claudie Williams, vice president, marketing and business development for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Ranir. According to Williams, this trend is due to increasing consumer awareness of data that demonstrates the link between oral health and overall health, as well as cosmetic concerns related to oral care. As a result, consumers are focusing on products that offer health and cosmetic benefits, such as whitening, removing plaque, as well as preventing gingivitis and bad breath, but in more convenient forms.
The health-conscious trend has sparked a revitalization in toothpaste as we know it. What was once a thick chalky substance that expelled from a boring tube or pump has become a colorful, multi-purposed product containing fluoride, whitening abilities, herbs and precautions for sensitive teeth. Today’s consumer can choose from formulas containing citrus, vanilla, herbal mint and much more. Selling at an average price of $1.89 compared to the category average price of $2.60, private label, multi-purpose toothpaste has seen a 41.3 percent increase over the past 52 weeks—making it a leader in the private label oral care category.
“As national brand toothpaste added to its abilities, the price started to rise, yet the demand stayed the same,” notes Joel Warady, president of Wisdom Oral Care Ltd., Wilmette, Ill. “As a result, we’re now seeing more retailers putting private label, multi-purpose toothpaste on their shelves because it’s and excellent area of growth for them.”
Remaining relatively stable in the private label sector, manual toothbrushes have evolved to now include models with multifunctional brushes that remove plaque and polish teeth. Some brushes even feature a tongue scrapper to prevent bad breath. While these innovations are in line with the current purchasing trends of the consumer, the second-biggest winner for the private label market is the power toothbrush. In the course of one year, the category experienced a 41.7 percent increase while the total category experienced a 4.8 percent decline. The slight price difference between private label and the total category has helped in this category’s success. On average, the cost of a private label power toothbrush is $8.82 compared to the average price of $9.23.
Our society has evolved into one of convenience, and the oral care industry is providing consumers with it — offering a slew of items marketed as on-the-go products. “The average person doesn’t like to carry a toothbrush or even brush their teeth in public,” says Warady. “There’s always been travel or collapsible toothbrushes that helped with this, but the concept really took off when Oral-B came out with its Brush-Ups that fit over one finger. The product allows users to have an individual, one-time-use, disposable toothbrush and plaque remover. I think when companies think, ‘how can we make it convenient and disposable?’ that’s when they’ll find the consumers really responding to the product.”
Consumers also are responding to products that give them the convenience of a test-run. Recent packaging developments have tapped the consumer’s sense of smell as a way to influence their purchase. Manufacturers have added scratch-and-sniff to their packaging so the customer has a chance to “sample” the product before it is purchased.
Utilizing yet another sense, the colors of products and packaging have become more vibrant. “Oral care product packaging always had that white coat, very medical image,” adds Warady. “Manufactures have said, ‘We’re bored with this, let’s make it fun.’ And that’s what we’re starting to see; and because we’re seeing it on the branded side, it’s starting to come over into the private label side as well,” he adds.
Change in Routine
Professionals in private label oral care agree that the category’s slow growth and decline is due to its pattern of following the leader with regard to product development. “As national brands continue to segment the category, private label manufacturers must have the expertise to help retailers maintain the store-brand customer by continuing to develop new products as well,” says Arnie Margolis, director of sales and marketing for Tower Labs, Centerbrook, Conn.
According to Ranir’s Williams, retailers should watch market trends and update their product mix —being more open to stepping beyond the national brand equivalency model, and offer products under their store brand that might have features and functionality that are consumer-preferred versus the national brands. “Retailers should partner with private label suppliers to share strategies and provide input into private label product development,” adds Williams.
“The great thing about oral care is that the target market is 296 million Americans; it’s not gender-specific, it’s not seasonal and it’s not age-specific,” notes Warady. “It’s a perfect avenue for retailers to try new things in terms of marketing.”
Consumers are doing more with limited time and resources, yet they want more quality, convenience and value. “If the offerings aren’t available in private label, they will go straight to the national brands,” says Mark Barry, marketing category director for Cumberland Swan Inc., Smyrna, Tenn. “It is absolutely critical that retailers stay on top of new private label offerings to keep their programs fresh and up-to-date.” Just imagine where the industry would be today if it had stuck to the stick! PLB