Web Exclusive Category Review: First Aid

May 4, 2009
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Boo Boo, Be Gone!

Consumers are responding favorably to better-quality private label first aid products that reduce pain and speed up healing

Goodbye banal bandages! Consumers are tired of paying more for the same old national brand first aid products. They’ve realized that private label first aid products are boasting the same - if not better - innovations for less money.

According to data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), private label first aid accessories saw strong sales gains - despite an overall category decline - in the 52 weeks ending Feb. 22, 2009. Dollar sales for private label first aid accessories were up 26.9 percent, and unit sales were up 10.9 percent.

Private label first aid treatment also had gains, albeit not as large. According to IRI, dollar sales rose 7.2 percent, while overall dollar sales increased only 1.4 percent. And private label unit sales rose 0.1 percent, while overall unit sales declined 1.4 percent.

“Private label already has a high penetration in first aid and is growing,” says Steve Gottsegen, vice president of sales and marketing with Princeton, N.J.-based Derma Sciences Inc.’s First Aid division.

But high penetration and growth are not merely a result of value, Gottsegen notes. Sure, value might draw customers initially, but to keep them coming back, retailers must partner with suppliers who maintain high product quality in performance and design.

“The product needs to be perceived as [national brand equivalent] or better,” he says.

Having quality on par with or better than the national brand is important, especially when national brands products are fading left and right.

Philip Jepsen, CEO of Bellair, Fla.-based Liv Medica, recommends taking a look at store shelves. He says he’s noticing that several national brand products are disappearing. These, he believes, are the products retailers should seek to replace with their own brands.

Alan Nash, president of Gastonia, N.C.-based SciVolutions, says he also has noticed this disappearing act. Although only about 30 percent of first aid products are private label, he believes this percentage will increase over the next five years.

“As we go through the downturn in the economy, and consumers see that the quality of the private label today is good, you [will] see the private labels take over the [national brands],” Nash says.

A Better Bandage

Speaking of quality, private label first aid products aren’t limited to boring bandages, gauzes and tapes anymore. New adhesives, technologies and substrates are going into product design.

For example, Gottsegen says pads are “no longer just passive absorbers - they are used to actively jump start the healing process.”

Nash adds that while new technologies can increase product cost, retailers shouldn’t be worried about scaring away customers with higher prices. Consumers see bandages with dissolve-away adhesives and other advanced healing dressings as being worth the extra money.

“Yes, you may get 60 or 80 bandages for a buck or two in a mass market situation,” he says. “However, all they do is cover the wound. When you get into advanced healing, those dressings [can be worn] for two or three days, sometimes more. You heal in half the time. You take away the pain. You eliminate scarring.”

Nash compares this to the difference between buying a scooter or a Lamborghini. More expensive technology goes into these better bandages, so they cost more. But the pricier option is much more attractive. In this case, it makes healing quicker and more effective than bandages from an economy value bulk box.

Steve Corsun, president and owner of Premier Brands of America, Mount Vernon, N.Y., says being innovative with product quality is the key to keeping loyal customers. He gives two examples of innovations Premier offers on its First Aid and Burn Relief sprays that aren’t offered by national brands. First, the products now offer a continuous spray feature with bag-on-valve technology. Second, Premier replaced the steel cans with aluminum ones.

“The key to keeping private label customers is staying a step ahead in product quality and not being tempted to put in products based only on price,” Corsun says.

SciVolutions also put much time and effort in product innovation. The company spent four years developing a dissolve-away adhesive for a bandage. Nash says the bandage comes with a special spray that dissolves the adhesive, leaving no residue or torn skin when the bandage is removed. So the elderly, diabetics or anyone with frail skin can heal with confidence.

Bold and Beautiful

But even after product performance is increased, what innovations are being made to make the brand stand out on the shelf?

Private label first aid product packaging - which in the past often resembled the national brand - has strong potential to be as unique as the technology it protects. Nash believes retailers can design unique packaging by pulling out all the stops and offering embossing, sharp graphics, bold copy and bright, strong colors - among other attributes. The extra cash a retailer spends to bring its packaging to life is negligible to the cost of the product - and money well spent.

“If you want your private label to look cheap and crappy, then do cheap and crappy packaging,” Nash says.

Nash says SciVolutions has unique expertise. He has a master’s degree in printing technology, and he’s not the only one at the company with a graphics background.

“We have a lot of people on our team that have high graphics backgrounds,” he says. “And historically, with our little brands, we competed against the majors with better graphics.”

Retailers also are learning to build a better brand presence online. Jepsen says having a strong internet presence helps a lot. In fact, flanking store presence with a Web presence can strengthen a store’s brand.

“It reinforces that your brand is real and adds legitimacy in the consumer’s eyes,” Jepsen says. “[This] makes it sell on a more equal footing, while your store presence hits the consumers from the other side.” PLB

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