Most of the top 10 leading health and beauty care categories at supermarkets weathered stiff competition from the mass merchandisers in 1995.
In some categories, grocery chains maintained their share of the business with aggressive promotions, careful product selection and positioning, endcap placements, and by simply staying abreast of consumer trends in the marketplace.
For the 52 weeks ended Sept. 10, 1995, the top 10 categories generated $5.98 billion in food store sales, a 5% increase over the year before, according to InfoScan scanner data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago.
Eight categories in the top 10 went up in sales, although volume in the leading two categories -- internal analgesics and sanitary napkins/tampons -- slipped. Still, the grocery channel managed to hold on to the majority of market share among the three major channels in five categories: sanitary protection, toothpastes, deodorants, shampoos and razors.
Meanwhile, the drug channel lost sales in six of the top 10 categories tracked in the food channel. Mass merchandisers, not surprisingly, posted double-digit sales gains in all 10 categories.
The biggest sales jumps in food stores were in the vitamin, razor and antacid categories, which went up 9.4%, 8.4% and 7.9%, respectively.
In the vitamin category, some retailers attributed the increase to a growing interest in supplements.
"The one-a-day vitamin customer now also buys B-12 and other supplements, including melatonin [an antioxidant], and herbal remedies," said an executive with a Southeast chain. For instance, shark cartilage, which was hardly known a year ago, has become a popular specialty product, he pointed out.
As for the razor category's strong performance, some retailers said it's due to a variety of new colors and styles in the female segment.
"Ladies' razors -- like Personal Touch in new teal and pink colors, Silk Effects and Gillette's Sensor Excel for women -- have stimulated new sales in the category," said Carol Isacson, director of nonfood at Plumb's, Muskegon, Mich.
Antacid sales have grown, meanwhile, because of the growing over-the-counter market, according to some retailers. Products once only available by prescription, including Pepcid and Tagamet, are now available OTC in a low-dose form.
"Pepcid and Tagamet took off beyond our expectations," said Randall King, nonfood buyer at Byrd Food Stores, Burlington, N.C.
Following is a look at each of the top 10 categories, along with retailer input on some of the reasons why sales may be up or down.
Annual Volume $930,516,480
Market Share 35.3%
% Change - 0.9%
Some retailers agree that, due to the introduction of many new products, such as Actron and Oridus KT, consumers simply are confused about which analgesic to choose.
Sales trends may back up this theory. At Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., nonaspirin sales are flat, according to Karrie Thomason, HBC buyer.
"We looked at the Grand Rapids area, and we found that consumption of analgesics is down," Thomason said.
One consequence of this trend is that consumers may be starting to choose products that have strong recognition, mainly aspirin.
Thomason said aspirin sales are better than nonaspirin, which she attributes to increased interest in the category. One reason may be increased media coverage about how aspirin can help prevent recurrent heart attacks and strokes. At the same time, more doctors are prescribing aspirin, according to Thomason.
Annual Volume $651,091,968
Market Share 50%
% Change - 3.9%
Supermarkets and drug stores have suffered from intense price competition from mass merchandisers in this category. While the mass channel enjoyed a 13.9% sales increase, drug stores also were hurt by a 4.3% sales decline.
However, some chains like Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., have chosen to fight this national trend.
Big Y reports overall category sales up, according to Betsey Turgeon, category manager.
"We believe some of this increase is certainly due to the addition of new stores, but also to our aggressive advertising with promotions, such as buy-one-get-one-free," Turgeon said.
Big Y will work over the next year to improve sales even more. "We will continue to re-evaluate our product mix on a timely basis and to aggressively advertise," Turgeon said.
The chain has 85 stockkeeping units in sanitary napkins and 57 in tampons. On the average, sanitary napkin sets run 16 feet; tampons run 4 feet.
Annual Revenue: $710,613,504
Market Share 49%
% Change + 4.1%
The toothpaste category's strong performance is no surprise to executives at Harvey's Supermarkets, Nashville, Ga., where category sales are up about 12%, according to Wyman Butler, nonfood merchandiser. "It's above average," Butler said. 20
Butler attributes the increase partially to the launch of products like Mentadent.
"I didn't believe that Mentadent would have long-lasting sales, but they're getting better and better," he said. Harvey's largest toothpaste section is 24 feet, with most units averaging 12 feet.
The introduction of toothpaste refills and value-added
products, such as the newly introduced Listerine toothpaste and Crest Gum Care, also has helped the category. Some of the best-selling items have been products made with baking soda.
"Customers are really going for all the new products with baking soda. Virtually every company has jumped on it," Butler said.
Cough and Cold
Annual Volume $698,963,456
Market Share 34.1%
% Change + 0.3%
The high incidence of flu this winter helped cough and cold sales jump 20% at Copps Corp, Stevens Point, Wis.,
according to Mark Beyer, HBC buyer.
"This is one of the best years we've had," Beyer said.
Copps was able to remain in stock due to early planning. A newsletter from McNeil Consumer Products, Fort Washington, Pa., mailed in December warned that it would be a rough flu season. After reading it, Beyer ordered more items than usual.
"One of our biggest concerns was being able to keep enough product on the shelf. But since we got an advanced warning, we were able to do it," he said.
Annual Volume $601,304,064
Market Share 41.8%
% Change + 1.7%
The much segmented deodorant category again experienced an influx of new scents and products for specific uses.
"There were many different formulations in clears, gels and unscented products," said Dale Green, director of general merchandise, HBC and soft drinks at Houchens Industries, Bowling Green, Ky.
The chain's deodorant sales were flat last year and Green pointed to consumer confusion and lack of sufficient manufacturer promotional support.
"It also seemed like manufacturers didn't get behind their new products as aggressively as they usually do. Some companies came out with sports items, for example, which didn't go over," he said.
Dan Van Zant, supervisor of HBC at Ray's Food Place, Brookings, Ore., also mentioned the introduction of clear-type unscented deodorants as a contributing factor to the overall category being up. "The new clear products are a growing segment," Van Zant said.
Ray's has increased deodorant space by about 25% over the last 18 months. Of a total of 214 stockkeeping units, about six are clear products introduced late last year. On the average, Ray's devotes 4 feet of space to the category.
Annual Volume $584,080,128
Market Share 39.5%
% Change + 2.2%
Hair care sales at Strack & Van Til Supermarkets, Highland, Ind., were 3.5% to 4% higher in 1995, which mostly came from promoting higher-margin selections, according to Joe Kolavo, nonfood buyer-supervisor.
Meanwhile, lower-margin shampoos, including VO-5 and Suave, haven't been heavily emphasized. Instead, displays directed shopper attention at higher-end items, like Pantene and Pert, Kolavo said.
The retailer increased turns of these better-profit items by cross-merchandising styling aids. Products like mousse and gels are featured in shampoo displays at endcaps, in a wall-of-values power alley and in large dumps.
Promotions are a definite traffic pull in shampoo, with most sales averaging $2, according to another Midwest retailer.
Annual Volume $459,941,120
Market Share 24.5%
% Change + 9.4%
A Southeast food chain attributes the jump in category sales to new items, along with greater interest in food supplements.
"Our vitamin sales last year were up almost 25% due to heavy promotions, new items introduced, and a general awareness of and higher demand for specialty vitamins in C and E," said the vice president of nonfood, who asked to remain anonymous. "The vitamin business is growing," the executive said.
Due to the increased volume and a projected 30% growth in vitamins this year, the retailer plans to add another 4 feet of shelf space to the department this year, according to the executive.
Annual Volume $411,106,048
Market Share 38.2%
% Change + 8.4%
One reason for the sales jump is increased interest in disposable products and new-product introductions, such as new styles of ladies' razors, said Isacson of Plumb's.
"We promoted razors with multi and bonus packs from the regular section and in shippers, which helped grow the category around 6%," Isacson said.
Also helping the ladies segment has been the introduction of ladies shaving gels, which has created impulse sales for razors.
In private label, store-brand razors that have about 30% lower price points than national brands do well, generating 30% to 40% gross profit margins, compared with 20% to 24% margins that their branded counterparts bring in, she said.
Annual Volume $401,602,560
Market Share 14.6%
% Change + 3.1
After it was fine-tuned and tailored to meet the needs of different customers, the cosmetics category had a sales jump of 5% to 6% at Pay Less Supermarkets, Anderson, Ind., according to Dick Sizemore, nonfood merchandiser.
"We reset our cosmetics departments last year to reflect the kind of products that sell better in different areas," Sizemore said. "This was done after it became evident that Wet and Wild cosmetics, for example, weren't doing as well in areas with an older population, but upscale lines were."
As a result, the mix at stores with larger concentrations of older shoppers was changed to emphasize Almay and Max Factor lines. Units with a higher percentage of younger customers, such as stores located near a college town, now carry more of the Wet and Wild line, said Sizemore.
The growing number of baby boomers now entering midlife also has helped sales.
"Older consumers want to take better care of their skin and will spend the money for more upscale lines," Sizemore said.
Though competition in the category is strong, Pay Less builds traffic by frequently promoting faster-moving lipsticks, foundation, blush and nail polish on outposted racks and in floor shippers, Sizemore said.
Annual Volume $333,396,736
Market Share 34.6%
% Change + 7.9%
Pepcid AC and Tagamet HB represented new sales and promotional opportunities for Byrd Food Stores, which saw prescription customers shift to the OTC versions.
"We really had no idea about the number of people taking these prescription products until they came out OTC," said King at the 42-unit chain.
Despite the sales surge in the new heartburn preventive remedies, movement in traditional liquid and tablet antacids has remained strong.
King has an optimistic view of the category's future, pointing to the entry of another product, Zantac, which has received OTC clearance by the Food and Drug Administration and is scheduled to ship early this year.
Mass merchandisers enjoyed the most growth in the top HBC categories within grocery, generating $4.8 billion in sales, or 40% of their overall $11.9 billion HBC volume, according to IRI's Infoscan data for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 30, 1995. Meanwhile, supermarkets were able to retain the largest market share in five categories and generated a total of $5.9 billion in sales. Drug stores suffered the most declines in these categories, but still remain the dominant channel, which generated $6.5 billion. All three channels did a total of $17.2 billion in the top 10 HBC.