FORTIFYING BANDAGES

Supermarkets are expecting the adhesive-bandage category will go from passive to active with the introduction next year of technologically advanced products.Among the new over-the-counter products expected to be launched in the first quarter of next year are a Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid brand, with antibiotic on the pad, that puts the emphasis on healing, and a line of four Curad bandage products

Supermarkets are expecting the adhesive-bandage category will go from passive to active with the introduction next year of technologically advanced products.

Among the new over-the-counter products expected to be launched in the first quarter of next year are a Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid brand, with antibiotic on the pad, that puts the emphasis on healing, and a line of four Curad bandage products created to improve protection.

Retailers interviewed by SN indicated that the bandage shelves have seen few innovative changes in the category since the introduction of character strips and flexible foam bandages.

"The adhesive bandage shelves have been stagnant for some time," said Fulton Royal, health and beauty care buyer for Jitney Jungle Stores of America, Jackson, Miss. "The addition of these new products should help business if the companies back it with good in-store promotions."

George Shumny, director-national accounts for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products, Skillman, N.J., points out that "bandages have been a relatively flat category for some time, entirely lacking in new news. But 1997 will change that.

It is expected that over 20 items in the bandage area will be introduced by all manufacturers. So retailers should love it."

Shumny said Johnson & Johnson "has been looking for some time into taking adhesive bandages from a passive protector to an active healing aid. The other trend is how we can take technology from the hospital room to over-the-counter products."

"Johnson & Johnson tries increasingly to add a medical utility to its consumer products. The addition of an antibiotic is a pretty logical thing to do to a bandage. It's hard to see why it took so long. It seems like it would be appealing to certain consumers with money who would pay a premium to put a bandage on a severe cut," said Ken Abramowitz, health care analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., New York.

The new antibiotic product, which is being promoted as "one-stop infection protection," will be arriving in the stores during the first quarter, Shummy said. There will be two packages of 20 bandages -- one containing bandages of the same size and the other containing assorted sizes.

Tom Hall, director of marketing at Beiersdorf Health Care group, which owns Futuro, Milford, Ohio, said that the new Advanced Curad line will be available in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers beginning in March. Packages will have a list price of $2.99 and a recommended retail price of $4.29. Recommended promotion prices are $3.99 or less, he said.

According to Hall, Futuro expects that the new products will appeal to families and projects that consumers will pay a premium price for bandages that offer special benefits.

Hall noted that the new line for home use "uses the same technology as hospital products," providing a "moist environment for healing."

Three of the products -- Blister Care, Cool Wrap (for burns) and Soft-Gel -- provide a water-based gel. The fourth, Aqua-Protect, consists of a waterproof film.

"These are some very positive indicators for 1997," said Steve Lauder, HBC category manager for Supervalu in Minneapolis, which serves 4,500 stores as a wholesaler. "It's the first time there has been so much activity in the first-aid category in a long time. New technology used for bandages could generate some real growth."

Lauder noted that sales growth in bandages will also be stimulated "by the fact that more people are taking care of themselves at home as outpatients. They are changing their own dressings at home, and some are doing this more than twice a day."

Supermarkets, meanwhile, are counting on promotional support from the manufacturers to help move these premium items.

"Bandages have good profit margins, but they are slow sellers," said Mike Homsley, nonfood buyer at Scolari's Food & Drug, Sparks, Nev. "We give them about eight linear feet of shelf space. But if the companies want to move these new premium products, it will be up to how they promote it. If they just ship it to the store it won't help."

Mark Laurin, pharmacy specialist at Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., said, "Bandages are not big sellers, compared to the other HBC items, only 2% to 5% percent of the total. They are more or less a seasonal product, they sell better in summertime [when children are most active]."

"Manufacturers should do more promotion, and also, possibly provide more user-friendly packages," he said.

Promotion is key here, especially in areas where mass merchandisers and large pharmacy chains compete heavily with supermarkets selling health care and first-aid items.

"Bandages generally have been a pretty quiet sales item for us because our stores are located in an area where there are Wal-Marts and Kmarts, and they seem to get that business," said Dale Green, director of HBC/GM for Houchens Industries, Bowling Green, Ky.

Drug stores dominate the trade classes in the first-aid (tape, bandage, gauze, cotton) segment, but mass merchandisers are creeping up. Food store volume remains relatively flat. According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, in the 52 weeks ended Oct. 6, sales in food stores totaled $121.2 million, a 0.4% decrease. Drug store sales were down 3.9% to $193.5 million, while mass merchandiser sales grew 5.1% to $92.8 million.

Johnson & Johnson's Shumny said, "Sales of adhesive bandages for children were high in supermarkets because mothers made more stops to the food stores with their kids than drug stores to shop. It was one-stop shopping to get bandages for the kids.

But when the product is a therapeutic premium item rather than an ordinary or conventional adhesive bandage, marketers anticipate drug stores could be the first place that consumers would look for them.

For serious first aid, said Shumny, "drug stores, because of their positioning as first-aid and health stores, are tops. So supermarkets are really being challenged to promote the new products to attract new customers."

Futuro's Hall noted the company will promote its new Advanced Curad line with samplers in national magazines and with discount coupons.

"But we expect our accounts to support the products by featuring their health care benefits and not just emphasizing price promotions."