MOUTH APPEAL

Retailers are making a big splash with new mouthwash formulations that go beyond fresh breath.Multipurpose formulations combined with new flavors have regenerated the oral care category, retailers told SN. Sales of mouthwash/dental products were up 2.4% in supermarkets to $275.6 million for the 52 weeks ending May 15, 2005, according to Information Research Inc., Chicago.Consumer trends leading to

Retailers are making a big splash with new mouthwash formulations that go beyond fresh breath.

Multipurpose formulations combined with new flavors have regenerated the oral care category, retailers told SN. Sales of mouthwash/dental products were up 2.4% in supermarkets to $275.6 million for the 52 weeks ending May 15, 2005, according to Information Research Inc., Chicago.

Consumer trends leading to new mouthwash launches include the demand for new flavors that lessen the harsh sting of alcohol, and the interest in improving overall health and wellness, which carries over to oral care. New mouthwashes such as Listerine Advanced antiseptic with tartar control in arctic mint from Pfizer Consumer Healthcare; Crest Pro-Health, an anti-gingivitis formula from Procter & Gamble; and Act x2, an anti-cavity fluoride formula from Johnson & Johnson all serve dual purposes with added health benefits.

Mona Golub, vice president of Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., said there is a general evolution of lifestyle changes among consumers who want to eat and live healthier, and oral hygiene is a big part of that. "Many of the new mouthwashes are flavor-driven so they capture an even larger group of these health-conscious consumers." As an example, she noted that Scope has new citrus and cinnamon flavors.

A 2004 survey from the American Dental Association revealed that more people are concerned with oral hygiene than in years past. Of the people polled by ADA, 24.8% said they brush twice daily compared to 11.5% in the association's 1997 survey. Use of dental floss and other interdental cleaning devices also rose, from 48.2% to 50.5%.

Tom Vierhile, director of Productscan Online, Naples, N.Y., who follows new product trends, said, "The competition for breath-freshening mints has dissipated a bit, leaving the door open for mouthwash products to reassert themselves."

Vierhile cited the launch of Crest Pro-Health Oral Rinse earlier this year with P&G's commitment to spend $100 million on marketing, a dollar amount equal to about 10% of the total mouthwash category sales. P&G also rolled out new cinnamon and orange citrus flavors of Scope, a move that might have been counterproductive, as Crest appears to be killing Scope sales, Vierhile said.

"Almost every top company has come out with new flavors in the past few months," said Susan Spring, buyer, Lee Flowers & Co., Lake City, S.C. "Some have combined enamel care with whitening or whitening with mouthwash, but always a new flavor. The consumer can buy just about any flavor now to satisfy every need."

While there are many new mouthwash stockkeeping units populating the shelves, some brands are faring better than others, said Valerie Skala, vice president of analytic product management for IRI. "Listerine brand is driving the category growth, and the new Crest rinse seems to be mostly cannibalizing Scope thus far," she said.

It's not enough to simply introduce a new product. The demographic of mouthwash users must be considered. Right now, baby boomers are some of the most dental-care-focused consumers, Skala said.

"Many of [the baby boomers'] parents spent thousands of dollars on orthodontics and other dental care when they were young, and they saw their grandparents suffer with dentures," Skala said. "They don't want to end up like that. They want to keep their teeth for life. They also don't want to feel or appear 'old,' and that means they want their teeth to look good and their breath to smell fresh."

Toothpastes have long answered consumer demand for products that keep them looking good by incorporating tooth-whitening ingredients and stain fighters into their products. Now, mouthwash manufacturers have found a way to add many of the same ingredients to rinses.

Listerine's Whitening formula promises to whiten teeth while killing germs, a benefit that has pushed the brand to the forefront of the category, Skala said.

"The whitening craze has not gone away, so manufacturers are capitalizing on the trend by putting whitening agents into mouthwash," said Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill. "A new line of Oral B items has been introduced by Gillette, Pfizer is about to launch a whitening rinse, and P&G has introduced several brand extensions to its Crest line of whitening products."

The introduction of so many new products in a relatively short time will by itself increase consumer awareness, Wisner said. Media support behind the product launches, additional coupon drops and accelerated trade spending by the manufacturers all contribute to making this a very active category, he added.

"Like with whitening mouthwashes, many manufacturers are trying to reinvigorate the category with other products that do more than mask oral problems," Vierhile said.

Crest's new Pro-Health Rinse claims to kill germs without the burn of alcohol, and Act x2 contains tooth-strengthening fluoride and is promoted as an anti-cavity product, he said.

"Crest Pro-Health Rinse has been pretty successful out of all of the new mouthwashes launched recently," said Larry Schimpf, director of HBC/GM for Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa. "We got it in our stores quickly and displayed it on floor stands from P&G. Our shoppers seem to be very interested in a strong mouthwash that doesn't burn as much as Listerine, which contains alcohol."

Wisner concurs, adding that many individuals have resisted moving to antiseptic rinses in the past because of their strong medicinal flavor.

"Crest Pro-Health Rinse very successfully consolidates the advantages of both antiseptic rinses and traditional mouthwash items," he said.

Manufacturers, however, are learning to be more cautious about making lofty claims.

In 2004, Pfizer ran an ad campaign for Listerine claiming that rinsing with mouthwash is as good as flossing in preventing plaque and gum disease, but in January 2005, the company was enjoined in federal court from making the claim.

CREATING AWARENESS

Supermarkets have been proactive in getting new mouthwash items in the store early and making sure their shoppers are aware of them.

Clemens Markets heavily promotes new oral care products, including mouthwashes, Schimpf said, but also emphasizes its own house brands in weekly circulars. And, while the chain uses floor displays and other merchandising tools provided by manufacturers, only Clemens Markets tags are used at the shelf, Schimpf said.

Price Chopper merchandises new mouthwashes on end caps and includes each item in the chain's weekly circular in a special section that features new products, Golub said.

"We promote our oral care category regularly in our ads but also make a concerted effort to be competitively priced," Golub said. "It's equally important to focus on getting new products sooner, not only at the same time as other retailers, but in many cases, we're first to market."

Within the oral care category at Price Chopper stores, standard hang-down shelf tags alert shoppers to the new mouthwash SKUs, and the chain also displays manufacturer signage when available.

Whenever a new item is introduced to Lee Flower & Co. stores, the chain sends product information and shelf tags to each location and advertises along with the freestanding insert when the product launches, Spring said. At times, floorstands are used to help introduce the new item, and if there is a big promotion, store managers are encouraged to incorporate endcap displays to coincide with ads promoting low price points.

Dahl's Food Markets, Des Moines, Iowa, also posts new product signage at the shelf when new mouthwashes are introduced. Current mouthwash SKUs being highlighted in Dahl's stores include Listerine Whitening Mouthwash and Crest Pro-Health Rinse, said Toby Nelson, director of nonfoods for the chain.

"We also have Home Best brand of mouthwash that we get through SuperValu so we have a lower-priced brand to offer our customers along with the new national brands," Nelson said. "At times, we'll have special promotions that are offered through our wholesaler, and we'll often use special signage that manufacturers give us in the aisles, too."

Depending on the special mouthwash promotions going on in stores, Dahl's Food Markets also highlights oral care products in weekly circulars. But most mouthwash items are included in ads only when they're on sale, not just because they're new, he added.

STORE-BRAND RESPONSE

As each manufacturer introduces new mouthwash varieties, many supermarket chains respond with similar products of their own. By ratcheting up promotions of their house brands, they're also able to better compete with other retail outlets, like drug store chains, which have always captured a large share of the oral care market.

In store visits, SN found that Meijer stores in western Michigan are heavily promoting the chain's own brand of mouthwash products, which include newly launched citrus and cinnamon items that mimic the new flavors introduced by national manufacturers. The only copy-cat mouthwash missing was a Meijer brand tooth-whitening product.

Meijer's private-label mouthwash flavors are stacked from the floor up on the oral care endcap, with shelf tags that encourage shoppers to try the store brand.

During store visits to Plumb's stores, owned by Spartan Stores, in western Michigan, SN found a wide variety of private-label mouthwash under the Spartan brand name. Spartan products were positioned among national brands like Listerine, with new citrus- and cinnamon-flavored Scope mouthwash.

Plumb's didn't have Listerine's Whitening Mouthwash, but a store manager told SN the new product would be available soon.

Shelf tags drew attention to a buy one, get one free promotion running for Scope's Pro-Health Rinse, and additional Smart Source signs jutted out into the health care aisle promoting Listerine's complete line of mouthwash products.

Doggie Breath, Be Gone

Oral care isn't just for humans anymore. Tooth-enhancing and breath-related items for dogs and cats are filling the supermarket pet shelves.

"There has been a strong increase in pet products for caring for pet teeth or combating doggie breath," said Tom Vierhile, director for Productscan Online, Naples, N.Y.

During 2004, 43 new products were found in Productscan Online's database under the word "breath" in the pet industry. This figure is up from 25 new products introduced in 2003 and just 12 in 2000, Vierhile said.

Most of the products were dental bones or dog treats designed to counter bad breath, he said.

Highland Park Markets, Glastonbury, Conn., has carried Denta Bone tooth-cleaning bones for dogs for a number of years, said Tim Cummiskey, grocery manager for the chain. "We've also started carrying Yip Yaps, which are bone-shaped breath treats that come in small tins like Sucrets," Cummiskey said. "And we've also added Greenies to our mix, which are dental health dog chews in the shape of toothbrushes."

While Denta Bones have been selling fairly well, Yip Yaps and Greenies haven't been in Highland Park Market's stores long enough to tell what sales will be, he added.

Products that claim to reduce tartar and clean teeth are available for dogs and cats in the form of food and treats. There are more than 57 varieties or sizes of Greenies dog treats and chews alone, each made to clean teeth or freshen breath.

"Pet care manufacturers and retailers seem to be promoting the fact that unhealthy teeth shorten a pet's life," said Valerie Skala, vice president of analytic product management for Information Resources Inc., Chicago. "We see more pet owners becoming more involved with their pets, particularly as empty-nesters live longer and young adults marry and have children later."

When pets take on the role of children, pet owners tend to spend more on their care, she added. Pet owners can also purchase health insurance for their animals and there has been a significant increase in spending on surgery, diabetes medication and other forms of medical and health care for their pets, Skala said.

Other items available in select supermarkets include liquid oral care drops, ferret oral swabs, Hill's Science Diet Oral Care dog and cat food as well as canine and feline toothbrushes with flavored toothpastes.