RETAILERS SMILING: TOTAL TOOTHPASTE DUE

NEW YORK -- Retailers have yet to see samples, and many health and beauty care directors are still in the dark about ship dates, but the impending launch of Colgate Total toothpaste by Colgate-Palmolive Co. here has supermarket executives expecting big things.Marketed overseas since 1992, Colgate Total received Food and Drug Administration approval this summer for sale in the United States. It is

NEW YORK -- Retailers have yet to see samples, and many health and beauty care directors are still in the dark about ship dates, but the impending launch of Colgate Total toothpaste by Colgate-Palmolive Co. here has supermarket executives expecting big things.

Marketed overseas since 1992, Colgate Total received Food and Drug Administration approval this summer for sale in the United States. It is the only toothpaste sanctioned by the FDA for its ability to help prevent plaque, gum disease and cavities. The toothpaste will carry the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance for gingivitis, plaque, cavities and tartar benefits.

Published reports have put Colgate-Palmolive's promotional budget for the launch at $100 million. Colgate executives were unavailable for comment on its marketing plans. However, in a press statement, Lois Juliber, Colgate's chief of operations for developed markets, called Total "the most significant advancement in home dental care since the introduction of fluoride."

She said, "Colgate Total is a toothpaste that is unlike any other available on the U.S. market. It is distinctive because it is the only toothpaste with clinically proven ingredients that help prevent gingivitis, plaque and cavities, as well as tartar and bad breath."

"They're playing that one close to the vest," said Kevin Howe, HBC category manager at Imperial Distributors, Auburn, Mass. "I haven't seen anything, except for $100 million -- that got my attention.

"This launch is of a magnitude we haven't seen before. The consensus is absolutely that it's going to be a winner."

Although he has seen no samples or promotional materials from Colgate, Howe said, he has already placed two orders for Total, the second to ship 30 days after the first, which is scheduled for Dec. 15.

"I ordered enough so that I don't have to worry about production problems," he said, adding that each retailer Imperial services will carry at least one Total floor stand as well as open stock. "There will be multiple facings, at least initially, because it's going to be such an intense draw."

Colgate, said Howe, has already committed "significant" cooperative ad funding to Imperial, which in turn has booked space for the manufacturer in weekly circulars for all 87 independent retailers serviced by the distributor.

Wyman Butler, director of nonfood at Harvey's Supermarkets, Nashville, Ga., differentiated between Total and product launches that have backfired due to inaccurate manufacturer claims.

"[Total] sounds like it's not run-of-the-mill new product; this sounds like a product that actually works."

He said the 44-store chain will be advertising Total in its circulars through its ad program with Millbrook Distribution Services, Leicester, Mass., and Harrison, Ark.

Harvey's stores, which range in size from 14,000 to 50,000 square feet, will also carry Total floor stands, Butler said -- as many as three in the larger units.

Although the average Harvey's devotes 12 to 16 feet of shelf space to toothpaste, the smallest stores can make room for only 4 feet. If Total succeeds initially, Butler said, "we will want to have two to three stockkeeping units even in our smaller stores. You've got to have it in every store you own."

Tammy Rowe, HBC supervisor at Wade's Supermarket, Christianburg, Va., said she was not worried Total's price points, expected to be 25% higher than those of Colgate's other toothpastes, might alienate customers.

"Like Mentadent, it's in a class of its own. When you set it, you've got to get it away from the regular stuff."

Rowe will place Total floor stands in HBC aisles and advertise the product in its circular once every two months.

Toothpaste margins at Wade's typically are 15% or under, Rowe noted, adding that she is hoping for as much as 20% on Total.

Some executives contacted by SN said that, in the past, Colgate-Palmolive had been less than helpful in supporting new-product launches at retail.

"Colgate typically is one of the worst companies in the world in following through," said John Amell, HBC buyer at Bi-Lo Wholesale Grocers, Albany, N.Y. "When something is introduced, we have to come to them and ask about it."

Andrew Shore, an analyst at Paine Webber here who covers Colgate-Palmolive, said the company "used to be no better than adequate merchandisers. I think that's beginning to change. Colgate's volume growth over the last two quarters has been nothing short of extraordinary.