WELL HEALED

Now that adhesive bandages with licensed characters on the outside have proven their ability to drive the first aid category for kids, retailers have high hopes for some of the newer innovations that have been applied to the other side of the bandage.Products that do more than cover wounds or use new fabrics or adhesives appear to be fostering growth in the category while pushing prices higher. At

Now that adhesive bandages with licensed characters on the outside have proven their ability to drive the first aid category for kids, retailers have high hopes for some of the newer innovations that have been applied to the other side of the bandage.

Products that do more than cover wounds or use new fabrics or adhesives appear to be fostering growth in the category while pushing prices higher. At the same time, retailers report that private-label first aid products do especially well, perhaps because they provide a low-priced alternative to some of the higher-priced new entries.

A buyer for one East Coast chain who asked not to be identified said his company was looking at adding some private-label versions of some of the newer bandage products, which contain antiseptics or employ other technologies to enhance their functionality. Although he declined to reveal details about sales volumes, he said the fact that private-label knockoffs were being developed was an indication that the branded products were successful.

Some supermarkets, such as the IGA stores operated by the W. Lee Flowers Co., Scranton, S.C., maintain a relatively small first aid section and are only stocking one of the new series of multipurpose Band-Aid brand adhesive bandages from Johnson & Johnson, Skillman, N.J.

"The [Band-Aid Antiseptic Adhesive Bandages] I put in, the others I didn't," said Linda Spring, health and beauty care buyer, W. Lee Flowers, which also distributes products to about 75 other IGA and independent supermarkets. "Our [bandage] sections in our stores are very small, so I have to be selective with what I put in, but I did put in the antiseptic, and it's been doing really well."

She said she thinks consumers like the convenience of the bandages with antiseptic included in the pads because they can carry the products with them for those times when they don't have any antiseptic handy.

The other Band-Aid multifunction adhesive bandages, which were introduced in March, include Quick Stop, designed to stop bleeding faster than traditional adhesive bandages, Pain & Itch Relief, and Gentle Care, which is designed to be less painful when removed. At the same time, Johnson & Johnson debuted its First Aid brand Advanced Care line, which features similar technologies for gauze pads.

The Band-Aid products have suggested retail prices of between $2.89 and $3.99 for a box of 20 to 25 strips. The First Aid brand products carry suggested retail prices of $3.79 to $4.99.

Nexcare, the health care products brand owned by No. 2 bandage supplier Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing, St. Paul, Minn., also sells a Comfort Strip adhesive bandage with antiseptic in the gauze pad.

Sue Wasserman, Nexcare marketing operations manager, said consumers "seem to be leery of that sort of product," however, noting that many prefer to apply their first aid treatment in steps rather than combining the processes.

She also said the Nexcare First Aid Kit, which includes a cleaning swab, ointment and a selection of gauze and butterfly closures, has been "far exceeding" the company's expectations since its March debut.

Curad also has a new triple-antibiotic adhesive bandage, in addition to wound wipes, which are gauze bandages loaded with antiseptic.

Gary Cooper, vice president of marketing, medical products, at Curad parent Beiersdorf, Wilton, Conn., said the products are doing well, noting that sales of the Curad brand are up 30% overall this year.

Spring of W. Lee Flowers said she expected strong sales from one of Curad's other new products in the category, Scar Therapy.

"That's bound to be good, because we baby boomers like to look good," she said.

Cooper said the Scar Therapy product has been performing well since its introduction in February. "So far, so good," he said. "The bar chart on it looks great."

Among the retail strategies being used to promote the product, which retails for $14.99 to $19.99, is the placement of coupons at the pharmacy counter.

Private-label first aid products are widely accepted, retailers said.

Marc Jampole, spokesman, Penn Traffic, Syracuse, N.Y., noted that his company's private label, Top Care, is a strong third-place brand in the category behind the two J&J brands, Band-Aid and First Aid.

He said the first aid category at Penn Traffic is up 3.7% this year over last year.

That jibes with the national trend as reported by Information Resources Inc., Chicago, which found that dollar sales in the category -- which includes tape, bandages, gauze and cotton -- were up 4.3% in drug, grocery and mass outlets, to $509.9 million, in the 52 weeks ended May 20. Supermarkets had a 4.4% gain in dollar sales during that period, outpacing the growth of the top channel for the category, drug stores, which had about 42% of the market with $214.8 million in sales.

The trend toward higher pricing is evident in the IRI data, as unit sales grew at a much slower pace. Unit sales in all channels of trade combined were up 2.5% during that same time frame, including a 1.7% gain for the grocery channel. Mass merchants appear to be maintaining the lowest prices, having had a 5.1% gain in unit sales to go with a 5.4% increase in dollar sales in the period.

Meanwhile, adhesive bandages for kids with licensed characters continue to perform well, retailers said. One retailer said floor shippers of licensed adhesive bandages provide a big boost for the products, which, as many parents will attest, have become fashion accessories as much as they are wound dressings.

On a recent visit to a Stop & Shop in Matawan, N.J., SN saw an extensive selection of licensed-character bandages merchandised on the shelves, including Star Wars, Pokemon and Looney Tunes characters on Curad products and Barbie, Pooh, Sesame Street, Blues Clues, Toy Story and Arthur characters on Band-Aid products.

Cooper of Beiersdorf also said Curad was close to reaching an agreement for a new Star Wars license.

Nexcare also has bandages for kids, including Tattoo Bandages and some licensed Disney characters. Its Bug Collection and Pop Art Collection debuted in February with a new material that "feels more papery and less like plastic," Wasserman said.