WHITE ON

Retailers have something to smile about in the oral care category.While teeth-whitening products surfaced several years ago, new innovations and advanced delivery systems providing effective results in the comfort of consumers' homes have piqued greater interest in the oral care aisles, according to retailers.The front-runners in the whitening sector, Procter & Gamble's Crest Whitestrips and Colgate-Palmolive's

Retailers have something to smile about in the oral care category.

While teeth-whitening products surfaced several years ago, new innovations and advanced delivery systems providing effective results in the comfort of consumers' homes have piqued greater interest in the oral care aisles, according to retailers.

The front-runners in the whitening sector, Procter & Gamble's Crest Whitestrips and Colgate-Palmolive's Simply White, brought more visibility and trade-up opportunities compared to the many whitening toothpastes, flosses and kits already on the market, the retailers said.

In the past, people had to go to the dentist to get their teeth whitened, but now, "you've never had anything this easy before," said Grant Blanchard, nonfood manager, Macey's, Sandy, Utah. The retailer promotes teeth-whitening products through advertising and in-store signage near the 16-foot oral care sections.

Oral care products are one of the hottest categories in HBC, said Linda Schmidt, health and beauty care and general merchandise category manager, Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass. This trend will continue because of the aging population and baby boomers' extensive knowledge about oral care, as well as their economic ability to support higher rings for these items, she said.

Teeth-whitening agents have come on strong in the past year and will continue to sell because the products are so effective, she noted. Big Y positions its whitening products within 16 linear feet of space in the toothpaste sets across the top shelf, she said.

"The consumer can see the benefits very soon after starting the application process," Schmidt said. "The ring at the register is high, but it is a lot less than going to the dentist for this procedure."

Other industry sources agreed that the time-consuming and expensive alternative to getting whiter teeth -- the dentist's chair or professional teeth-whitening centers -- has played a role in the popularity of showcasing teeth-whitening tools at retail.

"There's a real dollar value here compared to sitting down at one of those Brite Smile centers," said Peter Costa, president, Target Marketing, Huntington, N.Y. "Consumers want the convenience and simplicity of it."

While P&G, Cincinnati, initially introduced Crest Whitestrips in the $40 range, less expensive products like the various whitening lines from Rembrandt, produced by Den-Mat, Santa Maria, Calif., and new competitors such as Simply White whitening gel by Colgate-Palmolive, New York, and Mentadent Tooth Whitening System from Unilever, New York, were all factors in the teeth-whitening product fray late last year. P&G subsequently lowered the price on Crest Whitestrips by $10 per box, Schmidt said.

Whitening products will catapult the otherwise-static oral care market to an $8.5 billion industry by 2007, according to "The U.S. Market for Oral Care Products," a study published by Packaged Facts, a division of Market-Research.com, Rockville, Md. Supermarkets lead the oral care pack when it comes to tooth cleaner/whitener retail dollars at 57% of the market. Chain drug stores make up 25% of the category; mass merchandisers account for 18%.

While Rembrandt is a well-established whitening oral care brand, the two major players in teeth whiteners, Crest and Colgate, will create a "Coke vs. Pepsi"-like competition in the year ahead, said Don Montuori, acquisitions editor, Packaged Facts.

Crest will add more fuel to the competition with Crest Night Effects later this year, a follow-up to the Crest Whitestrips brand, he said. The $14.99 paint-on whitener with LiquidStrip technology will be a less expensive alternative to Crest Whitestrips and a direct competitor to Colgate's Simply White.

"We're just beginning to tap into the potential of whitening systems," said Blayne Smith, senior project manager, industry affairs, P&G.

In addition, Rembrandt has formulated a product for use with power toothbrushes, said Dr. Robert Ibsen, president, Den-Mat. To capitalize on the category, supermarkets should prominently merchandise such products, Montuori said.

"Variety of toothpastes can be overwhelming for the consumer," he told SN. "Distinguish these products from the toothpastes so people realize that the products are not synonymous." Additionally, positioning these higher-ring products next to the dental floss creates an attractive setup for oral care customers who are well educated on oral hygiene, he said.

There is abundant opportunity to cross merchandise these products throughout different sections of the supermarket like the photo department, the pharmacy area or the cosmetics section, said Smith.

Additionally, creating aggressive promotional displays with "tooth-whitening center" showcases will assist in making proactive grocery stores into "unprecedented profit centers for the oral care category," Ibsen pointed out.

The average markup on teeth whiteners and cleaners has reached at least 35%, according to Packaged Facts, and retailers are clearing more space on their shelves to help consumers notice these products.

With an affordable $14.99 price tag, Simply White brush-on gel has proven to be a success at W. Lee Flowers and Co., Lake City, S.C., said Susan Spring, health and beauty care buyer. The Simply White product has sold so well that Spring recently put the whitening gel item in a permanent open-stock display in the oral care sections.

"It will continue to do well because it's affordable compared to the dentist and, if it works, people will use it," she said.

The inexpensive price makes it easier for the retailer to give the Colgate product prominent display space. W. Lee Flowers doesn't carry Crest Whitestrips because its high price makes it attractive to thieves, and the retailer would be forced to display the product behind the customer service counter, Spring said.

Mark Edelman, senior health and beauty care category manager, A&P, Montvale, N.J., disagreed with putting high-ring oral care whitening aids behind service counters or locking them away for fear of theft.

"The key is keeping it in stock in the toothpaste aisles. Some store managers fear that it's a high-theft item and pull it off the shelves, but we haven't found that it's a high-theft product," Edelman told SN. The retailer highlights at least one oral care whitening product in its in-store circulars at least once a month, he said.

Interest in teeth whiteners will not wane anytime soon as long as new technologies advance the category, sources said.

"The proof will be how effective these products are," said Montuori of Packaged Facts. Otherwise, whitening products will lose their luster. Then again, he said, "never underestimate the American people's [desire] to look better more cheaply."