Foot care is poised for further growth given favorable consumer demographics and the self-treatment movement. Plus, a big player that entered the segment last year has helped propel dollar volume.
Although the opportunity exists, the question remains whether supermarkets can step up and grab a bigger piece of the $615 million market. According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, supermarkets held a 22.5% share of the total category, which includes both devices (various foot supports, inserts, cushions, and callous, bunion and corn pads) and medications. Supermarkets' share in medicines (24.4%) slightly outpaced that in devices (21%).
"It's a growing category," said Verdie Henderson, health and beauty care buyer for Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas. "There are a lot of people who are doing self-medication and they don't want to go see a doctor because it costs so much money."
Self-medication is the primary trend in the category, according to Don Stuart, of the marketing and sales management consulting firm Cannondale Associates, Wilton, Conn. "Broadly speaking," he said, "it's been repositioned from a problem-solving category to one of just improving lifestyle. The category is not just seen as 'where do I go when I have a callous or a corn?' It's seen as a destination: 'where can I go to get more comfort for my feet and treat myself better; and, by the way, they can also solve your corn problems.' "
The category is successfully riding the "age wave," added Stuart, and new orthopedic designs, gel technologies and hybrid materials are resulting in higher price points and margins for retailers.
"This category is growing much faster than the general population. They [suppliers] have been able to satisfy and target the needs of aging baby boomers, who, typically, start to have more foot problems as they get older."
The higher price points retailers are enjoying have caused dollar sales to outpace relatively slower unit sales. "We've got numbers and it's up quite a bit. We're outpacing the market [in foot care]," said Henderson.
Ray Wallace, nonfood director at Cub Foods, Lithia Springs, Ga., pointed out that now the category consists "more of the $8 to $9 insoles for [foot] problems. Before [inserts], there were just Odor Eater-type of products."
IRI's numbers confirm the category's rising dollar volume. For the 52-week period ended March 28, 1999, total dollars rose in all three channels of trade, up 12% to $332.1 million for devices and up 7.2% to $282.5 million for medications.
On device sales, the food channel enjoyed a robust 12% gain to $69.1 million, capturing 21% of the market share. While mass merchandisers saw a whopping 19.5% jump to $122.7 million or a 37% share, drug stores took the largest share of device sales, 42.2%, with $140.3 million, up 7.5%.
In medications, food retailers saw a 5.4% increase to $69 million, or a 24.4% share. Again, drug stores took the biggest share, with 43.4%, up 1.8% to $122.6 million, and mass merchandisers again experienced the biggest jump, 17% to $91 million, or a 32.2% share.
Although food retailers reveled along with their mass-market competitors in more dollars, they can still stand to gain market share, according to industry executives.
The above numbers indicate that foot care is a drug-store category, as many food retailers believe, but merchandising and marketing approaches have the potential to produce market-share gains for supermarkets. One way to do this could be by repositioning the category, as Stuart mentioned, as a lifestyle-improvement destination. Henderson suggested that "grocers look at it as an impulse purchase. Most people go to the drug store to get foot care products, but then there are those people that will pick up everything they want at the grocery store."
Another factor that has contributed to category growth is New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson's entry into the segment with its Band-Aid line. "Part of the growth is new Band-Aid products," stated one industry source. "That's what's happening in this category, Band-Aid has started into it."
Johnson & Johnson spokes-man John McKeegan declined comment on why the company entered the market with its "Cushions for Feet," a four-product line of bandages designed to treat corns, blisters, callouses and cracked heels. Each item retails for about $4.59. With more people wanting to self medicate and treat their ailments, one source speculated that "J&J wanted to get in on that trend through foot care." "Cushions for Feet is based around technology and innovation," said McKeegan. "When you bring innovation to people, they respond," he added. And respond they did. Within a year of the "Cushions" release, three of the four products in the line -- corn-, blister- and callous-relief bandages -- made IRI's list of Top 20 brands of foot care devices sold.
The dominant player in the device segment is Dr. Scholl's, produced by Schering-Plough, Liberty Corner, N.J. Dr. Scholl's literally owns the device subcategory with 75% of total sales. Nine of the Top 10 foot care devices on IRI's list were from Dr. Scholl's. Of the $231.8 million in sales generated by the Top 10 device brands, Dr. Scholl's captured 93.2% with $216 million in sales. The only non-Dr. Scholl's brand in the Top 10 devices was private-label with sales of $15.8 million. "They definitely have a step up on the competition," said Cannondale's Stuart.