Supermarkets are extending their health and wellness efforts to the oral care aisle, because dental care, like the rest of the medical world, can be cost prohibitive for consumers.
For many self-care-conscious families, healthy at-home habits and prevention practices start right in the aisles of the supermarket. In recent years, the emphasis in this core health and beauty care category has been on “beauty,” with whitening products at the marketing forefront. However, the current trend emphasizes “health,” with an aging population and increasing awareness of the importance of true oral care.
Health and wellness are the big buzzwords, Sue Vodika, HBC buyer/category manager for Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., told SN. “We are getting behind the whole health trend and planning our oral care products at least three times a year with some kind of healthy theme.”
Bashas' experienced a 28% sales lift in the category during a 10-week period in fourth-quarter 2006 due to a health-based in-store promotion, Vodika said. “It was an educational program. The header was ‘Five Steps to a Healthy Smile,’ and it was point-of-purchase signage that went up near our pharmacy and showed all the steps in an oral care regimen.”
Bashas' ran the program in partnership with Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, to promote P&G's Crest products, but the entire category saw a sales increase, she said.
“Many manufacturers are willing to partner up to build some kind of campaign that will help their brand but also the entire category,” said consultant Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill. “You can also go out and do it yourself with your private-label brand.”
In many retail stores, there is a trend toward more signage and “anything that will bring more attention to the healthful part of the business,” said Lou Helfrich, director of purchasing, private label/OTC, Chain Drug Consortium, Pittsburgh. Chain Drug Consortium is owned by a group of regional drug chains throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico and runs programs on generic pharmaceuticals, private-label products and other opportunities, “where we can better programs that our members can't use individually,” he said.
At Topco Associates, Skokie, Ill., a supermarket-owned private-label cooperative, a valuable strategy for retailers is to block their store-brand products together. “In a typical situation, the store brand is immediately to the right of its comparable national brand,” said Tony Harrington, director of program management.
“Many retailers have achieved increased sales and a greater share by grouping all of the company's Top Care-branded oral products together within the category with eye-catching signage,” he said.
For brands owned by P&G, which is developing products that will integrate its Crest brands with the Oral B toothbrush brand bought along with Gillette Co. in 2005, “We recommend displaying a regimen of oral care products together with signage and messaging explaining the benefits to help with the self-selection among a variety of choices,” said P&G spokeswoman Elizabeth Ming. Colgate-Palmolive, New York, did not respond to SN's request for comment.
The goal is to simplify the shopping process for consumers in a self-care culture, she said. To help shoppers navigate the section, the manufacturer recommends establishing focal centers such as power brushing systems near whitening for the “highly involved oral care consumer,” and a separate kids' regimen section “shelved at child's eye level to help develop good oral hygiene habits early.”
Oral care is a part of the current broader health and wellness culture and in some ways more important than people realize, Wisner said. “The whole issue of educating customers at the point of sale is, regardless of the category but especially with health and wellness, just imperative to retailers,” he said.
SPREADING THE WORD
From the dawn of whitening products, the emphasis has been on looking healthy, but oral health care is back “on the radar screen,” according to Dr. Phil H. Hunke, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Chicago.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, released a report late last month finding that tooth decay has increased 15% in U.S. children 2 to 5 years old. From 1999 to 2004, 28% of children in that age group had experienced cavities.
“Finding that one-quarter of young children have cavities verifies that tooth decay remains the single most common chronic disease of childhood in the U.S.,” said Burton Edelstein, Children's Dental Health Project board chairman for the CDC, at the time of the release. “Trends among young children are both worsening and worrisome because so many parents have trouble finding dental care for their young children.”
“Almost all dental disease is preventable,” Hunke said. “We are putting the pressure on legislatures and trying to educate the public so they will start visiting the dentist regularly and using good dental habits at home with home care. That is where retailers are tied in,” he said.
“Retailers can educate customers on appropriate home care and visits to the dentist.”
Brand Names Only, Please
Private label plays a prominent role in the sales of almost all oral care categories, except one: toothpaste.
The sales figures from Information Resources Inc., Chicago, for the 52 weeks ending April 22, indicate that in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, private-label products rank:
First in manual toothbrushes at $482.9 million, ahead of Oral B Indicator toothbrushes, owned by Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, at $52.6 million.
Second in mouthwash at $83.1 million, behind Listerine, owned by Johnson & Johnson, Philadelphia, at $229 million.
Second in dental floss at $22.6 million, behind Crest Glide, owned by P&G at $23.9 million.
Third in denture cleanser tablets at $14.6 million, behind Efferdent, owned by Johnson & Johnson, at $17.2 million and Polident, owned by GlaxoSmithKline, Philadelphia, at $18.4 million.
However, private label doesn't have a place in the top 10 product list for toothpaste. P&G's Crest is No. 1 at $137.2 million. Colgate is second at $101.6 million. Variations on both brands' toothpastes, such as Crest Whitening Plus Scope and Colgate Max Fresh, dominate the rest of the list, plus appearances from GlaxoSmithKline's Sensodyne and Aquafresh.
While many dental products are strong candidates for store brands because they are high-consumption items, toothpaste is a different situation, said Tony Harrington, director of program management, Topco Associates, Skokie, Ill., a supermarket-owned private-label cooperative.
“Toothpaste is dominated by two well-known national brands offering a wide variety of stockkeeping units,” he said. Topco's Top Care brand “is focusing on specialty toothpastes and will launch a Top Care brand for sensitive teeth.”
However, for many companies this just isn't a possibility due to the cost of packaging, said Lou Helfrich, director of purchasing, private label/OTC, Chain Drug Consortium, Pittsburgh, a drug store-owned HBC and pharmaceutical co-op.
“Due to the cost of the tube that has to be used, suppliers require anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 tubes per stockkeeping unit per year,” he said. “Combined with a lot of brand loyalty in the category, doing a private-label toothpaste is a possibility for only a select few companies out there.”
It seems getting whiter teeth at home by applying a quick-drying paste or strip isn't quite enough for today's multitasking, super-efficient consumers.
The tooth bleaching/whitening category saw an 8.7% decrease for the 52 weeks ending April 22, according to figures from Information Resources Inc., Chicago. The category still brought in $212.8 million for the year to date, in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart.
Whitening systems also decreased in sales at Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., this year, Sue Vodika, HBC buyer/category manager, told SN. “I think the whitening systems are dropping off because there are too many,” she said.
The category “broke out” with the Colgate Brush On system from Colgate-Palmolive about three years ago, she said, but since then, “there have been tons and tons.”
Another possible driver for the sales decline is the continued search for convenience, she said. “I don't think people want the half-hour wait while wearing these whitening strips.”
Manufacturers, however, are on top of it.
Late last year, Rembrandt, owned by Johnson & Johnson, Philadelphia, released flexible strips with “FormFit” technology, designed to give the product a molding capability similar to whitening trays offered at dentists' offices. The brand saw a 16.9% sales increase within the declining category, to $10.7 million.
Private-label whitening was up as well, 8.4% to $21 million. “This is already a year of high growth for our whitening products,” said Tony Harrington, director of program management, Topco Associates, Skokie, Ill., a supermarket-owned private-label cooperative.
“Six months ago, Topco launched a Top Care-brand whitening wrap offering more concentrated product requiring fewer treatments.”
Vodika said she expects Crest Whitestrips Daily Multicare from P&G to do well in the coming months. The product was introduced in March and is to be used for five minutes daily.
Crest is the leader in the category with a 25.2% increase in sales to $54.2 million.