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White & Bright

AMERICANS ARE FOLLOWING UP THEIR BETTER-FOR-YOU MEALS with a growing selection of natural and organic oral care products. Natural toothpaste, mouthwash, breath fresheners and related items are increasingly making their way onto shopping lists. Sales have increased, as everyone is going more green and natural. Customers are asking our stores to put in more variety, said Nick Barainca, nonfood director

AMERICANS ARE FOLLOWING UP THEIR BETTER-FOR-YOU MEALS with a growing selection of natural and organic oral care products.

Natural toothpaste, mouthwash, breath fresheners and related items are increasingly making their way onto shopping lists.

“Sales have increased, as everyone is going more green and natural. Customers are asking our stores to put in more variety,” said Nick Barainca, nonfood director for Scolari's Food and Drug in Sparks, Nev.

Despite struggling HBC sales in some categories, overall sales of natural oral care products increased in conventional stores for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 6, 2008, by 11.5% to just over $58 million, according to SPINSscan Conventional. In natural supermarkets, natural oral care sales grew 6.8% to $47 million during the same period, according to SPINSscan Natural.

Products with the highest sales growth in the conventional channel include mouth sprays and mouthwashes, which spiked 20.2%. Shoppers are even picking up toothbrushes made from recycled materials. In addition, some consumers are asking for toothpaste that is fluoride-free and brands that are made without the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate, according to Dee Lindbergh, sales associate with Ada's Natural and Organic Foods Supermarket in Fort Myers, Fla.

Also popular are toothpastes, throat sprays and rinses with xylitol, a natural sugar with known gum disease-fighting properties.

“We sell a lot of toothpaste with xylitol; it moves fast off the shelf,” Lindbergh said.

Indeed, the demand has caught the attention of market research firm Mintel International, which recorded 23 new-product launches involving all-natural, botanical, organic and aromatherapeutic oral care products in the United States between January and October 2008.

There's a lot of choice out there right now. For example, toothbrushes made of recycled materials, which are already the best-selling toothbrushes in natural food stores, are becoming popular in supermarkets. Some 750 Kroger stores, along with H.E. Butt Grocery, Fresh & Easy, Shaw's and Wegmans, carry the recycled Preserve brand toothbrush from Recycline, based in Waltham, Mass.

The handle of the brush is made from 100% recycled plastic, including sterilized Stonyfield Farm yogurt cups, and the bristles are made from virgin nylon. In addition, the price point on Preserve toothbrushes is fairly competitive with regular toothbrushes at a suggested $2.79 each.

While price can be an issue, enough consumers believe in the efficacy of natural, organic and eco-friendly oral products to warrant their attention, said Ruth Ann Lilly, an HBC buyer for Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va.

“I think consumers feel they are contributing toward a better environment, and the trade-off is positive,” Lilly said.

It helps that mainstream consumers already know some leading natural oral care brands, such as Tom's of Maine, with its natural toothpastes for adults and children, mouthwashes, soap and other products.

“Tom's of Maine products are the most popular and drive the category,” noted Debbie Leland, natural and specialty foods buyer for Kowalski's Markets, an 11-store chain in St. Paul, Minn.

As part of its “Living Well, Eating Smart” wellness program, Springfield, Mass.-based Big Y recommends that shoppers look for natural and organic toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association.

“Fluoride helps prevent cavities, so make sure you choose an American Dental Association-approved toothpaste like Tom's of Maine,” wrote corporate dietitian Carrie Taylor in one of the retailer's wellness newsletters.

Tom's, acquired by Colgate in 2006, may have paved the road for the natural and organic oral care category in supermarkets, but it's by no means the only choice. Newer players such as Desert Essence, Jason Natural, Biotene and Dr. Ken's are invigorating the category.

Kowalski's recently expanded its natural oral care selection to include Desert Essence's toothpaste with tea tree oil, an Ayurvedic toothpaste, and other products besides more mainstream brands. The chain features about 15 to 20 SKUs of natural toothpaste and other oral care products in its stores.

“We stay with the top 20% selling products in all HBC categories,” Leland said.

Scolari's Food and Drug also expanded its natural and organic oral care selection, after shoppers asked for more products. Now, most Scolari's stores have about eight SKUs of natural oral care products, including the addition of trial-size products.

Because natural toothpaste, mouthwash and other products are typically priced between 10% and 15% higher than regular products, some consumers may not want to take home a regular-size item. That makes the 3-ounce trial sizes ideal and could lead to a repeat, full-size purchase, according to Barainca.

One of the underlying trends fueling at least some of the growth in natural oral care has been Americans' increasing awareness of allergies and concern over ingredients. Like gluten in baked goods and nuts in snack bars, there are additives and components in dental care products that have raised health concerns. Among them are alcohol, fluoride and sodium laurel sulfate.

Alcohol is usually found in rinses and mouthwash, and has been found to dry out the mouth. As a result, a growing number of brands have released alcohol-free versions of their products.

Fluoride has come under attack in lifestyle-affiliated circles, described in literature as toxic, especially to youngsters. And foaming agents like SLS have also faced increased scrutiny as being unnecessary, potentially harmful additives that do little to improve oral health.

While a majority of consumers shopping mainstream supermarkets reach for traditional, non-specialty brands, retailers that do not provide at least a small selection of SKUs devoted to natural oral care are missing out on higher-than-average profit margins of between 35% and 40%, suppliers and consultants estimate. And adding items to boost sales takes advantage of low-hanging fruit.

“The smart supermarket would realize that people who are coming into their stores to buy organic milk, natural meat and organic produce would probably also buy natural health and beauty aids,” said Jay Jacobowitz, president of Retail Insights, a Brattleboro, Vt.-based consulting firm.

And offering an assortment of natural and organic oral care products allows customers to stay in the supermarket and do one-stop shopping.

“Not offering the products forces the natural shopper — and perhaps others — to make another trip somewhere else,” Jacobowitz added.

Good Advice

  • Maximize exposure and integrate natural oral care products with their conventional counterparts.
  • Demonstrate commitment to the category by carrying a well-balanced, thoughtful assortment of natural, organic and eco-friendly SKUs.
  • Add products to the trial-size section, and include a few at the regular display as well, to encourage a purchase.
  • For green-minded shoppers, offer related products such as saved wood dental picks and toothbrushes made of recycled plastic.