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Just an oversight? The steadily growing eye care category doesn't seem to be getting a lot of looks from supermarket retailers.

A NUMBER OF FACTORS, AMONG THEM THE INCREASING NUMBERS OF PEOPLE WHO WEAR CONTACT LENSES AND THE GROWING AWARENESS OF CONDITIONS SUCH AS DRY EYE, ARE DRIVING THE EYE CARE CATEGORY. What used to be a relatively minor market is now teeming with OTC products designed to save or, as it were, soothe the day. But supermarkets have yet to show a solid investment in the category.

Sales of eye care products through the food, drug and mass channels (excluding Wal-Mart) in the 52 weeks ended June 17 rose 5.5% to $937.6 million, according to Information Resources, Inc. It should, however, be noted that sales for 2006 and 2007 were erratic due to major recalls of contact lens solutions.

"The eye care category was growing at consistent low-single-digit levels prior to the recalls," says Mike Cox, vice president of sales and marketing for the Americas region of the eye care unit at Santa Ana, Calif.-based Advanced Medical Optics (AMO). "Since then sales have been inconsistent as consumers rushed out to replace their solutions."

Last November, and again in May, AMO, in cooperation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, recalled its Complete MoisturePLUS multipurpose contact lens solution. The first time was because of possible bacterial contamination and the second was because of concerns the solution might be linked to a rare but serious eye ailment among soft lens wearers. The FDA updated the May recall on Aug. 1 after new cases of the ailment indicated that people who had bought the product before the recall might still be using it.

In May of 2006, Bausch & Lomb endured a similar situation when it recalled its ReNu with MoistureLoc solution and discontinued the product. ReNu with MoistureLoc was linked to an increased risk of different serious eye infection.

Cox says that the recalls and plant shutdowns were unprecedented and affected some of the industry's largest players, but he anticipates that in the future, eye care will go back to low-single-digit increases.

As a steadily growing segment, eye care should be attractive to supermarket merchandisers, but it appears that the food channel isn't doing all it can to stay on top of the category and is lagging behind drug and mass.

PRICING AND SELECTION

"Supermarkets are definitely behind in this category" says Cox. "They treat the category as a convenience purchase; thus their pricing is higher with less of a selection. To improve, they need to have a broader presence and advertise the category."

Melissa Mursch, product manager at Similasan Corp. in Highlands Ranch, Colo., says that supermarkets are often late to stock new products, which causes them to miss out on the initial benefits. She says Similasan's Stye Eye Relief hit drug and mass shelves in the spring of 2006 but is only now beginning to gain distribution in supermarkets. "Consumers are often 'trained' by grocery stores to shop at drug stores for niche items due to this lag time," says Mursch, noting that such a shopping pattern is hard to break.

"But," she adds, "most consumers would be happy to have all their shopping needs met in one store." Grocery stores would be well-served by stocking the products that enable their customers to do so.

Some suppliers suggest that perhaps part of the retailer resistance to growing the category in supermarkets can be attributed to a failure to recognize the significance of niche products. Not only do niche products constitute a great segment of the eye care category, but they often go hand in hand with more mainstream products. For instance, people who buy contact lens maintenance products are also apt to buy dry eye drops and ointments because dry eye can be caused or exacerbated by contact lenses. Some companies manufacture contact lens-specific dry eye formulas, such as AMO's Blink Contacts Lubricant Eye Drops.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Some of the trendiest products are in the dry eye category," says Mursch. "New technology has introduced dual-action formulas, including longer-lasting relief as well as restoring moisture to the eye and preventing tear loss."

Where once Visine was the staple OTC eye drop, now there's a score of choices for a variety of symptoms, some for daytime use and others for night. Bausch & Lomb alone has five dry eye relief products, among them Advanced Eye Relief Night Time Lubricant Eye Ointment and the recently acquired Soothe XP Emollient (Lubricant) Eye Drops.

DRY EYE'S DRIVERS

Cox notes that much of the attention to dry eye of late is not spontaneous, but a response to the aging of the population as well as the side effects of certain prescription drugs, which are being dispensed more often. And dry eye isn't the only condition being heavily addressed by eye care companies via OTC products. Allergies, sties, pink eye and even computer vision syndrome are inspiring the category.

"Our Stye Eye Relief and Pink Eye Relief offer solutions to very specific afflictions, and we don't believe they are 'trendy'," Mursch remarks. "We believe we are fulfilling an unmet consumer need." Eye vitamins are another buzz in the category, with suppliers marketing mineral supplements that promote ocular nutrition and the treatment and prevention of age-related macular degeneration.

As is often the case with OTC categories, supermarkets with pharmacies have greater success with eye care products, not only because many consumers require prescriptions in addition to OTC products, but also because the guidance offered by pharmacists can be invaluable.

Betty Lucas, director of EyeCare America in San Francisco, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, says, "Eighty percent of blindness is preventable, especially if it is caught early. Most eye diseases do not have warning signs, so getting regular eye exams can save your sight."

A pharmacist could be crucial in directing consumers to their needs in the OTC aisles as well as isolating those cases that need special attention.

Mursch notes that a few Rx-to-OTC switches have occurred in the last year, bringing new people to the general OTC category. Because of the recalls of contact lens solutions, she says, most consumers are probably consulting their eye doctors for product suggestions. "Retailers should make sure that they are offering the contact lens SKUs that are most recommended by eye care professionals," she adds.

The windows to our souls may also be windows to our overall health, it turns out. Lucas says there is a tremendous connection between eye health and body health.

"When an ophthalmologist looks into the back of a patient's eye, he or she can get an impression of the subject's health, for example, whether that person has high blood pressure or diabetes," Lucas says. The need for eye care and related products is only going to increase as the population ages, she says.

Consumers who abstain from smoking and saturated fats, and aim for a balanced diet, are already doing their eyes some good. Having this pointed out through signage in the produce department could help draw attention to the eye care category as a whole and demonstrate the retailer's awareness to shoppers.

EXTRA CARROTS

Eye health is yet another reason to promote fruits and vegetables. At worst, retailers who take this position will sell a few extra carrots--having reminded consumers of their eye-nourishing beta-carotene--without influencing the eye care category either way. In any event, it's a good way to put eyes on the mind of the consumer and the retailer.

The need for eye care products is only going to increase as the population ages, says Lucas. So retailers are encouraged to stock up, stay competitive and not lose sight of the greater vision in preserving vision, which stretches well beyond the eye-care aisle.
EYE/LENS CARE SOLUTIONS

Total U.S. sales through food, drug and mass channels (excluding
Wal-Mart) for 52 weeks ended June 17.

 SALES CHANGE VS.
TOP BRANDS (MILLIONS) YEAR AGO SHARE

Private label $95.1 1.2% 10.7%
Alcon Opti-Free Express 79.7 -3.6 9.0
Alcon Opti-Free Replenish 68.1 402.0 7.7
Bausch & Lomb ReNu Mplus 58.1 -12.5 6.5
Alcon Systane 33.9 25.7 3.8
AMO Complete Moisture Plus 33.4 13.9 3.8
Ciba Vision Clear Care 26.8 35.3 3.0
Allergan Refresh Tears 24.6 1.7 2.8
Clear Eyes 22.1 2.7 2.5
Allergan Refresh Plus 20.8 12.6 2.3
CATEGORY TOTAL 889.3 5.8

 UNITS CHANGE VS.
TOP BRANDS (MILLIONS) YEAR AGO SHARE

Private label 23.5 -8.4% 17.9%
Alcon Opti-Free Express 9.7 -8.3 7.4
Alcon Opti-Free Replenish 8.5 385.9 6.5
Bausch & Lomb ReNu Mplus 9.3 -6.0 7.1
Alcon Systane 3.0 22.9 2.3
AMO Complete Moisture Plus 4.1 12.8 3.1
Ciba Vision Clear Care 2.7 25.0 2.1
Allergan Refresh Tears 2.1 0.0 1.6
Clear Eyes 5.0 -2.4 3.8
Allergan Refresh Plus 1.6 8.4 1.2
CATEGORY TOTAL 131.3 0.2

EYE/LENS CARE TABLETS/ACCESSORIES

 SALES CHANGE VS.
TOP BRANDS (MILLIONS) YEAR AGO SHARE

Private label $8.4 14.1% 17.6%
Magnivision 3.6 43.6 7.5
Ocusoft 3.2 19.1 6.8
Ciba Vision Aosept 2.7 -21.4 5.6
Comfees Plus 2.4 44.2 5.1
AMO Ultrazyme 2.2 -7.0 4.6
Ciba Vision Eye Scrub 1.9 9.1 4.1
Bausch & Lomb ReNu 1.9 -11.2 4.0
Boston 1.6 51.4 3.4
Bausch & Lomb Sight Savers 1.6 -0.8 3.4
CATEGORY TOTAL 47.4 1.0
TOTAL EYE/CONTACT LENS CARE PRODS. 937.6 5.5

 UNITS CHANGE VS.
TOP BRANDS (MILLIONS) YEAR AGO SHARE

Private label 3.1 10.6% 24.5%
Magnivision 0.9 22.4 6.9
Ocusoft 0.3 17.1 2.2
Ciba Vision Aosept 0.4 -21.9 3.2
Comfees Plus 0.1 44.4 0.4
AMO Ultrazyme 0.1 -6.1 1.1
Ciba Vision Eye Scrub 0.1 10.4 1.1
Bausch & Lomb ReNu 0.4 -8.3 3.0
Boston 0.4 51.7 3.2
Bausch & Lomb Sight Savers 1.0 -1.2 7.5
CATEGORY TOTAL 12.8 -0.1
TOTAL EYE/CONTACT LENS CARE PRODS. 144.2 0.1

Source: Information Resources, Inc.
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Title Annotation:nonfoods for profit
Author:Spector, Nicole
Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:Sep 1, 2007
Words:1736
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