There's a lot going on in the oral care category right now, despite the essentially flat dollar sales and unit growth gauged by The Nielsen Company for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 4, 2010, in food stores with $2 million or more in sales. A stunning range of product innovation is currently underway at major mainstream players, up-and-comers in the natural/organic segment, and savvy retailers alike.
Foremost among those retailers is Kmart. At the end of September, the mass merchandiser, a division of Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears Holding Corp., expanded its value-priced Smart Sense private label line to include, among other new items, oral care products. (To see what some other retailers are up to in oral care, see the related online sidebar at www.progressivegrocer.com/oralcare)
"Our Kmart shoppers are viewing oral care not only as a health care category, but also as beauty care," notes Mark Snyder, Kmart's CMO. "In addition, as our shoppers in this area are an older customer, we're also seeing increases in demand for products that whiten teeth, fight plaque, and reduce sensitivity in the teeth and gum areas. We are also seeing value-seeking customers justify paying a little more because they are 'getting the most for their money.' However, at the same time," Snyder continues, "recent additions to our Kmart Smart Sense product line assortment offer high-quality, lower-priced alternatives to many of these same items, allowing us to reach an even broader customer base."
Indeed, the category is an important one for the retailer. "Kmart has placed more of an emphasis on the oral care category over the last year, due to the nature of the business (high household penetration and purchase frequency)," explains Snyder. "As a result, we are seeing customers seek more items, such as classic flavors in mouthwash and newer technology in the whitening strip set, among other category items. Brand loyalty plays a big role here, as of all the personal habits people are willing to break, the morning routine is very low on the list."
"Brand loyalty plays a big role, as of all the personal habits people are willing to break, the morning routine is very low on the list."
-Mark Snyder, Kmart
When it comes to promoting oral care, getting the balance right is key, affirms Snyder. "As in many categories, Kmart's most successful oral care events involve features and displays running simultaneously. We will focus more on display in this category going forward, as well as bonus packs. We feel that price isn't the only factor that reflects value to the Kmart customer. Cross-promotion among multiple segments encourages customers to think in terms of a total oral care solution while reading the Kmart circular. The one outlier is the unsung denture segment, as these items benefit greatly when they ride the coattails of our incontinence or vitamin ads."
Meanwhile, in the realm of merchandising, "we have worked to make it easier for the customer to find her products," he adds. "Again, display and bonus packs will be a big focus going forward, to increase our value perception. Own brand, such as the new Kmart Smart Sense product line, is a big segment where we can win with display, specifically in mouthwash and toothbrushes. In fact, while most people know to put toothbrushes in the checkout lane area to capture those precious impulse buys, Kmart has taken it one step further and found that people are willing to pick them up pretty much anywhere in the store. In Kmart, you will often see toothbrushes on clip-strips everywhere, from toys to candy to skin care. Kmart has also tried to grab impulse sales in mouthwash using basic end caps, sidekicks and pallet displays. These are successful because they drive sales even on items that are not included on the display."
Courting the FOR ME Kids
To stock those shelves and displays, retailers have an assortment of exciting - and, companies hope, more effective - products to choose from. The stakes have been raised for oral care innovation, thanks to manufacturers like Cincinnati-based CPG powerhouse Procter & Gamble, which keeps its finger firmly on the pulse of the latest trends. "P&G Oral Care is uniquely positioned to deliver comprehensive oral care solutions to consumers, as we are the only oral care company with a complete product portfolio across all forms, so we are able to design the products to work together to deliver optimal results," explains a company representative. In coming up with new products, the company focuses on items "that not only serve the baseline oral health needs, but also meet a number of unmet consumer needs, whether that be stronger plaque and gingivitis protection, whiter teeth, or fresher breath," the rep says.
Among P&G's recent additions to the category are the Scope Outlast line of products, including a paste, rinse and floss picks to provide longer-lasting fresh breath; the Crest & Oral-B 3D White Collection to whiten teeth; Crest Pro-Health Sensitive Shield, which guards against tooth sensitivity; the Crest Clinical Gum Protection lineup, which promises to prevent and reverse gingivitis in just four weeks; Crest Pro-Health Complete Rinse, which offers six benefits in one; and, perhaps most inventively, the Crest Pro-Health FOR ME product regimen developed specifically for "tween" consumers - those age 8 and up.
Created to encourage better oral hygiene in this demographic, the product line encompasses specially designed toothbrushes, toothpaste, an anti-cavity fluoride rinse and floss picks. To promote the items, the company has recruited tween role model Alyson Stoner, a young actress who's appeared in such age-appropriate fare as "Camp Rock 2" and "Step Up 3D," and her mom, LuAnne.
Just as innovative are the company's promotions. "In January 2010, we introduced 'A Better Check-up, Or We Pick up the Check,' which focused on the Crest & Oral-B Pro-Health regimen," the P&G rep offers as an example. "This program guaranteed a better checkup or P&G would reimburse the cost of the dental visit, up to $45. The promotion consisted of holistic retail support including displays, shelf talkers and FSCIs, as well as digital and public relations support. The response was overwhelmingly positive - retailers benefited from consumers purchasing incremental oral care products, as well as a holistic marketing campaign with clear consumer benefits."
P&G has found that its group aesthetic applies to merchandising as well. "For both displays and shelf talkers, we have found that our best executions employ regimens of products - like paste and brush together - and include a clear, consumer benefit-driven claim," the rep notes.
Over at the Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products Division of Skillman, N.J.-based McNeil-PPC Inc., making mouths cleaner is very much on the minds of the company's product developers. "Our goal is to educate shoppers on the critical role Listerine Antiseptic plays in killing the plaque and gingivitis germs that brushing leaves behind," says a J&J representative.
To that end, the manufacturer, which collaborates with retail partners on in-store and digital programs, has expanded its product portfolio to include new products aimed at meeting varying needs and preferences, including Listerine Zero, Listerine Total Care Plus Whitening, and Listerine Smart Rinse featuring Batman and Barbie characters.
"As the mouthwash category leader, we see Listerine as a critical driver in future growth in the oral care category," the rep adds. "Our growth proposition will rely heavily on reaching new consumers through new product innovation ... and establishing a habit of rinsing" in shoppers.
Let's Be Natural
But it's not just the big guys who are leading in the oral care innovation derby. The growing popularity of the organic/natural segment has spurred manufacturers of such products to up their game as well with attractive new items that deliver functionality as well as the authentically sourced ingredients shoppers in this segment demand.
"The current U.S. consumer needs are targeting safe, gentle and more natural," asserts Steve Wilson, director of sales and marketing at Huntertown, Ind.-based Dentisse, a newly launched brand whose products include Natural Reflection toothpaste made from refined white clay, and Natural Solution alcohol-free mouth rinse employing plant-based essential oils. "Consumers are also looking to premium products with professional quality and efficacy levels to answer their personal care needs. The challenge for the development of natural products is to not compromise quality and effectiveness."
"We are very pleased with the pace of our oral care sales in the past year," says Ellen Saksen, oral care category manager at Tom's of Maine, whose recent additions to the segment include Wicked Fresh! fresh-breath toothpaste, Simply White whitening toothpaste and Juicy Mint Anticavity mouthwash. "As natural consumers come to expect more from the products they buy, we are poised for success because we believe in substantiating the claims we make with data."
The Kennebunk-based company works individually with stores to help them boost oral care sales through Tom's SKUs. "We have run coupons, end caps, store-specific promotions, shelf talkers, BOGOs, special packs and values-driven promotions called 'Common Good Partnerships,' where the purchase of a Tom's product supports a cause," notes Saksen. "All of these have provided significant lifts at retail."
Taking advantage of increased consumer awareness of the efficacy of flossing - for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 4, 2010, dollar sales of dental floss were up 6.3 percent in food stores, according to Nielsen - Radius, creator of a distinctively shaped premium toothbrush, has introduced Vegan Antibacterial Cranberry Floss and Organic Biodegradable Floss.
"Our growth proposition will rely heavily on reaching new consumers through new product innovation and education."
-Johnson & Johnson representative
To raise awareness of its products at retail, "we often do a deeper discount on select items in order to increase trial and grow sales, as well as gain increased shelf placement with new items," explains Saskia Foley, Radius' EVP of sales and marketing. "In addition, we have been customizing our promotions by geographic regions rather than blanketing them. It has been working very well."
One merchandising strategy in particular has taken off, according to Foley. "Our biggest success recently has been with our new counter displays," she says. "They have created a unique customizable 'home' for Radius products - from the toothbrushes to the travel cases - that was not previously available .... The new counter displays provide a mobile 'travel center' that may not exist in a store."
Whatever curveballs the economy or future trends may throw at the category, it appears that the present burst of oral care innovation is far from over. As Dentisse's Wilson sagely puts it, "Consumers have an ongoing appetite for newer, better and now."