Gleaming Opportunities

Fine-tuned assortments and aggressive pricing and merchandising in the oral care segment offer retailers plenty to smile about.

Nowhere is competition among retail channels more evident than in the oral care section. While the largest share of sales in the category still goes to drug chains, supermarkets and mass-market retailers have made inroads in recent years, but in these tough economic times, all three channels have had to be smarter, quicker and more innovative just to maintain their market share.

For retailers to be successful in the oral care category, they have to adapt to new products and merchandising techniques. Over the past five years, the category has seen an explosion of highly innovative products that have created new subcategories.

At retail, the U.S. oral care market currently generates $7.5 billion in sales, according to Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts, which predicts the category's retail value could reach $8.9 billion by 2012.

Among the most noteworthy oral care category trends, says Daniel Enriquez, VP of sales for Buena Park, Calif.-based Dr. Fresh, are “improved products that are high in quality and low on price, as well as products that provide multiple benefits addressing busy lifestyles. We know that innovation is one of the most critical requirements for the category to stay vital and grow.” Enriquez points to the teeth-whitening subcategory, which vividly reflects the trend toward lowered price points and services once reserved solely for the dental chair.

“Toothpastes that offer extra whiting properties have come down in price, but so, too, have the formerly high-priced teeth-whitening kits,” says Enriquez, noting that whitening products have been “extremely successful.”

“Everybody wants whiter teeth, but nobody wants the discomfort or cost of going to the dentist to have it done,” concurs Mike Jackson, president of San Diego-based NuWhitePro, maker of a new tooth-whitening pen that promises professional results for a suggested price point of $20. “The whitening product marketplace was middle- to upper-class because of the high price point, [but] our product extends it to [mainstream] consumers.”

While food is struggling to keep pace with the other retailers in the category, Enriquez says dental accessories are emerging as standouts among food retailers. “Assortments are always key to growth,” he continues. “Since grocery plans have been a bit more rigid over the years, speed to market for new products has been an issue.”

Supermarkets should maximize opportunities to trade on their inherent advantages of traffic frequency, pricing and merchandising to offer a combination of products and segments that are both household necessities (toothpaste, traditional toothbrushes, floss, etc.) and impulse items (whitening, character toothbrushes, spin brushes and implements). While price and promotion drive necessities, impulse segments require enhancements with higher-visibility sets and innovative merchandising.

“In good times or bad, oral care is a category that people continue to buy,” observes Jeff Davis, president of Provo, Utah-based Orabrush, noting the important combination of price and merchandising, accompanied by an aggressive selling strategy, “that is needed to make the category successful for supermarkets.”

Davis says supermarkets must stay ahead of the product curve by continually fine-tuning their assortment, and look beyond the traditional ways they and the brand manufacturers reach out to consumers.

With this in mind, Orabrush uses social media to spread its message: The brand has garnered more than 50 million hits on YouTube.

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