Oral Care Category Goes Upscale

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Oral Care Category Goes Upscale

Oral Care Category Goes Upscale

By Barbara Sax - 02/12/2020

Rising awareness of the importance of oral hygiene, the growing incidence of dental diseases among older consumers, and technological advancements in oral care products are driving growth of these items.

“Oral health is important to overall health,” affirms Kyle Lentz, HBC category analyst at Waukesha, Wis.-based Hamacher Resource Group.

Recent launches that target specific oral care needs have revolutionized the category. “The introduction of these types of products have added a super-premium segment to the category, and sales are booming,” Lentz says. “Retailers have really segmented the category, so we are looking at the category in terms of value, beauty and whitening; sensitivity and enamel repair; gum care; and natural segments.”

Key Takeaways

  • Retailers are offering more specialized toothpastes, whitening agents and electric toothbrushes, which are contributing to higher profitability for the oral care category.
  • Increasingly integrated into mainstream sets, natural products are driving a majority of the growth in the overall category, thanks in large part to eco-conscious Millennials.
  • Electric toothbrushes and high-end whitening kits promise higher margins and rings for retailers, but theft is a major issue in both segments; also, price is still a consideration for many shoppers.

Retailers are bringing into their departments more specialized toothpastes, whitening agents and electric toothbrushes, moves that have contributed to increased profitability for the category.

“We’re getting bigger rings,” says Rich Brown, buyer for the category at nine-unit Karns Quality Foods, based in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “There are a lot of whitening products and higher-end products in the category. The days of value-priced Pepsodent are over.”

According to Brown, the growth of higher-end oral care products in his stores is driven by Millennial consumers, who are using the products themselves and raising their children on higher-price, higher-performance items. The trend has accelerated sales in the natural segment of the category.

Let’s be Natural

“Natural options in oral care are driving a majority of the growth in the overall category,” notes Craig Dubitsky, founder of Hello Products, a Montclair, N.J.-based brand that has gained distribution in the supermarket channel. “We’ve jumped from 19,000 to over 42,000 doors of distribution over the past several months, because traditional grocers are leaning into natural options across all categories. As more shoppers look for green alternatives in oral care, we’re there with the right solutions, from whitening and sensitivity relief to products for kids, all without artificial sweeteners, dyes, artificial flavors, peroxide, [sodium lauryl sulfate] or animal testing.”

Hello Products has recently expanded its Hemp Seed Oil collection of natural oral care products, which consists of toothpastes, mouthwash and floss.
Hello Products has recently expanded its Hemp Seed Oil collection of natural oral care products, which consists of toothpastes, mouthwash and floss.

According to Dubitsky, natural products are being integrated into mainstream shelf sets. A number of supermarket retailers have expanded their natural oral care offerings beyond the category leader Tom's of Maine, based in Kennebunk. For instance, Stop & Shop carries natural oral care products from Hello Products, Burt’s Bees, Dr. Bronner’s All-One and Schmidt’s, while Albertsons banner Acme Markets, based in Malvern, Pa., has added fluoride-free toothpaste sold under the private brand Open Nature to its oral care aisle.

While Brown hasn’t added additional natural brands, he notes that there’s a demand for natural oral care products. “Tom’s is really strong,” he says. “There’s been real growth in the natural segment.”

Toothpastes with charcoal have become more popular as consumers look for natural alternatives to traditional whitening toothpastes. Hamacher’s Lentz says that nontraditional ingredients, such as hemp and turmeric, are also making their way into oral care products.

To attract eco-conscious consumers, Tom’s recently added brushes to its oral care lineup with the introduction of a Whole Care Toothbrush, which features a handle made from 80% post-consumer recycled plastic, and in November began shipping a first-of-its-kind recyclable toothpaste tube. The brand continues to add new products to its lineup of natural oral care products; an Activated Charcoal Toothpaste, a Sea Salt Toothpaste and a Sea Salt Mouthwash all launched last year.

This past fall, Hello Products expanded its Hemp Seed Oil collection of natural oral care products with two Extra Freshening Toothpastes, Extra Moisturizing Mouthwash and Awesome Floss.

Something Special

Natural products are just one segment in a category helping to boost the bottom line for oral care. Toothpaste and mouth rinse introductions have become more specialized, promising higher performance and carrying higher price tags.

Last year, Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble launched Crest Gum Detoxify with Activated Foam technology, which helps improve gum health by neutralizing harmful plaque bacteria below the gum line that can be difficult to get at even with diligent brushing. The Activated Foam penetrates those hard-to-reach areas below the gum line for lasting gum protection.

Additionally, Warren, N.J.-based GSK Consumer Healthcare launched Sensodyne Rapid Relief, a clinically proven toothpaste that helps beat sensitivity in as little as three days with twice-daily brushing.

Meanwhile, Colgate, a brand of New York-based Colgate-Palmolive, added Colgate Total, a toothpaste that provides protection against plaque, gingivitis, stains, tartar and cavities, and offers additional benefits, including sensitivity relief, instant neutralization of odors associated with bad breath, enhanced enamel strength, and new, cooling flavors for lasting freshness.

Retailers such as Ralphs and Wegmans Food Markets have added more specialized niche brands in the mouth rinse category as well. Both grocers carry products from Saint Louis-based SmartMouth Oral Health Laboratories and Los Angeles-based TheraBreath, as well as the typical mega-brands of the category.

Specialized products are driving prices up in the oral care department.
Specialized products are driving prices up in the oral care department.

Still, retailers say that a huge share of category sales are sparked by price. “In the mouthwash and mouth rinse category, our sales depend on what’s on deal,” asserts Karns' Brown. A number of buy-one-get-one deals are available on shelf in the mouth rinse sections of both Stop & Shop and Acme.

A Better Way to Brush

Convinced that consumers will pay more for improved oral care, many retailers are adding more electric brushes to their offerings. “We don’t have a big selection, but the products we have are selling,” says Brown, adding that theft is an issue with the higher-priced electrics.

Prices can be steep in the segment. Stop & Shop carries several Philips Sonicare models ranging in price from $29.99 to $69.99. The chain also stocks Oral B electrics in price points ranging from $21.99 to $39.99.

New, improved versions continue to flow into the market. Glen Allen, Va.-based Hamilton Beach Brands recently introduced Brightline, a line of ADA-approved electric toothbrushes using sonic technology to remove plaque and fight surface stains. The brushes have a built-in two-minute timer and a long-lasting 25-day battery life.

What Price Whiter Teeth?

For some time, whitening kits have been a profit center for retailers. “Whitening toothpastes and whitening strips have had a pretty long-lasting run as the whiteners of choice, but as new product types enter the market, there is room for growth,” says Lentz.

For instance, Crest has introduced a new flavor, Arctic Mint, to its Whitestrips lineup and an additional product with charcoal. 

The latest trend in whitening is home light-activated kits. “With prices ranging from $50 to $150, customers are willing to try these products, as they are less expensive than a visit to the dentist,” notes Lentz. While the average price point for whitening strips is around $50, new whitening devices carry even higher price points.

For instance, Colgate’s new Optic White Advanced LED Whitening, an at-home LED device that uses new patented technology and blue LED lights to remove stains, is currently selling online for $185.

While retailers like the high margins and high rings that the kits offer, theft has become a huge issue in the segment. “We carry four of five SKUs in whitening and only put one facing on the aisle and keep the rest behind the counter,” says Brown. Stop & Shop, like many retailers, uses anti-theft boxes to display the products.

Chris Merrill, a buyer at Edmond, Okla.-based Crest Foods, says he no longer carries whitening kits in the chain's eight stores, because of theft. In fact, Merrill notes that the influx of higher-priced oral care products hasn't made his department more profitable for the everyday-low-price operator. “We are selling higher-end products, but not at the same turns as the basics,” he admits. “Manufacturers are trying to force consumers to trade up, but not all consumers are doing that.

“We’re matching the Walmarts, who are selling 3-packs of a product for 20 cents a unit below my cost,” Merrill adds. “Our policy is to match that price, so our basics are very competitive.” 

About the Author

Barbara Sax

Barbara Sax is a contributing editor to Progressive Grocer. Read More