Supermarket NONFOODS Business: A reason to smile

Take a look at the average bathroom sink. Usually within plain sight are a bar of soap, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. Consequently consumers don't have many problems remembering to wash their hands or brush their teeth regularly, which for retailers means they will purchase soap and toothpaste regularly.

Floss however, is usually tucked away in the medicine cabinet, hidden behind the cotton swabs and the shaving cream. And everyone knows that out of sight means out of mind. In addition, most consumers don't understand the benefits of flossing.

Fortunately for grocers, baby boomers are beginning to pay more attention to oral hygiene, particularly since many of them are showing signs of periodontal or gingival disease. According to Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General, published by the Department of Health and Human Services, severe periodontal disease affects approximately 14 percent of adults age 45 to 54, and at age 65 the number rises to 23 percent.

Indeed, according to ACNielsen's Homescan Consumer Facts 2002 report, dental floss sales volumes index highest (115) among female heads of household in the 45- to 54-year-old range—a sure sign that older consumers are focusing more on good oral hygiene.

Further, manufacturers of oral care products for between the teeth—such as floss and picks—have developed innovative new styles and concepts to bring these products front of mind.

Moon Township, Pa.-based GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, for example, developed its Aquafresh Floss 'N' Cap toothpaste with exactly this purpose in mind. With a snap-on dispenser holding 20 yards of shred-resistant dental floss built into the cap of its tube, the Floss 'N' Cap prompts users to floss each time they brush. The product is available in Whitening Cool Mint and Cinnamon Splash toothpaste flavors.

"The Floss 'N' Cap dispenser keeps the floss in plain view," says Lori Lukus, GSK's supervisor of corporate communications. "People know that they should floss regularly, but only one-third of them do so. The Floss 'N' Cap floss is designed so that if you use 18 inches of floss four times a week, both the floss and the toothpaste will run out at the same time. The floss also expands as you use it to give you a more comfortable, thorough cleaning."

Procter & Gamble, in an effort to create a complete oral care regimen, purchased the Glide floss business from W.L. Gore & Associates (the makers of Gore-tex) in September 2003. "The trusted name of Crest and the powerful efficacy of Glide are a great match in our consumers' pursuit of perfect oral health," says Blayne Smith, manager, industry affairs of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based CPG manufacturer. "By looking to integrate initiatives with the balance of the Crest franchise, we'll create a synergy with our customers that is unmatched."

P&G's new floss business

P&G's oral care regimen now includes toothpaste, manual and electric toothbrushes, at-home whitening kits, rinses, and dental floss. P&G and W.L. Gore are also entering into a strategic relationship in which W.L. Gore will continue the development and manufacturing of fiber for the floss line, and P&G will market and sell the line under the Glide and Crest brand names.

P&G would not have invested in the flossing category if it didn't see a bright future ahead for it. Other manufacturers, seeing the same thing, are putting their own spin on dental floss with new flavors, textures, and added value in terms of more health benefits.

With the natural products industry becoming increasingly popular, it's no surprise that some of the newest developments in flossing technology have been geared toward this market. Kutztown, Pa.-based Radius Toothbrush, for example, spent three years developing a silk floss capable of competing with nylon, to bring to Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats—two of its customers—as well as to traditional grocery chains with well-developed natural products sections.

"The original dental floss was made from silk," president Kevin Foley explains. "After World War II, though, a lot of manufacturers switched to nylon. Natural silk has a soft texture with very low abrasion, which is good for those users with sensitive gums."

Radius also makes a cranberry-coated floss, which is covered with pure unsweetened cranberry essence that's removed during the action of flossing and deposited on the gums to help break up plaque. "Cranberry has antibacterial properties," Foley says. "Plaque creates a biofilm it uses to coat and protect itself. The bacteria in cranberries—which give them their red color—dissolve this coating, leaving the plaque unprotected."

Los Angeles, Calif.-based Levlad also taps into Mother Earth for its Nature's Gate flossing products, using the antibacterial and antioxidant properties of green tea to help improve overall oral care. "Each one is coated with a green tea extract in a patented process," says Mary Anders, v.p., branded products. "The green tea has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce swollen gums."

The green tea extract is also a strong antioxidant made up of polyphenolic compounds called catechins, two of which combat oral plaque and bacteria—benefits that protect against gingivitis, gum disease, and bleeding gums. "The same way consumers are looking for natural alternatives in retail, this goes for oral care, as well," Anders says.

Also growing in popularity are disposable floss picks, as well as various types of toothpicks—many varieties of which were introduced this year—that answer the need for convenience and ease of use, especially for those who often floss on the go.

"Many consumers find traditional flossing to be a hassle, and that woven floss is uncomfortable," says Mark Weisbrod, spokesman for FlossTech Products, the maker of FlossStiks, disposable microinterdental brushes with 0.7-mm bristles and a thin, flexible wire center that adjusts for thorough, comfortable cleaning around all spaces, including hard-to-reach back teeth.

Packaged in a matchbox-style pack of 20, FlossStiks can easily be carried in a purse or travel bag. "This makes flossing on the go a breeze," Weisbrod says. "Users simply snap off one FlossStik, floss, then throw it away."

Paramus, N.J.-based Dental Concepts has taken portability to a new level, creating a key chain dispenser for its line of toothpicks. Called BrushPicks, the items are flexible plastic devices with a different feature at each end. On one end is a narrow, three-sided blade that slips comfortably in the gaps between teeth. Its grooved edging helps dislodge particles, remove plaque, and massage gums. On the other end is a thin probe with six bristles. Users move the probe in and out or twirl it in the space between the teeth to remove particles. The product is safe and won't damage dental work. "In clinical testing we've proved that the BrushPicks are more effective than floss in removing particles from between the teeth," president Mike Lesser says.

Heavy promos

Equally important—to the retailer—is the fact that BrushPicks are heavily promoted in restaurants and fairs across the country, making it likely that consumers walking into the supermarket have already tried one. The picks are offered at L'Ecole, the restaurant of New York's French Culinary Institute, as well as at Legal Sea Foods' 28 East Coast restaurants. "The BrushPicks are probably one of the two or three most promoted items in oral care," Lesser notes. "More than 30 million samples are sent out to restaurants in major cities, and we give them out at the Taste of Minneapolis and Taste of Chicago fairs."

In addition to the refillable key chain, BrushPicks are available in packs of 40, 60, 120, and 300.

To complement the variety of brands offering interdental cleaning supplies, grocers can also develop their own lines of products through private label manufacturers such as West Orange, N.J.-based Ranir. "These products are just as effective as the national brands, but can be sold at a value price point as a store brand," says Ranir director of marketing Carin Cali.

Ranir offers a variety of private brand oral care products, including toothbrushes, floss, and dental accessories. Among the floss products offered for private label are a fluoride floss; a floss that comes in various flavors, including mint and cinnamon; dental tape, which provides a broader cleaning surface than regular floss; and a new whitening floss, which has additional coating additives to help remove plaque.

While private label floss sales have been relatively flat, Ranir has seen growth in its InterDental Flossups—disposable dental floss/toothpick combinations packed in a resealable bag. "These are easier to use than regular floss and encourage more frequent use," Cali says, "especially for people with large hands, who may have trouble reaching between the teeth."

InterDental Flossups come in convenient 30-count and 90-count sizes. "These 90-count Flossups don't cannibalize the smaller-packs' sales," Cali says. "What we've found is that customers tend to buy both—one for home and one for work or to keep on them."

Since it's the baby boomers who focus most heavily on oral care, it's only natural that they pass these habits on to their kids, and Ranir has encouraged this by developing children's Flossups.

The best part for the grocer selling these store-brand products is that Flossups-using children will grow up into Flossups-using adults, and the more they use the product, the more they'll buy—and with the store name on the packaging, they'll know exactly where to go for more products.
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