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Oral care report: profit from those pearly whites

There’s so much more to oral care than toothpaste these days

We’ve all seen the advertising–bright smiles and fresh breath are “must haves” in oral hygiene. Consumers have tons of options. They can whiten their teeth with strips (or mouthwash and toothpaste, if they prefer). And they can freshen their breath with mouthwash and other rinses. Even chewing gum manufacturers are sliding into this category with products that claim to clean teeth and freshen breath between brushings.

“New products have been produced by manufacturers, which has fuelled an evolution and expansion in the category well beyond simply toothpaste, toothbrushes and mouthwash,” says Michael Lang, executive vice-president at shopper marketing company Pareto.

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30% of Canadians suffer from dentin hypersensitivity, otherwise known as sensitive teeth, which means retailers should have a range of products geared to this market

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This robust category includes whitening strips, dental floss, specialized dental accessories, flavour assortments and specialized products for sensitive teeth. Even toothbrush options have expanded dramatically with the selection of different sizes, grips and shapes.

Given the huge number of products, it’s no surprise oral care is a booming category for retailers. But it hasn’t been without some ups and downs. Data from The Nielsen Company shows that oral hygiene products saw a 2% drop in unit volume sales in the last year. But retailers saw a 3% increase in dollar sales, likely due to a lift in product prices.

Perhaps our improved economy is to blame for the slower tonnage growth. In the United States, grocery research firm Packaged Facts says oral care sales are on the upswing. It speculates that Americans, hit harder by the recession, are investing in oral hygiene to postpone expensive visits to the dentist. Packaged Facts argues that this cost-conscious approach to oral care has increased demand for toothpaste, mouthwash and manual brushes that can substitute for a professional cleaning right at home.

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Just as people prefer natural foods, more are now choosing natural toothpastes

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Yet oral care sales have always gone up with new product innovations. And companies are certainly still coming out with new ways to keep teeth looking sufficiently Donny Osmond–esque. For instance, Arm & Hammer’s My Way Spinbrush is aimed at boys between the ages of three and eight. It comes with stickers to personalize a battery-operated toothbrush. The company has also launched the Globrush for older kids. Globrush is an electric toothbrush with a light that changes colour to let users know it’s time to switch brushing zones in the mouth.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but another trend to watch is natural oral care products. Ray Wolfson, president of Bloomfield, N.J.-based The Matrix Marketing Group, says rising sales in this category are due in part to better taste and smell of the toothpastes and awareness of the importance of gum health. Consumers now see gum and heart health as intertwined, says Wolfson. And just as they want to eat natural foods, a growing number also want to brush with natural products.

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Top 4 merchandising tips

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1. Keep up on trends. Consumers latch on to the latest oral care products quickly. Make sure you’re abreast of what’s happening in the category and are ready to stock up when a new fad strikes.

2. Keep kids in mind. Key sales periods for kids’ oral care products are Back to School, March Break and Easter. To reach kids, place children’s products on lower shelves.

3. Here comes Santa…and a whiter smile. Oral care products can be tied into the holidays by marketing them as Christmas stocking stuffers.

4. Toothbrushes and toothbrush refill heads should be replaced every three months. Share that message with customers to help increase sales.

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