This time it's the triple blade that is boosting dollar volume into the double digits in the men's wet shaving market.
In turn, both blades and disposable razors are up. Once again innovation and technology by the market leader is setting the pace in men's shaving.
Retailers interviewed by SN all point to the Mach 3 permanent shaving system, marketed by The Gillette Company, Boston, as the reason for the surge in shaving dollars. Mach 3 alone accounts for about 41% of the $160.7 million permanent razor segment, according to Information Resources, Chicago. Overall, sales in the permanent segment, which includes razors, blades and disposables, rose 3.8% for the 52-week period ending Nov. 7, according to IRI.
"What has been affecting the category most is Mach 3," said Steve Dubin, health and beauty care buyer at Imperial Distributors, Auburn, Mass. "Sales have been fairly brisk," he said, "running double digits ahead of last year. A lot of this is coming from Mach 3."
Permanent razor dollar sales in the food channel rose 8.1% to $54.2 million while unit sales tailed off 1.1% for the same 52-week period, according to IRI. The food channel's 33.7% share is second to mass merchandisers (40.8% share), which rang up $65.6 million in dollar sales -- a jump of almost 20% -- and enjoyed the only increase in unit sales -- up 11%. Drugstores saw a 5.2% increase in dollar sales to $40.9 million (25.5% share) while unit sales in drug dropped 3.4% for year ended Nov. 7.
"Men's shaving sales have been good, with Mach 3 driving sales," said Janet Holcomb, HBC category manager at SuperValu's Southeast Region in Atlanta. She believes that new entries influence category sales, saying, "here is something brand new and exciting and a first-time try."
Dan Van Zant, general merchandise and health and beauty care supervisor and buyer at Ray's Food Place, Brookings, Ore., concurred. "Trends driving sales and new item entries will always impact sales. New items like the Mach 3 have really contributed to the sales increases. People like to try these new shaving products, which gives us a real sales spike."
"But," Holcomb countered, "they [Gillette] have put so much emphasis on the Mach 3 that they have been remiss on the rest of their line."
Mach 3, which debuted in 1998, was up 58.6% in dollars to $65.5 million, for the year ended Nov. 7, according to IRI. The closest competing product in the men's segment was its cousin, the Gillette Sensor Excel -- down 35.1% in dollars to $10.7 million -- a sign of cannibalization. Gillette officials could not be reached for comment.
Not as obvious as the explanation for higher dollar sales is the reason unit sales in permanent and disposables have been somewhat stagnant in food and drug. Don Stuart, a partner at Wilton, Conn.-based consulting firm Cannondale & Associates, offered two reasons: "The category is driven by population and the boomers have all been shaving for a while now. You're not bringing new users in at a rapid clip." Additionally, "the balance between wet shaving systems and electric shavers has not changed dramatically. It's basically a static pie." He put the ratio at about 79% wet to 21% electric.
Said Dubin, "New products seem to drive the category. What happens is that when one brand or product starts to slow down, a new [entry comes in], picks sales up and gives sales a little boost."
The three segments in the category -- permanent systems, disposables and blades -- comprise a $1.51 billion market. Blades with escalating retails took the biggest share of sales with $853.9 million for the annual period tracked by IRI. Supermarket dollar sales in blades were up considerably (14%) to $303 million and the food channel took a 35.5% share. Mass merchandisers' share in blades was 41.5% and the drug channel's share was 23%.
In disposables, supermarket dollar sales were up 3.1% to $190.5 million and the food channel held a 38.6% share. Mass merchandisers saw the lion's share (41.3%) and drugstores held a 20.1% share. "Competing with the mass merchandisers in men's shaving is very difficult," said Van Zant, who added that about 20% of shelf space is devoted to men's wet shaving items. "We cut our margins as low as we can and pass through all the deals. But it's still hard to compete on price with the mass market. I really don't even try to match mass merchandiser pricing in that category at all."
Retailers for the most part were satisfied with movement in the disposable segment. "Men's disposables seem to be doing fine," Holcomb said. "They seem to be hanging in without any big increases." Said Dubin, "Men's disposables are doing pretty well, especially the new Bic [BIC U.S.A., Milford, Conn.] six and 12 counts, and the new Bic Plus is starting to take off."
Nevertheless, three may be the magic number when it comes to the men's wet shaving category. "Mach 3 has been a real boost to the category," said Van Zant. "It has done phenomenally well for us."
In IRI's brand rankings, Gillette holds seven of the Top 10 spots, with Mach 3 ahead of the rest in sales by several times over. For example, including women's, the closest product is No. 2 Schick Silk Effects -- a women's system. Schick (Warner-Lambert, Morris Plains, N.J.) also holds the No. 6 and 8 spots.
Schick's new entry -- the FxDiamond -- debuted in October and is going up against the Mach 3. Because it is so new, sales figures for it were not available. The product claims to "stay sharper" and Schick cites "laboratory cutting-force tests," in backing up the slogan.
Retailers said FxDiamond is doing fairly well so far. "It is doing relatively well," said Van Zant, adding that he runs new entries on an off-shelf display and a temporary price reduction for 30 days. "It retails for $6.49, and a five pack of refills sells for $7.99. We're selling Gillette Mach 3 razors at $6.99 and a 4-pack of cartridge refills for Mach 3 is also $6.99." Holcomb said the two systems were also priced comparably in SuperValu's Southeast region.
Given the "sharper longer" claim, "most consumers recognize that after a handful of shaves, while it may stay sharper longer, they are sacrificing comfort and closeness," said Stuart. "While 'sharper longer' is a meaningful message, I'm not sure it's one that's going to resonate as strongly as the 'comfort/closeness' message that the Mach 3 definitively delivered."
Stuart believes the FxDiamond represents a change in positioning that will gain attention rather than a product that is superior to Gillette's category dominator. "Schick's introduction of the Diamond is one way of saying 'we can't compete with Gillette on technical leadership, so we're going to out-position or out-market them,"' he said. "Gillette has proven time and time again that they can take a fairly mundane product, make it better, market the heck out of it and command a premium margin."