To stay competitive, supermarkets must pay more attention to the latest trends in children’s oral care products
With drug stores and mass merchandisers eroding supermarkets' market share of oral care, food retailers can't afford to ignore the ever-changing kids' segment, which represents an innovative bright spot in the category.
The challenge is to keep up with the quantity of new products that hit the market and find space on the shelf. Of late, manufacturers have rolled out musical toothbrushes and kid-friendly mouth rinses formulated to fight plaque and cavities. At the same time, images of licensed characters from children's TV shows and movies remain ubiquitous in kids' oral care. The characters drive sales of toothbrushes and toothpastes but change almost as often as kids lose their teeth, said retailers.
“The data can get old really quick in the kids' category,” commented Alan Davis, category manager for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spartan Stores. The company has been adding more SKUs on the children's side than on the adult side in dental care, he noted. The amount of shelf space dedicated to kids' products varies by store, though stores have been creating more space to handle new items. Many feature images of the latest licensed characters winning over young TV and film audiences.
“Manufacturers realize it's a great way to build loyalty,” Davis said.
The stores are seeing interest in musical toothbrushes featuring licensed songs from hit films, including “High School Musical,” a Disney Channel made-for-TV movie, David said. Sales of power brushes for both adults and children have been on the rise “across the board,” he said.
The market for all oral care products stood at $3.9 billion in 2006 and reflected no gains from 2001 to 2006, according to a 2007 report from Mintel International Group, Chicago. Davis and other retailers interviewed by SN said sales are basically flat. For children's products, the market is rather limited, he added. “There are only four to eight years that kids are interested in this. I don't think it'll grow.”
Moreover, drug stores and mass merchandisers are eating up the market, at the expense of supermarkets. This is particularly true for the sale of higher-priced items like power brushes. While supermarkets still capture the highest share of dollar sales in the total market for oral care products, the other channels are boosting their share. Drug stores gained 4.9% and mass merchandisers gained 11.9% in dollar sales from 2004 to 2006, while supermarket sales slipped 2.9%, according to Mintel's 2007 report on the U.S. oral care market.
Certain products show potential for growth. For example, more children are using mouth rinses. From 2001 to 2006, use of mouthwash grew from 35% to 45% of children ages 6-11, according to market research firm Simmons, Deerfield, Fla., which publishes a Kids Survey. Mintel's 2007 report noted mouthwashes could be positioned as products for children and teens with a little innovation and marketing on the part of manufacturers.
K-VA-T Food Stores recently carved out extra space for mouth rinses, including Listerine Smart Rinse. Formulated for children ages 6 and up, the anti-cavity fluoride rinse hit the market earlier this year. The rinse promises to go above and beyond brushing and offers children visual proof that their hard work is paying off. According to the manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products, New Brunswick, N.J., Smart Rinse attracts food and other particles missed by brushing and tints the particles so kids can see what they missed in the sink. It comes in two flavors, mint and berry, and two sizes.
These products are “doing pretty well, and they're starting to be supported with promotions,” said Kim Fultz, category manager with K-VA-T, based in Abingdon, Va.
At K-VA-T, the stores set aside 4 linear feet of shelf space for children's products. The toothbrushes and stand-up pump toothpastes are positioned on lower shelves so kids can see them, Fultz said. Products promoted in store circulars also get merchandised with other featured products on a separate display.
Unlike slower categories, kids' oral care gets reviewed three to four times a year, since products tend to change frequently, Fultz said. Staying on top of new items — and finding space for potential winners — makes the category challenging.
“The sheer number of new items that come out — where do you put them?” Fultz said. “This is one of the big categories that we try to focus on. I've got certain manufacturers who run promotions constantly. It's promotion-driven. It's a good category for impulse sales.”
In a typical year, more than 200 items for helping children and adults take care of their teeth are introduced in the U.S., according to Mintel.
Since the oral care market is flat, manufacturers introduce new items with the intention of taking share away from competitors. Potential products are subjected to high levels of development before they arrive in the stores, the Mintel report noted.
Tooth Tunes, a line of musical toothbrushes, rocked the industry when it arrived in stores last year. This year, Tiger Electronics is introducing two additions, Turbo Tooth Tunes for adults and children ages 6 and up, and Tooth Tunes Junior, designed for preschoolers. Retailing for $9.99, the brushes have patented sound transmission technology, which transmits musical vibrations from the bristles, through the teeth and to the inner ear, and play for two minutes — the amount of brushing time recommended by dentists.
Hasbro, Pawtucket, R.I., plans to promote the new items through TV and print advertising aimed at mothers and kids, said Jeff Jackson, vice president of marketing for Tiger Electronics, a Hasbro brand.
On the no-tech side, demand for natural personal care products has been growing, and it's starting to be seen in the oral care aisle. Zupan's Markets, an upscale chain based in Vancouver, Wash., carries a limited assortment of brushes and toothpastes for children. The retailer plans to introduce Earth's Best Jason toddler toothpaste (from Hain Celestial Group, Melville, N.Y.) and the Recycline (Waltham, Mass.) toothbrush for kids, said Jim Cornwall, general manager and health and beauty care buyer/merchandiser for Zupan's.
According to Earth's Best's website, the toddler toothpaste, made from food-grade ingredients, does not contain preservatives or fluoride. Recycline's toothbrushes appeal to green consumers.
In the Boston area, Roche Bros. stores carry about a dozen oral care items for children, including natural toothpastes. “When I put it on sale, it flies,” said Bill Pohl, a category manager at Roche Bros., Wellesley Hills, Mass.
Tom's of Maine's anti-cavity fluoride toothpaste for children leads in natural toothpaste sales at the Roche stores. The toothpaste is flavored with real strawberry flavor oils, and contains no artificial sweeteners, dyes or sparkles, according to the manufacturer. Colgate-Palmolive, New York, purchased a majority stake in Tom's of Maine in 2006.
Pohl thinks the interest in natural toothpaste is a natural extension of the movement among parents to buy healthier food for their children.
“A lot of parents who live that lifestyle of going all-natural find it very important for children to have that,” he said. “It's a monster trend that's here to stay.”
The number of oral care items introduced in the U.S. annually
Source: Mintel International Group