Multi-purpose eye-care solutions and daily lubricants sold at neighborhood supermarkets are part of the convenience, simplicity and comfort that contact lens wearers seek in their daily routine.
Denny Voight, merchandiser/buyer at Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash., said it's important for grocery chains to carry eye-care items because it contributes to the one-stop shopping concept. A large part of eye-care products sold in supermarkets today are devoted to the contact lens disinfectant regimen -- rinses, saline solutions and enzyme cleaners.
About 20% of the American population that needs vision correction today wear contact lenses. The contact lens market grew worldwide from $4.6 billion in 1998 to $4.9 billion in 1999. Comparable growth is projected through 2006, according to market research firm Frost & Sullivan, Mountain View, Calif. In the U.S., about 33 million people wore contact lens in 1998. This was up from 25 million people in 1991, according to Health Products Research, Whitehouse, N.J.
"They're an attractive group of people to retailers because they have a college education, high household income, usually female. You want them in your store buying," said Holly Ferrell, director of soft-care solutions at Bausch & Lomb, Rochester, N.Y.
Figures from ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill., and Information Resources, Chicago, show eye-care solutions somewhat flat, between $716.2 million, down 0.6%, reported by ACNielsen for the 52-weeks ending Dec. 25, 1999, and $1 billion, up 1.5%, reported by IRI, for the year period ending Dec. 28, 1999.
As in most HBC categories, mass merchandisers showed the most growth in the eye-care solutions segment with $423 million, up 5.2%. The drug store channel declined 2.5% to $366 million and supermarkets grew as did the overall segment, up 1.5% to $276 million, according to IRI.
The flatness in the segment may be due to the fact that manufacturers have introduced new materials and cleaning solutions that are now a one-step process for greater convenience. Also the contact lens market has moved into disposables and extended wear which requires less cleaning maintenance.
"There are some mixed changes within the environment," explained Ferrell. "Patients are moving to one-bottle convenience. Also, because the extended-wear market continues to grow, we've seen growth in lubricants," she added.
Even stores that don't dedicate a lot of space to the category are carrying eye-care solutions. "We don't have a very large eye-care department, but we carry some of the contact lens solutions and Visine and such," said Susan Springs, health and beauty care buyer at F. Lee Flowers & Co., Lake City, S.C.
Rosauers also claims a small section, positioned in front of the pharmacy. "A lot of people have questions so they can ask the pharmacist," said Voight.