Retailers are baring their teeth when it comes to talking whiteners. The tooth-whitener segment is blossoming with new formulations, higher dollar rings and growing volume. "It's the hottest segment, that's for sure, [based on] just the sales numbers," said Brad Fitt, health and beauty care category manager at Smith's Food & Drug Centers, Salt Lake City. "The customers are obviously wanting that benefit in toothpastes, and they are seeking it out."
Susan Springs, HBC buyer for Lake City, S.C.-based distributor W. Lee Flowers & Company, added, "Whitening has really picked up. That's what people are interested in. Whitening is outselling the others, and that's moving the category right now."
Today, almost a third of toothpaste sales consist of some form of whitener. They carry a higher price point than comparable oral care products. In fact, the average difference in price between whitening pastes and regular pastes can be considerable.
For example, at a Super G in Cherry Hill, N.J., a 6.4-ounce tube of Aquafresh, a product of SmithKline Beecham Consumer Healthcare, Pittsburgh, retailed for $1.97, compared with a 6-ounce tube of Aquafresh Advanced Whitening, priced at $4.89. For whitening systems, unit prices can jump to $30.
Terry Born, HBC buyer for Fairway Foods Inc., a Bloomington, Minn., subsidiary of Holiday Companies, Minneapolis, said, "We don't set retails for our stores, but [they] are making more money on the whiteners than they are on regular toothpastes." Rembrandt, produced by Santa Maria, Calif.-based Den-Mat Corporation, "led the way and showed retailers they don't have to sell toothpaste at a loss or a break-even point," Born added.
Sales in the whitening segment have jumped 11% vs. a year ago, according to Leslie Ashburn, spokeswoman for SmithKline Beecham Consumer Healthcare.
Shoppers most likely to seek out the higher-priced premium whiteners are middle to upper-middle class, according to retailers interviewed by SN.
Cindy Glynn, director of marketing for Perfect Smile, a Cleveland-based Pro Health Laboratories brand, said the baby-boom generation is pushing sales. "Whitening is up, and it's increasing primarily because of baby boomers who want to look younger," she stated.
While 87% of whiteners sold are in paste form, the highly specialized kits and systems can really boost retailers' margins. Said Glynn, "The toothpaste category is a very difficult business to be in, because there's no margins, so you really have to offer that something special." Perfect Smile is a whitening system available at a small but growing number of mass-market retailers.
Pastes and kits are packing a powerful enough punch to stand alone on some retailers' shelves. One major East Coast retailer established a 4-foot vertical set of whiteners, anchored on either side by leading brands like Crest and Colgate. "The set pulls [shoppers] toward the center," the chain's HBC category manager told SN. "We've dedicated a section to whiteners because of high sales," she said.
What began in the early 1990s as a niche, representing only a few products used by the professional dental community in marketing an expensive in-office procedure, has grown into a $500 million segment that shows few signs of cooling off.
After grabbing two spots on IRI's list of Top 10 new HBC products in 1997 (No. 2, Colgate Whitening with $37.6 million in sales, and No. 5, Mentadent Whitening with $18.9 million in sales), whiteners have solidified their shelf position with new varieties each year. Retailers believe variety is responsible for the drive in whitener sales. "New-item growth" has had the biggest impact on sales, said the East Coast retailer.
Rembrandt producer Den-Mat is among the major players that have released a host of new products. Last year, the company introduced several whitening varieties, including one that protects against canker sores. The 3-ounce tube carries a suggested retail price of $6.99. This year, Rembrandt, which generates $46 million a year, introduced a new botanical line, Rembrandt Naturals. It includes three flavors: raspberry leaf and mint, papaya and ginseng, and aloe vera and echinacea. The SRP is $6.99.
New York-based Colgate-Palmolive Company also released a series of whitening pastes, including Colgate Tartar Control Plus Whitening Gel, which retails between $2 and $3. Nearly half of Colgate's pastes contain whitening properties, according to a product listing on the company's Web site. The leading brand in the toothpaste category, Colgate generated $441 million in sales during the 52-week period tracked by IRI.
In early April, Colgate's new Ultra Brite Baking Soda & Peroxide Whitening paste debuted as a value-priced item. It's no surprise that Colgate touts Ultra Brite's value price in an attempt to reach beyond the core upscale whitener buyer. The company proclaims that "it is the first baking soda and peroxide whitening toothpaste to provide premium whitening and baking soda and peroxide benefits at a value price." It retails at or below $1.79. Springs said, "You've got a market for both. You're always going to have low-end toothpastes sell. There is a place for the [value] whiteners."