By David Gill
NEW YORK–Innovation is the fuel to growth in a variety of personal-care categories, and nowhere is this more true than in the oral-care category.
The three dominant products in electric oral care are the Oral-B from Procter & Gamble, the Philips Sonicare and the Water Pik. All three have ridden the innovation wave to growth over the past three years, expanding each line with products with added features.
For Oral-B, the most recent introduction is the Oral-B Triumph with SmartGuide, a trademarked technology in which the brush head, handle and visual display work together to provide visual cues to users that help them brush better. The technology enables the handle to communicate to the wireless display when the user is brushing too hard, when to move to another part of the mouth and when the user has brushed for two minutes (the recommended brushing time, according to the American Dental Association).
Dr. Paul Warren, vice president of global professional and scientific relations for P&G Oral Care, said the new brush “addresses one of the most common problems seen by dentists and hygienists—improper brushing habits.”
For Philips, last year’s extension to the Sonicare was the Sonicare FlexCare. “With the FlexCare, we added three modes and two routines that allow users to program the brush,” said Shannon Jenest, senior manager of public relations for Philips Consumer Lifestyle. “The three modes are ‘clean,’ ‘sensitive’ and ‘massage,’ and the two routines provide a significant number of oral-care combinations.” Sonicare now encompasses three models: Along with the FlexCare, the line includes the Elite, the flagship model from $119 to $129 at retail; and the Essence, an upgraded version of the Elite at $99.
The most recent new product added to the Water Pik line is the Ultra Cordless, an upgraded version of the basic cordless model. It’s priced at $49.99, as compared with the basic cordless’ ticket of $29.99. The line also includes the Personal at $39.99, which includes six pressure settings; and the Ultra, which both brushes and water-jets at the same time.
“Innovation is the life blood of any business,” said Jay McCulloch, vice president of marketing for Water Pik. “This category was stagnant for a long time, but then three years ago, we all began to come out with innovations, and the consumers responded. We saw nice sales increases.”
Innovation is an important driver for oral-care products demand, but it’s not the only one. These products deal with a vital form of health care, especially since studies have linked people’s oral health to their overall health, according to Philips’ Jenest.
Because of this, the participation of dentists and dental technologists is crucial to steering consumers in the direction of these products. “This category is driven by new products, clinical studies and dentist recommendations,” McCulloch said. “We now have a brand awareness of 94 percent, but consumers don’t realize what Water Pik does without education, and dentists are important to the education effort.”
With Water Pik, education is critical because many consumers believe it is a toothbrush—when, in fact, it functions more as an alternative to flossing. In fact, McCulloch said dentists and hygienists “would be upset if we positioned it as not flossing.”
The key retail channels for power oral-care merchandise are the mass merchants and the drug chains. “Our strategy is to have Water Pik placed where consumers expect to find it, and these are the two channels that fall right into that strategy,” McCulloch said. “It’s also a category that’s not sensitive to pricing. It’s a needs-based product. Consumers will spend whatever they have to if they perceive that they need them.”
Power oral-care products have made great strides in growth in recent years, but Jenest said there is room for more. “Power toothbrushes now represent 45 percent of the total toothbrush market, but only 11 percent of the total oral-care market, which includes toothpastes, rinses, whitening products and flosses,” she said. “There are opportunities to grow in the demographic sense, too. The current target for Sonicare is female, and we’re targeting them and their children. But we see different consumer needs as well, although I can’t say yet how we’ll address those needs.”
“Once we build a solid base of support with dentists, we’ll test consumer advertising this coming spring,” McCulloch said. “Our sales on both a dollar and unit basis have been growing by double digits, and we anticipate double-digit growth over the next few years.”
In addition, according to Jenest, she foresees new vendors entering the category. “New players mean there’s more growth opportunity, and this is great for the overall category,” she said.