The oral care market is a bit down in the mouth, but suppliers hope the current raft of innovative products will put the smile on retailers’ faces

Is the oral care category all mouth and no trousers? According to Mintel, the sector is suffering from flat growth expanding only 1% year on year. And this fairly moribund market outlook is influencing the way consumers view the products in-store. As one anonymous interviewee baldly told Mintel as part of its 2011 oral health report: “These products are boring.”

“The category has been flat for quite a while now,” admits David Mosley, brand manager at Oral-B. “It’s sluggish, and I think we need to do something about that. I think it’s because we haven’t seen any npd that will provide a step change for consumers.”

top 10

1 Colgate ultra cavity protection 100ml 
2 Aquafresh freshmint 125ml 
3 Colgate whitening 50ml 
4 Listerine total care 250ml 
5 Colgate ultra cavity protection tube 50ml 
6 Wisdom regular medium 
7 Listerine fresh burst 250ml 
8 Listerine cool mint 250ml 
9 Wisdom regular firm 
10 Steradent tabs original Source: Bestway

But however shoppers (and some retailers) view the category, oral health is still a must-stock for c-stores owners who want to brush up their profits. The latest report from the British Dental Association reveals that 61% of people in the UK visit their dentists regularly. These visits are then generating sales as consumers make a commitment to care for their teeth and gums by buying more sophisticated products.

“The oral health category is really important to convenience stores,” says Paul Gurnell, brand manager at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). “It’s one of those top-up and distress purchases that people really can’t live without.”

So how are the big brands looking to put some sparkle back into the sector? For Procter & Gamble it’s by launching a new ‘super-paste’ product Oral-B ProExpert. P&G is pinning its hopes on this major new release, which it ambitiously hopes will quadruple current growth levels and build a category worth £1bn by 2015.

“We’re really excited about this,” says Mosley. “The scientists have been working on the product in the lab for 12 years, and we’re really getting behind it in terms of marketing spend.”

Oral-B ProExpert is a premium toothpaste designed to deliver eight different benefits including reducing enamel erosion, whitening teeth and preventing tartar build-up.

But, of course, it comes with a premium price tag (rrp £3.49), which in theory could leave recession-stricken shoppers with a bitter aftertaste.

However, Mosley is confident that once consumers understand the benefits, they’ll put their money where their mouth is.

“Consumers don’t mind paying a premium for a product that delivers clear benefits,” he says. “And this product really does meet all the needs of the modern consumer. Oral care has changed massively over time. Today people keep their teeth for longer, and they’re worried about things such as tooth sensitivity and enamel erosion. ProExpert protects against both of these issues, and more.”

And just in case shoppers aren’t ready to trade up, ProExpert is backed by two other toothpastes Complete and 1,2,3. Complete is a mid-price product offering six targeted benefits, including fresh breath and optimised whitening. Meanwhile, 1,2,3 offers the Oral-B brand and basic benefits at an affordable price point.

top tips

Make space for products that matter. Ensure the correct space is given to paste, brush and rinse, with paste getting at least 50% of the space 

Signpost the category. Merchandise by brand first and then segment 

Get the flow right on the shelf. Flow is brush, paste then rinse & ancillaries. Prices should flow left to right and down to up according to a principle of Good>Better>Best 

Eye level is buy level. The best-selling shelf is the shelf just below eye-level, so it is best to locate new products or growth categories there. 
Source: Colgate

Oral-B isn’t the only brand taking the premium route. GSK is also hoping that its own major new toothpaste launch, Aquafresh Ultimate, will convince consumers to trade up at the till.

“In convenience retailing there’s this idea that you have to stock the smallest, cheapest packs,” explains Gurnell. “But customers want to find the same products they see in the supermarket at c-stores. And because they’re on a convenience mission they don’t mind paying extra. This drives value sales for the retailer.”

It’s a view shared by Zahir Abdullah, negotiator at Bestway. “Most of the big brands’ TV spend is geared towards premium and whitening ranges which certainly suggests that retailers should not be fixated on putting forward only a value offering,” he explains.

Also new to the premium toothpaste market is Aquafresh Ultimate, billed as offering ‘whole tooth protection’. As well as strengthening the part of the tooth that stands above the gum line, it claims to banish bacteria to keep the gum seal healthy and protect the tooth that lies beneath. The line, which comes in a whitening variant, features stand-up tubes with no carton, for maximum shelf standout.

Of course, premium products have to live up to the hype to build a reputation with customers and win shelf-space for the future. Gurnell says that the market for sensitive tooth products is a perfect example of how customers get behind products that really work. 

“Sensitivity is a large market,” he explains. “A sixth of adults suffer from sensitive teeth and they have to put up with the pain on a daily basis. With sensitive toothpastes retailers have the chance to tap into a needs-based market. Again, customers don’t mind paying a premium because the products work.”

New to the sensitivity market this year is Sensodyne Repair and Protect, which works by forming a restorative tooth-like layer over exposed dentine which is the cause of sensitive teeth. The brand launched with a £3m marketing campaign using dentists to explain the benefits.

“This category-changing innovation not only engages shoppers, but adds much-needed value to a flat market,” adds Gurnell.

While experts recommend stocking a basic range, including toothpaste, toothbrushes and mouthwash to meet customers’ immediate needs, Abdullah asserts that retailers needn’t shy away from lucrative subcategories.

One sub-category that’s often overlooked is products designed specifically for older customers. Mintel says that older age groups are most reluctant to increase their use of oral hygiene products. Since the proportion of older people in the UK is growing, this could spell trouble for the sector further down the line.

retailer’s view

“We have an oral care range simply because they’re exactly the kind of products that people come in and buy when they’ve forgotten to get toothpaste or mouthwash during their main supermarket visit. It’s important to stock as a category simply because as a convenience store you have to offer a good service to your customers and that means stocking as wide a selection of top-up products as possible to meet their needs. It doesn’t exactly fly out the door, but we need to keep our customers happy. 

“We stock two kinds of toothpaste: Macleans, the cheaper option; and Colgate. We also have a standard

However, according to Nielsen, one in three households contains a denture-wearer which points towards a potentially profitable market opportunity for maintaining the grins of greyer c-store consumers.

Reckitt Benckiser has identified that the overall denture-cleaning market is worth about £16m. The brand recommends that there is strong opportunity for growth in c-stores by addressing the overall demographic of denture wearers (the 45+ age group).

Denture cleaning brand Steradent offers three separate products to service the different cleaning needs of denture wearers. Steradent ActivePlus promises to remove 50% more plaque than brushing alone, Steradent Extra Strength addresses discolouration, and Steradent Express Clean cleans dentures in three minutes.

Dental adhesives could also be a winner with older customers, too. Currently, Fixodent is the market leader with 54.3% of market share and a 62.5% loyalty spend. However, since only three out of 10 denture wearers use dental adhesive, customers need to be educated about the product, often from a pharmacist or dentist, before they buy.

For c-stores, the sheer breadth of products on offer in the oral care category can be daunting especially when they have to judge the popularity of each competing product against dwindling shelf space. But this also means that c-store owners have the opportunity to do what they do best match their customers’ needs to the products they stock. “It’s about matching the range to your size of store, location and customer demographic,” says Gurnell.

“Just remember to stock the best-sellers in each category and not three different products that all promise to do the same thing.”

ones to watch…
Ease the pain 
With a 95% brand awareness in the UK driven by a £1.2m ad spend so far this year, sore-mouthed shoppers could be coming in to ask for Bonjela by name. Bonjela and Bonjela Cool Mint is recommended for use by over-16s only. 
rrp: £2.99 tel: 0500 455 456 

Going pro? 
Will Procter & Gamble’s all-singing, all-dancing super-paste Oral-B ProExpert really be a step-change for the oral health sector? At the end of the day, it’s your customers who will decide on the shop floor. 
rrp: £3.49 tel: 0800 7311 792 

Soothing words 
If your typical customer is a sensitive soul then Sensodyne’s new Repair & Protect could be the perfect paste for put-upon teeth especially since the brand benefits from a £3m marketing push. 
rrp: £3.99 tel: 0845 762 6637 

Go the extra smile 
Helping denture wearers keep their gnashers looking flash is an easy way to give your profits a polish. Fixodent offers a trusted brand name that shoppers can rely on to stop their smiles from slipping. 
rrp: £2.99 tel: 0800 7311 792

Freshen up 
Finding it hard to decide what goes on your oral health shelf? This summer, Aquafresh Ultimate will be vying for your attention by boasting powerful overall tooth protection, plus a family-friendly taste. 
rrp: £1.79 tel: 0845 762 6637


toothbrush out on the shop floor, plus a mouthwash and Steradent. We stock Steradent because there are a lot of older people’s complexes in our area. 



“We also stock some higher value oral care products behind the counter to deter shoplifting. We have Bonjela, because quite a few people come through the door suffering from mouth ulcers. We sell about a case a year of that.” 

Kim Silcox, Silcox Stores, Pontnewydd, Monmouthshire