16912 Thu, 09/03/2009 - 12:42pm
By David Gill
Unlike in other personal-care products, there has been little or no decay in the market for power oral-care products.
Sales growth in this category has been easier to come by, in fact than in other personal-care categories, even in the economic downturn. First, the user base for power tooth products is still relatively small. According to research by Procter & Gamble, parent company of Braun’s Oral-B line, 85 percent of consumers are still using a manual toothbrush—and 50 percent of these consumers said they would be inclined to try a power toothbrush, but haven’t yet because of price or lack of knowledge about the benefits of using a powered brush.
In addition, innovation and technology—which have produced increasing returns in other housewares categories—have helped bolster the oral-care segment as well. “We’re definitely seeing an emphasis on technology and design in the rechargeable segment,” said Shannon Jenest, senior public-relations manager for Philips, which produces the Sonicare line. “There’s a focus on catering to specific oral-care needs, such as advanced plaque removal and whitening.” Jenest noted that Philips is readying the rollout of a new Sonicare product, its first-ever rechargeable power toothbrush geared specifically toward improving gum health, for this coming fall.
Innovations have expanded one of the categories in oral care, irrigators. Water-Pik, which has been the dominant product in this segment, has now been joined by new products such as the ProFloss, launched earlier this year by Idea Factory, and Panasonic’s line of irrigators.
Irrigators have also gained traction because of the growing knowledge of irrigation’s benefits to oral health. “Dentists have started to become aware and are now recommending oral irrigation,” said Patty Mueller, chief executive officer of Idea Factory. “There is a greater awareness of oral irrigation’s ability to control gingivitis.” Mueller credited Water-Pik for its efforts toward dental professionals. “The key task for us is to get public-
relations efforts going to the dental trade, through direct-mail marketing, trade publications and Web sites,” she said.
The ProFloss connects directly to a faucet, removing the need for an external water tank. It has four settings that can be adjusted based on personal comfort.
Oral irrigators have also gone a ways toward solving a problem for consumers: how to reduce the number of visits they make to the dentists. “We found that in this economy, people are trying to have one dental cleaning a year instead of two,” said Walter Taffarello, national marketing manager of Panasonic’s Home Appliance Group. “Irrigation is an aggressive and natural way to take care of your teeth. It can penetrate where toothbrushes can’t go. You can use water or mouthwash in the tank.”
Panasonic’s new irrigator, model EW-DJ10-A, is more compact than its predecessors. Being collapsible, it is geared toward being more affordable at a suggested retail price of $49.99, and is easy to store. “People like affordability and portability,” Taffarello said. “They want something that can be easily stored in cabinets and that can be put into a suitcase for travel purposes.”
Consumers are also looking for products that improve their toothbrushing habits, which Oral-B has attempted to address with its new Oral-B Triumph with Smart Guide. Alissa Hammond, manager of external relations for oral care for P&G, said the Smart Guide is a wireless display that works with the brush head and handle, so users can receive visual cues that help them brush better.
“The handle communicates with the wireless display to signal when you are brushing too hard, when to move to the next quadrant of the mouth, when you have brushed for two minutes (recommended as the optimal time a person should brush his or her teeth by dental professionals) and when it is time to replace the brush head,” Hammond said.
The future for these products promises greater mass acceptance, because many of these products have begun to show up in mass merchants and the major drug-store chains. “We believe the ProFloss belongs at these retailers, and our opening price point, $19.95, gives us an edge over competing products, which are priced at $30,” Mueller said.
Taffarello said, “Some warehouse clubs are carrying these products, and this is a good sign to me, making them more popular and more common. We can’t really control the pricing, so I think the pricing will degenerate a little bit.”