But, I just want plain old toothpaste …

TakeAway:  An explosion of specialized pastes and gels brag about their powers to whiten teeth, reduce plaque, curb sensitivity and fight gingivitis, sometimes all at the same time.

Add in all the flavors and sizes, plus ever-rising prices, and the simple errand turns into sensory overload. 

Manufacturers acknowledge the problem and are putting the brakes on new-product introductions.  In this case, more product variety isn’t always better.

* * * * *

Excerpted from the WSJ, “Whitens, Brightens, and Confuses By Ellen Byron,February 23, 2010


P&G, maker of Crest, says it has “significantly” reduced the number of oral-care products it makes world-wide in the past two years.  Crest hit the market in 1955 and in 1960 became the first fluoride toothpaste to gain the American Dental Association’s “seal of acceptance.” Toothpaste was elevated from cosmetic to therapeutic status, and sales of Crest nearly tripled within the next two years. The 1980s brought tartar-control formulas, raising consumer expectations of what toothpaste could do. Ever since, companies have brought out benefits and ingredients, in search of the next game-changing upgrade.

Each new benefit is a chance for toothpaste makers to push prices upward and drive sales. With some 93% of U.S. adults using toothpaste, according to Mintel, there’s little room to recruit new users.

Packaging plays its part in toothpaste-aisle clutter. “The toothpaste carton is a certain size and shape and sits on the shelf in a certain way. That makes it hard to communicate effectively when there’s a meaningful difference in a new product,” says Jonathan Asher, senior vice president at Perception Research Services, which specializes in packaging and shopper marketing.

This year, Colgate-Palmolive introduced packages meant to be more easily deciphered. It standardized sizes of the Colgate logo, the “sub-brand” and the flavor or benefit, so shoppers will notice them in that order. It did what it calls “shelf tests,” timing how long it took shoppers to find new packages of Colgate Total Advanced Whitening and other variations, versus older packages. “The new packaging was not only preferred but it was easier to find,” says Nigel Burton, president of Colgate’s global oral care, consumer insight and advertising.

Many dentists think differences between brands aren’t very meaningful. “Just make sure it has fluoride and has the American Dental Association seal,” says Ada Cooper, a New York dentist and consumer adviser for the ADA, which evaluates toothpaste claims. The ADA’s seal “tells you that the product has been tested, that it’s effective in doing what it says it’s going to do, and has the right mix of ingredients.”

Edit by AMW


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