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By: Carrie Lennard, Euromonitor International
Posted: January 5, 2010, from the January 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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In early 2009, mouthwash suffered a major PR setback after it hit the headlines that there was a possible link between the use of alcohol mouthwash and the risk of mouth cancer. Following the revelation, some brands reacted by removing their alcohol mouthwashes from sales. The Dentyl PH brand was immediately withdrawn from sale and hastily reformulated to make all its products alcohol-free. Although the strong dip in mouthwash value growth was caused primarily by the recession, the scare certainly did not help sales to remain solid.

Innovation; Higher Priced Brands Limit Damage to Growth

Some oral care manufacturers focused on new product developments to try to drive sales in the downturn. In April 2009, Colgate-Palmolive introduced the Colgate Wisp, a single-use mini-toothbrush designed to clean teeth on the go. The product capitalizes on the growing trend for time-starved consumers to clean their teeth during the working day in addition to their existing morning and evening dental routines. At approximately $2.40 for a pack of four Wisps, it remains to be seen how many consumers consider the convenience benefits to outweigh the price in comparison to carrying a toothpaste and toothbrush around with them.

Johnson & Johnson continued the on-the-go theme by launching 95 mL bottles of its Listerine Total Care and Stay White mouthwashes. The bottles comply with airlines’ 100 mL restrictions on liquids, making them also suitable for air travel.

The natural oral care category remains a small but growing one, especially in the U.S. and key Western European markets such as Germany. Players such as Weleda and Tom’s of Maine are driving sales. Often marketed as free from fluoride or other similar ingredients found in standard oral care brands, natural products often retail at least double the normal price.

Mature Regions Worst Hit

As with other areas of the personal care market, oral care sales took the biggest knock in the most developed regions. North America was the worst, where the rate of value growth slipped to just 1% in 2007–2008, down from 5% the previous year. Sales in Western Europe also dropped by one percentage to 3% in 2007–2008, and Australasia slid to 3%, down from 4% in 2006–2007. The primary reason for the drop in these markets: Consumer uptake of more expensive, value-added brands was already very high before the impact of the recession was felt. In Canada, for example, whitening toothpaste accounted for the lion’s share of toothpaste sales in 2008, with 39%. Standard toothpaste took just 7% of the market, according to Euromonitor International statistics. This left a lot of room for consumers to trade back down to non value-added products as economic conditions worsened.

Emerging Regions Boost Global Sales