Keeping it Fresh

No longer spinning out of control, the breath freshener category has found calmer winds of innovation.
After a couple of years in which breath freshener sales displayed double-digit downturns, the modest drop of 2.9% in 2004 (in food, drug and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart) is, well, refreshing. It’s true that sales aren’t soaring as they did in glory days of power mints, but the situation may be stabilizing. It’s certainly not surprising that the explosive growth that once characterized this segment ultimately proved unsustainable.          
As the Breath Freshener Rollouts chart included here indicates, the pace of new products rollouts is slowing, which is good news for a category that had become as overcrowded as breath fresheners. Clearly some shakeout has occurred as well, which also is positive.
Because there are so many options, retailers must be sure to keep the mix current and diversified, going with everything from the hip and trendy energy mints with guarana, the traditional, more mildly-flavored mints, and the emerging segment of functional products. The category truly offers something for everyone—with the diversity of product forms, varying degrees of flavor intensity, and a variety of packaging options.
Breath fresheners have gladly spoiled consumers with plenty of real innovation—particularly in product form. For instance, first, there were the breath strips; more recently, the spherically shaped, liquid-filled delivery forms have come on the scene.
Sugar-free products have proven to sustain their growth in the category. The use of Splenda is partly responsible, as consumers have grown quite comfortable with this sugar substitute, particularly in the gum/mints area.
Fortified and functional products—those that whiten the teeth or contain nutrients and even green tea for better health—also seem to have sustained a new following in the category.
Breath fresheners clearly belong in-line in the candy and gum set. There’s no doubt that they do quite well up front. Their performance in that position was well documented in a Masterfoods-sponsored study of the front end, “Front-End Focus,” which found that gum and mints are the most profitable, most purchased impulse item at the checkout.
Additional locations for shipper and/or countertop displays of breath fresheners include near the cigarette counter, in the coffee service area, and in the pharmacy. (And don’t forget pharmacy drive-through counters.) Remember that consumers are being well-exposed to breath fresheners in almost every alternate channel now; even catalogs have turned to offering private-label lines of well-packaged and well-targeted mints. Don’t let them out-breath you.
Cross Promotion
Cross merchandising breath fresheners with cigarettes and coffee—products that take a toll on one’s breath—is practically a no-brainer. Certainly, thanks to their compact size and relatively high price points, breath fresheners lend themselves well to off-shelf merchandising. Shippers, sidekicks, and clip strips all are good options.
Expect new manufacturer display options to also come on the scene for space-saving cross promotion. Gravity-fed compact displays are just one option, which would allow the unit to be hung almost anywhere without product falling out.
Breath fresheners in the United States represented one of the world’s fastest-growing packaged goods categories for seven years, before taking a nosedive in an over-saturated, overheated market a couple of years ago. It became apparent that maintaining that momentum simply wasn’t feasible.
But well-informed, well-positioned players believe that the worst may be over and that brighter days are ahead. Data from the most recent 12-week period available at Confectioner press time were particularly encouraging. 
Particular “mints of the moment” should be watched; sometimes, products will prove to be a good in-and-out item when excitement is high. For the past several years, consumers have been used to watching new players and flavors come and go; they are still primed to expect this and should respond well. Industry observers say that right now peppermint is ahead of wintergreen and spearmint on the “hot” list. Spicy flavors such as cinnamon are also still popular.
In the near future, expect more therapy-inducing sales to hit the category. Specialty retailer Origins is leading the trend right now with its aromatherapy chocolate mints to settle the tummy and brighten the spirits, containing special herbs and spices. n
Merchandising Musts
Freshen it up.  
One common mistake in this category is carrying too many line extensions from brands whose cachet has faded. Space is at a premium. So many retailers would benefit from being faster to refresh sets with truly innovative products instead of holding on to a fourth or fifth flavor of a not-so-hot brand.
Price promote.
While some mass chains will do well with pre-packaged multiple units of breath fresheners in the regular candy aisle, almost all retailers have benefited from price promotions in the category on single units at the front end. Chances are, consumers will buy more than one when there’s a price promo going, and studies have proven it doesn’t have to be a significant savings; it’s also a great time to get trial on newly introduced varieties.
Breath Freshener Rollouts
2001 60
2002 161
2003 119
2004 84
Note: Breath Freshener category includes mouthwash products
Source: Productscan Online (