September 1, 2006
By Paul Waldron, Gladson Interactive
Things are looking up for the breath fresheners category.
Candy buyers are all smiles over the breath freshener category. After three years of declines, the breath sweetener sector of the candy business showed a 4 percent sales increase for the 52-week period ended May 20, 2006, according to ACNielsen data for food, drug and mass marketers (excluding Wal-Mart). Sales cracked the $200 million mark during that time, up from $197 million for the same period the year before. What makes retailers tingle is that gains are coming mostly via the sale of higher-priced products — not just unit movement. To some consumers, mints have become a status symbol or a fashion statement. Consumers don’t mind paying over $1 for the right mints — especially those in interesting packaging. Sales had stalled after years of rapid growth were fueled by the introduction of products like breath strips. The market became saturated with too many me-too items. According to a company called Research and Markets, a total of 189 new products were launched in this area from 2000 to 2005. In the last year, however, there have been some real product breakthroughs that have awakened the category.
New breed of breath fresheners
Technological advances, new flavors and multiple merchandising locations are all behind this sales jump. Consumers look to breath fresheners for more than pleasant breath; they also expect the items to help whiten their teeth or even provide more energy. For example, Arctic Blast provides a boost of energy fueled by caffeine, and Spangler Candy Company’s White by Smint has papaya extract as a natural tooth whitener. The tooth-friendly, sugar-free ingredient, Xylitol, is also appearing in breath products for those looking to avoid sugar.
These are all factors that should push total gum, mint and breath freshener sales to exceed $4.3 billion by 2007, according to the research firm Packaged Facts. Shoppers are also embracing new flavors — something that has become difficult in other candy areas. Where shoppers may be getting tired of line extensions for line extension’s sake in the candy aisle, their taste buds are inspired by new flavors of breath products. Listerine has managed to revitalize sales of its strips by adding flavors such as Citrus along with an addition of a new pocket breath spray. Technology has also pushed mints beyond the traditional so that shoppers can choose from liquid-filled mints such as IceBreakers Liquid Ice or Momints. As far as flavors go, consumers are getting choices between intense flavors and new, softer options. On the powerful side, there are Tic Tac Bold and Certs Powerful Mints. For shoppers who want a softer option, there are Ice Breakers Sours or Doublemint Twins Mints. Another wrinkle is TheraBreath, a new line of oral care products spanning mouthwash, toothpaste, mouth sprays, mints and strips. The line is backed by Dr. Harold Katz, who is doing 350 live television, radio and print advertisements.
Category managers are faced in candy with trying to avoid stock-keeping duplication, while still offering a large assortment; they are doing the opposite in breath and looking for a multitude of brands to keep fickle shoppers coming back for more.
While some candy marketers may be preaching SKU rationalization, it appears choice is not counter-productive in breath fresheners. Still, retailers are urged to discontinue slow-moving items to make room for new. Some of the trendy mint items seem to go out as fast as fashion trends and need to be moved out of plan-o-grams, according to manufacturers.
The opportunities in breath fresheners have caused a rush of new companies to enter the fray. Niche players with unique items are getting a chance to get their products into shelf sets. However, there has been consolidation in the business with the big guys snapping up some of the small innovators. Cadbury Schweppes, for example, jumped to the No. 2 position in the category with its acquisition a few years ago of Adams Confectionery. And Lifesavers and Altoids were picked up by Wrigley in 2005.
There are numerous opportunities for merchandising breath fresheners in secondary locations throughout the store. (See sidebar, “Secondary Display Suggestions.”) In addition, off-shelf merchandising is becoming more important in the breath category as buyers look for ways to try up-and-coming brands without reshuffling plan-o-grams. Mints are easily presented in clip strips and sidewings.
And, of course, the checkout area should be home to an assortment of breath fresheners because the category is so impulse-oriented. In fact, Research from Masterfoods found that gum and mints are the most profitable, most purchased impulse item at the checkout. Information Resources Inc.’s Consumer Insights Builder shows breath fresheners have high potential for building household penetration. Research from the company showed that fewer than 5 percent of households buy breath fresheners. Better penetration of merchandising locations throughout the store could help build household consumption.
There are those concerned about rising prices connected to the new breed of breath fresheners. Industry watchers point out that rising costs, such as gas prices, could make consumers less likely to invest in expensive breath items. Some think marketers aren’t doing enough to bring more innovation to a category so dependent on “new.” Others worry that the rapid fire of new items merely shifts market share instead of building sales. “But,” concluded Wendy Liebmann, president and founder of New York-based WSL Strategic Retail, “with costs of living rising, it is still a small investment for fresh breath and a nice pick-me-up if you can’t afford something like a new suit.”