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Adding teeth to paste

As Indian consumers open up to more advanced toothpastes with clear benefits, toothpaste brands are scrambling to offer a growing range of options, with a lot of noise and drama. Anita Sharan reports.

business Updated: Sep 02, 2013 01:31 IST
Anita Sharan

Did you know that we, as consumers, are buying more of better toothpastes, as dental health awareness expands? Nielsen’s retail audit figures show that while mass segment toothpaste sales in urban and rural India are reducing, popular and premium segment sales have increased.

Not that toothpaste brands are paying less attention to mass offerings. As a spokesperson from a major brand commented, “Both advanced and entry-priced toothpastes offer tremendous growth opportunity. Today, consumers are looking for new age solutions to address specific oral care needs and are ready to pay a premium.”

Every segment is focusing on benefits, which saw some sharp competitive action at the mass end in August. On August 22 and 23, Colgate Strong Teeth toothpaste had a full, front page advertisement in two leading newspapers – one newspaper each day. In big block letters in red, the ad said: “There’s no better cavity protection than Colgate. We guarantee it.”

People noticed the ad, and were quick to link it to the TV advertising by Hindustan Unilever’s (HUL) Pepsodent Germicheck Superior Power, which made a direct comparative claim of 130% effectiveness in germ protection against Colgate Strong Teeth’s 100%.

What consumers who noticed the ads may not all have known was that Colgate-Palmolive had approached the Delhi high court with an injunction petition against the Pepsodent ad. On August 21, the court dismissed the petition, stating the Pepsodent ad did not disparage Colgate Strong Teeth.

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A spokesperson from HUL said, “All toothpastes that have Triclosan (TSN) provide 12 hours protection against germs. With Pepsodent Germicheck Superior Power, this is the first time a technology that enhances the efficacy of TSN is being offered in chalk-based toothpastes. We have filed for a patent.” HUL’s ad shows an effectiveness test four hours after brushing.

Yet, in a market like India where a majority of consumers brush just once a day, does so much brand activity make sense? Nielsen data indicates that toothpastes have recorded a 14% value growth over 12 months. The last two years have seen several new launches and brand extensions focused on benefits – sensitive teeth, gum health, germicheck, overall dental health, white teeth.

Abneesh Roy, associate director, Edelweiss Financial Services, said, “The premium end of the toothpaste market has grown by over 10%, thanks largely to the ‘sensitive’ toothpastes. Glaxo SmithKline’s Sensodyne and Colgate Sensitive Pro Relief are dominant with 25-28% segment shares each.” Pepsodent also has a sensitive variant.

Glaxo SmithKline’s spokesperson said, “When Sensodyne entered India in 2011, research found 17% adults acknowledging sensitivity problems. At the end of 2012, 32% people claimed to have suffered from sensitivity at least once. This clearly indicates that people are aware about the problem and willing to do something about it.” The company has also launched Parodontax for healthy gums.

A Colgate Palmolive-GFK Mode survey revealed that one in every three urban Indians suffers from gum problems.

Amitabh Mall, partner and director, consumer and retail practice, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), spelt out three growth drivers for toothpastes, based on consumer behavior: “More people using toothpastes will provide the slowest incremental growth. Higher growth will come from more variety and higher frequency of usage.” Currently, both Colgate and Pepsodent are aggressively encouraging brushing more than once in a day.

“As people use different toothpastes for different occasions based on functional (health) or emotional (cosmetic) benefits, they will not be led in their choices by brand alone,” Mall predicted.

Roy said that the involvement of more big companies in the category will further boost sophistication and growth. “The entry of Procter & Gamble with Oral-B Pro Health (in July) is a significant milestone.” P&G is offering all-in-one benefits in Oral-B Pro Health, which pitches it against the premium Colgate Total and Pepsodent Expert Protection.