Oral health is an integral part of consumers' mounting desire to lead healthier lifestyles, resulting in industry growth. Increased awareness of oral health coupled with an improved understanding of the underlying causes of oral issues also contribute to the surge; rising market penetration and the growing availability of innovative and differentiated products play a role as well.
With this upswing in attention to oral care comes higher product demands from consumers. Amplified competition has resulted, as have trends following the need for products to "stand out from the crowd." The premiumization of oral hygiene products is one of these trends.
In this post, we will provide examples of premiumization and discuss the methods companies use to display products as ‘premium’. We will also examine drivers of premiumization and the implications, including challenges such as with anhydrous toothpaste formulations.
What is premiumization in oral care?
The oral care market is dominated by a handful of global players, resulting in aggressive competition in terms of innovation, ingredients and packaging. As a result, marketers are progressively looking for ways to differentiate themselves.
Simple product differentiation tactics are difficult in oral care because product options are limited; toothpaste alone comprises more than 50% of the space (Figure 1). Additionally, consumers across the board are increasingly questioning price points, while continuing to demand more out of products. This dilemma poses a growing challenge for oral care companies.
The oral care market has, at least in the more evolved markets like US and Europe, moved towards the premiumization of products. Premiumization refers to successfully escalating the value of a product and making it appeal to consumers by emphasizing superior attributes.
Companies are now looking beyond simple cavity prevention. Products are made premium by focusing on additional functionalities or overall mouth hygiene, including the gums and oral microbiome. This shift, coupled with heightened sustainability concerns and a desire for innovation, is leading to the premiumization of oral care products.
Figure 1: Segments of the Oral Care Market
What products comprise the oral care space and stand to be "premiumized"?
Any oral care product is subject to the premiumization trend, including toothpaste, oral rinses, and denture care products, among others. Toothpaste is perhaps the most notable product to experience premiumization, as toothpaste and toothbrushes comprise a majority of oral health products. Note that this post does not comment on devices such as toothbrushes and instead focuses on formulations.
Over the last few decades, toothpaste has evolved significantly, positioning it to now be the focus of premiumization. Formulations have moved from simple, abrasive tooth powders to high-value products backed by years of research and clinically proven results (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: The History & Evolution of Toothpaste
What are some ways in which oral health companies are transforming their products to be premium?
There are four general claims that oral care companies use to make their products appear premium:
1. Improved user experience
One common claim oral care companies make is that their product results in enhanced user experience. Customers are willing to pay a premium price because a product, for example, possesses an improved or unusual taste. It may also claim to be easier to use or require less time and energy to do so.
Product examples include Crest® Flavor Experience Toothpastes that featured novel flavors like Lime Spearmint and Mint Chocolate. Another example would be Listerine® READY! TABS™ which offers a convenient way to freshen breath via a small, chewable tablet.
2. Safer – especially for the environment
Consumers are increasingly mindful of the state of the environment and the depletion of natural resources. Therefore, “sustainable” products or "natural" actives, such as botanicals or charcoal, appear first-class and can be sold for a higher price. Users are also more concerned about their own safety and health, resulting in a preference for dentist-recommended formulations.
Product examples consist of Tom's of Maine™, a well-known natural product line that now comes in recyclable tubes. Another example is the Colgate® Calming Clean with Hemp Seed Oil toothpaste.
3. More innovative or novel
New, cutting-edge products are well-known to attract buyer's attention, and this tactic is no exception in oral care. Products that appear innovative with newer, added benefits are desirable and have increased value.
Product examples include multifunctional mouthwashes like Listerine® Total Care, which comes with a "6 benefits in 1" claim. There is also Aquafresh® Iso-Active Lasting Impact Whitening Toothpaste, which has innovative packaging – a canister that transforms the gel into a foam.
4. More niche, or meets a specific need or needs
Consumers progressively look for products that meet individualized requirements. Though in theory niche products could decrease the potential customer base and profits, companies counteract this by charging a premium. That's why store shelves are now commonly stocked with sensitivity toothpaste, like Sensodyne®, kid-specific oral care products, or dry mouth formulations, like TheraBreath® oral rinses.
What's driving premiumization in oral care?
A significant driver of premiumization in oral care lies in patients' improved understanding of various dental ailments. For example, gingivitis, and its more severe form, periodontitis, are chronic inflammatory diseases that can destroy gum tissue and bone supporting the teeth.
New evidence has linked dental disorders like periodontitis to serious health issues beyond the oral cavity. Periodontitis-linked ailments include heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease, giving prevention increased importance. While gingivitis is reversible, periodontitis is not; regular removal of plaque and the use of products that control and prevent gum inflammation can counteract the onset.
Though this is just one example, rising consumer awareness of information such as this has led to a demand for specialized products. As a result, formulations have evolved from historically utilizing simple anticavity agents, like fluoride, to using novel ingredients that focus on more than just the teeth. Other drivers of premiumization include a rise in informed consumers from the digital age and an increase in fast-paced lifestyles.
Are there challenges associated with the premiumization of oral care products?
The addition of novel ingredients and actives into toothpaste poses unique formulation challenges. Many newer actives are unstable in water and require anhydrous (waterless) formulations to form a stable and effective toothpaste. However, anhydrous toothpaste formulations can be difficult to develop and scale, making successful formulation highly coveted and choosing the proper partner crucial.
With successful formulation, countless new opportunities are created for incorporating innovative new actives, and for products that are less likely to experience competition due to the difficulty. A partner with the proper expertise can help overcome anhydrous formulation challenges and make these opportunities a reality.
Carbopol® polymers are the preferred thickeners for anhydrous toothpaste formulations, providing excellent thickening and aesthetics. Bio- or muco-adhesion to oral tissue is also an added advantage unique to Carbopol polymers; providing enhanced retention of actives, as well as lubrication and protection of sensitive tissue.
What role is Lubrizol Life Science Health playing in oral care?
Lubrizol Life Science Health (LLS Health) continually strives to enable innovative and differentiated products in all therapeutic categories, including oral care. We offer multifunctional Carbopol polymers, which are compatible with a wide range of actives and ingredients. Our ingredients have been used safely and effectively in oral health products for decades. Contact us today to learn more and see how we can help bring your product to market.
Ashley M. Rein | Technical Marketing Specialist