Fresh Approaches

The arrival of unique, value-added product options may bring a breath of fresh air to the breath-freshening business in 2004.

Breath freshener sales (in food, drug and mass channels, minus Wal-Mart) peaked at nearly $328.1 million in 2000. Three years of sales downturns brought that total to just $237.1 million in 2003.
A variety of factors contributed, including the debut of breath-freshening film in 2001, not to mention the market saturation that resulted as too many players set out to grab up a share of the power mints business.
Now, however, adversity appears to be sparking vendors’ inventive streaks. In 2003, an entrepreneur unveiled a brand new concept in breath fresheners — tiny spherical capsules filled with a breath-freshening liquid. This year a leading candymaker is rolling out its version of liquid-filled mouth fresheners, and the leading gum maker is expanding one of its powerhouse gum brands into the breath mints category. Smaller players continue to make creative moves as well, such as the debut of a product with attributes spanning both the oral care and the traditional mint category.
The Imperatives
The front-end is where it’s at for breath fresheners. An impressive 86 percent of shoppers purchased products from the checkstand during the course of the past year, according to last year’s “Front-End Focus Study” conducted by Dechert-Hampe & Co. in partnership with leading vendors. Of the shoppers they tracked, nearly three-quarters —  72 percent to be precise — reported purchasing gum or mints from the checkout within the course of the past year.
Displaying breath fresheners prominently at the front end pays off. Hitting the right price point is a must as well. It’s been reported that average transaction price has climbed by more than 50 percent since the mid-90s. It’s no wonder that this is some of the most profitable retail real estate with 40 percent profit margins a reasonable expectation.
With all the options they’ve been offered of late, consumers can be expected to experiment quite a bit in this category. Established brands need to stay current and reward their loyal consumers with purchase incentives.
New arrivals on the breath freshening scene certainly have the potential to drive category sales, but their marketers had better be prepared to break out of the category clutter with innovative packaging, shippers and point-of-purchase support. Retailers should seek out clip strips or other compact displays that can be hung throughout the store.
Many alternate channel retailers already are doing a good job of using uniquely packaged breath fresheners to help create a point of difference for their stores.  
The once-skyrocketing sales of breath fresheners may have slowed over the course of the past several years, but this category is not going to go away. Aging baby boomers are concerned about fresh breath, and the popularity of strongly seasoned ethnic foods gives breath fresheners another reason for being. Thanks to the arrival of some innovative new products, 2004 is a year to pay close attention to the category.