Over the last two years, toothpaste, dental floss and toothbrushes have transformed from being a perfunctory health product to one designed for the beauty aisle.
Traditionally, oral-care products were marketed as preventing gingivitis, cavities or bad breath, but today, those products have moved from the drugstore into retailers with a beauty bent. Brand incubator Beach House launched Moon Oral Care in April 2019 and is sold at Ulta. On Tuesday, Hello Products, which launched in 2012, landed in all Ulta doors, on the heels of its acquisition by Colgate-Palmolive in January. Meanwhile, Sephora stocks toothpaste from Kopari and Marvis, among others.
Each of these brands is taking their lead from the beauty industry in terms of packaging, formulations, in-store merchandising strategies, social media presence and multi-media content. The buzz these companies are generating is reflected in the category’s performance: According to Mintel, the oral health industry generated more than $8 billion in 2018, a steady increase from relatively flat sales between 2016 and 2017; Mintel predicts the market will reach $9 billion by 2024.
Packaging and formulations
Craig Dubitsky, Hello founder, said he was shopping for oral care in Manhattan in 2009 when he had an epiphany: “Everything seemed to be emotional manipulation, and I thought this was an unfriendly category,” he said. “I wanted to create things that you’re happy to have displayed on your shelf and that makes you smile.”
Hello (which was the friendliest word Dubitsky could think of) offers vegan and eco-friendly products that come in colorful green, red and blue packaging. Some are infused with CBD. There is also a charcoal line, in black packaging — charcoal is a popular ingredient often found in beauty products. Industry sources estimate the brand’s sales are more than $20 million annually and the brand is sold in over 44,000 retail doors, including Walmart and Whole Foods stores. While Hello initially targeted millennials and millennial families, its wide distribution means it no longer has a core customer demo, said Lauri Kien-Kotcher, Hello CEO.
Moon also sought to elevate the design of oral-care products with its matte black packaging and its affiliation with Kendall Jenner. Its whitening pen borrows heavily from the beauty industry to not only look stylish but also function similarly to on-the-go beauty products, said Shaun Neff, Beach House founder. The pen has since become a best-seller, doing more than $1 million in sales at Ulta, he said, but declined to provide any additional sales information for the brand. Within the next six months, Moon will be in over 8,000 retail doors.
“The original idea of Moon started with making something look beautiful on your shelf,” said Neff. “The second thought was that no one [in the beauty industry] has ever talked about oral beauty.”
Merchandising and retail
Moon is not entirely alone in its proposition of creating an oral beauty category. In January 2019, Smile Direct Club began a marketing narrative around being a cosmetic brand. The brand started selling through Macy’s and CVS, and has attempted to reframe its 200 storefronts as the “Drybar of smile care” through new products. Marvis, a toothpaste brand founded in the 1950s and notable for its metal tubes and unique flavors like ginger and jasmine, is also driving the oral beauty conversation: Over the last 10 years, it’s begun selling online through Revolve.com, Neiman Marcus stores and Sephora.com.
Ulta has sold oral-care products for more than a decade, according to Muffy Clince, Ulta Beauty director of emerging brands. But the critical difference in 2020 is that Ulta has embraced a high-low product strategy over the past two years, which opened a door for premium oral care. Across the board, retailers from CVS to Walmart are elevating their oral-care assortment to adjust to trends like clean beauty and a preference for Instagrammable products, and Ulta has led that charge.
“Initially, the products carried in this category served a more functional purpose, but as new brands and innovation have been introduced, our assortment has evolved,” said Clince. “We’ve seen growing interest from guests across the board who are viewing beauty in a holistic sense and want to look and feel their best from the inside out. Oral care is a huge part of one’s overall health.”
When Moon launched at Ulta, it was featured in endcaps that displayed its matte black color as well as images of Jenner. Neff said wholesale is more than 50% of the brand’s sales. The merchandising strategy for the brand initially began with a core assortment of toothpaste and one toothbrush, before launching ancillary products like teeth whitening and product kits. Moon will launch another 10 products in 2020, including four collaborations with fashion designers and celebrities.
However, the merchandising evolution of oral care is still taking shape, and not all retailers are comfortable bringing oral-care brands in-store. For Marvis, whose toothpaste sells for between $6 for and $13.50 depending on product size, it has been a struggle to convince beauty retail partners like Sephora to stock its products in-store. Ian Ginsberg, president of C.O. Bigelow, which distributes Marvis in the U.S., attributes this to the price-sensitivity of Sephora and Ulta customers.
“We have begged to [be in-store at Sephora], and I’m dying to get it into beauty retail, but they don’t have an appetite for it,” he said. “Everyone is fighting for shelf space, and they don’t know where to put it. As more brands try to crack the category, they might start stocking oral care.”
But, the brand’s sales is still growing between 10% and 20% every year, he added.
For Moon, one of its most substantial digital assets is Jenner, who posts about Moon to her audience of 122 million Instagram followers every few days, most recently on Jan. 23 in her main feed. Moon itself has 145,000 followers on Instagram and posts once a day. When the brand launched, it featured a video of Jenner talking about her excitement for Moon’s design and using products while in a car. The idea was to help establish Moon as a lifestyle brand, said Neff.
“Traditional oral care doesn’t have brand love, and in my opinion, it’s very pharmaceutical,” he said. “Instead of sitting there having Kendall brush her teeth in our launch video, it’s about her pushing out a vibe and showing how it works with her aesthetic.”
Hello does not rely as much on influencers or celebrity ambassadors, said Kien-Kotcher. Instead, the brand has tried to infuse personal touches to build brand affinity. For example, customer service options include email, phone, social media and also Skype to talk directly with Dubitsky. And marketing campaigns, such as “An Inconvenient Tooth” in 2017, sought to educate customers on ingredients that were not in Hello’s products, like synthetic dyes, using an animated tooth cartoon. At the time, viewers were encouraged to share the video and sign up online to receive a free sample or coupon.
“People are looking to see their values and approaches [reflected] in all their products,” said Kien-Kotcher. “It’s not just about using natural ingredients, but it’s also about making it friendly to people.”
To that, Dubitsky added, “People join brands these days; they don’t just buy them.”