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How many types of toothpaste do we need?

Most consumer product manufacturers introduce a multitude of minor details to differentiate their products from similar competitive offerings. Retail shelves for toothpaste host whitening, plaque reducing, sensitivity fighting, and anti-gingivitis versions, all in more flavors and sizes than a mind can calculate—and each of these options tends to be available under the name of each brand!  

 Buying toothpaste thus has become a daunting task, with no sign of easing up. In 2010, 69 new toothpaste products entered the market, though at least that number was fewer than the 102 new entries in 2007. Regardless of when the products arrived, retailers now carry as many as 352 distinct types and sizes of toothpaste.

This plethora of options challenges not just customers but retailers, which must find ways to fit all the options on their shelves. Supervalu has chosen to limit its toothpaste units. Nor is more products necessarily better for the manufacturer, which earns less from each product line and faces more complicated product management questions.

 When companies try to determine which products to discontinue though, they face another problem: customers who are loyal to a particular product. If a retailer does not carry it, these customers visit a different store. If the manufacturer cuts it, they get mad. Such loyalty seems unusual in a low involvement category, but toothpaste customers appear unwilling to risk product trials, especially when the decision about which new option to try is so daunting.

Their loyalty does not seem to imply though that they believe one particular toothpaste is much better than another. It remains a difficult product to differentiate. Even added features tend offer minimal value, some of which might not be noticeable to customers. Thus even if Crest’s 3D White toothpaste uses a more gentle polishing silica, compared with Crest’s tartar protection with whitening toothpaste, these manufacturers still share 70 percent of toothpaste sales.

Why did toothpaste manufacturers create so many different variations of the same basic product

Are there too many choices?

Ellen Byron, “Whitens, Brightens and Confuses,” The Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2011.


By: Britt Hackmann