The fight to clean your teeth is getting, er, white-hot

Those shopping for toothpaste are already spoilt for choice, with stuff available for every need — teeth whitening, gum bleeding, sensitivity, sensitivity repair, freshness and what have you — a big change from just a few years back when what sold mostly was ‘freshness’.

Over the last five years, the toothpaste business has grown at 14-18%, according to industry estimates, and is today a business valued around Rs 5,500-6,000 crore.

Within this, niche segments like sensitivity are growing more than twice that rate, at 35-40%, as ingestion of junk food and stressful lifestyles leave little scope for regular and preventive dental care.

The toothpaste category is currently dominated by Colgate, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) and Dabur, with Glaxo (GSK)leading in the sensitivity segment.

The consumer is going to be further spoilt with the imminent entry of Procter & Gamble (P&G) and ITC, intensifying competition.

While P&G is set to unleash Oral-B, ITC’s plans are still under wraps.

So what’s really driving the segment’s growth?

Experts say increased premiumisation and better awareness about oral hygiene are the two main growth-drivers.

“With the premium segment still small in the overall oral care mix and growing at twice the category growth rate, we believe a huge premiumisation opportunity exists that will aid growth and margin expansion for the industry in the next few years,” said Nikhil Vora and Harit Kapoor of IDFC in a note.

Moreover, premium products in the dental hygiene segment command higher margins and so toothpaste-makers are wooing consumers with high-end -products.

Despite intensified competition, market leader Colgate, with over 54% share, is unlikely to lose its foothold soon, believes Anirudha Joshi, analyst at Anand Rathi Securities.

“Competition is sure to intensify, but those with a strong sub-segmentation strategy such as Colgate may not lose market share,” he said in a note.

Even, bigger players such as Colgate and HUL have been increasing their direct rural reach and this is going to be an added advantage in this toothpaste war, say experts.

Colgate and GSK have also been using the prescription or the dentist route to tap newer customers. These brands have also been relying on sampling and free dental check-ups to drive growth. With more players joining the race, the fight will definitely get more interesting, say experts.

But the fight is not just limited to toothpaste. Players are fighting it out to get a bigger share in the toothbrush segment. This is because the segment is still much smaller and is pegged at Rs 1,000 crore. New launches from Colgate, HUL and P&G (Oral-B) have kept the pot boiling.

Going ahead, experts believe that players will extend the fight to even more niche segments like mouthwash which is merely a Rs 100-150 crore category as of now.

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