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Oral Health, Clean Beauty and Sustainability: What's Next for Oral Care

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Janaki Padmanabhan Bio

This article first appeared in Global Cosmetic Industry in January, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the nature of oral care. From being essential, the category is now perceived as an extension of overall health and beauty. Inflationary pressures in 2022-2023, could see consumers reducing usage in the short term and downtrading as household incomes gets squeezed. However, with the post-pandemic emphasis on oral health, consumers will continue to pay greater attention to their dental hygiene. This renewed consumer interest in oral care will provide many opportunities for players to explore. 

Oral Health, Clean Beauty and Sustainability What's Next for Oral Care Chart 1.svgChanging demographics provide various avenues for growth

On average, global consumers are living longer, while birth rates are declining. In Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Industry: Lifestyles, fielded October-November 2022 (n=906), 57% of of business leaders surveyed identified demographic shifts as one of the most influential trends impacting business.

Health and hygiene proposition will be welcomed by an ageing population. Innovation in gum health followed by messaging of the value and the benefits of improved oral health to an ageing population is an opportunity. As consumers age in emerging markets, opportunities exist for promotion of oral care products that cater for age-related issues, especially gum and enamel health. Additionally, electric toothbrushes can be positioned as offering a more thorough clean for ageing consumers in markets where they can afford the high price point. Alternatively, low-cost electric toothbrushes can penetrate and grow in emerging/ low-income countries.

According to Euromonitor Voice of the Consumer: Beauty Survey, fielded June to July 2022, apart from baby boomers, Generation Z is the second cohort that places greater importance on oral health while defining their perception of beauty.Oral Health, Clean Beauty and Sustainability What's Next for Oral Care Chart 2.svgSpecifically in oral care, where the industry is dominated by multinational companies with legacy brands, this can be challenging. Generation Z consumers are less likely to purchase the same brands as their parents, as their perceptions of beauty are becoming increasingly centred around personal expression, identity, and individualism than previous generations. Co by Colgate and Moon Oral Care by Kendall Jenner are some examples where oral care has turned to beauty and lifestyle positioning to appeal to younger consumers.

Clean beauty trends could compromise dental health

While new brands spruce up the competitive landscape, the clean beauty trend that was seen in skin care is also becoming popular. According to Euromonitor International Product Claims and Positioning, 2021, ‘no fluoride’ seems to be becoming a sought-after claim in key markets such as the USA, China, Germany and the UK. While consumers want natural products to replace fluoride in their toothpaste, most dental professionals will argue that fluoride prevents cavities. Hence the only reason these toothpastes are on the market is due to a response of "misguided" consumer demand. Just like clean beauty in skin care that led to certain ingredients being regarded by consumers as harmful but necessary by formulators (e.g. preservatives that prevent microbial contamination), it is likely that fluoride could suffer the same fate. Hence, it is necessary that oral care companies educate the consumers on the importance of fluoride to dental health before consumers completely cut fluoride off their oral care regime to later realise that it was a mistake.

Product innovation in sustainability is essential

Increasingly, consumers are reporting concerns around several metrics related to climate change, carbon footprint, and recycling. The global consumer is becoming more educated in understanding sustainable products and options, and also demanding products that are environmentally friendly. For many, this is a value they look for prior to buying into a brand.Oral Health, Clean Beauty and Sustainability What's Next for Oral Care Chart 3.svgGiven the nature of oral care, players can invest in helping consumers who want to lead a sustainable life, by reducing plastic use, helping recycle items and using sustainable packaging. Colgate-Palmolive has been successful in creating a recyclable toothpaste tube from a single HDPE material (with different grades), in January 2022. Unilever Plc and Haleon Plc have also made some progress in this space. Furthermore, sustainable innovation in toothbrushes has evolved from bamboo options to replaceable heads for manual toothbrushes and electric toothbrushes made from recycled materials.

Oral care could accelerate waterless innovation

Water scarcity is a key environmental concern, and the beauty and personal care industry is often listed among the top contributors to water use, water pollution and wastewater. Hence, it is unsurprising that businesses are expanding their investment in sustainable initiatives and focus on water features in the top 10 areas of investments.Oral Health, Clean Beauty and Sustainability What's Next for Oral Care Chart 4.svgOral care players can particularly learn from other waterless innovation in the personal care space such as shampoo bars and bar soap. It is unsurprising that toothpaste tablets that have been available for more than a decade have now started gaining prominence.

Future outlook

The global oral care industry is predicted a low single-digit value CAGR over 2022-2027. Increased awareness of oral health, aided by government initiatives as well as an emerging middle class, and population and income growth will drive consumption in developing markets. Greater ingredients focus and new formats will be key for growth in developed markets.

As consumers’ purchasing power varies so much across markets, oral care players will have to determine how consumers balance their wellness/oral health goals with what they consider to be “discretionary” or “non-discretionary” spending in oral care.  Investment by companies will be seen in new formulations, value-added ingredients, and sustainable packaging. Waterless innovation is ripe for investment by major oral care players.

For further insight, read our report Reinventing Oral Care 

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