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New Flavors Appeal to Youthful Palates : Children Fill Gap in Toothpaste Market

September 25, 1987|JESUS SANCHEZ | Times Staff Writer

As far as children are concerned, "Brush your teeth" ranks up there with "Go to bed" and "Do your homework" as perhaps the least liked phrases in the English language.

Now, the nation's toothpaste makers are aiming for children's palates and their parent's pocketbooks with names like Aqua-Fresh for Kids and flavors like Kermit the Frog mint.

The latest entry is Procter & Gamble with Crest for Kids, a bubble-gum flavored version of the nation's top-selling Crest toothpaste. The toothpaste comes in a see-through pump dispenser, decorated with stars and featuring the words "Super Cool." The product is intended for children ages 6 through 12.

"Hopefully, we're providing a product that will encourage kids to brush more because we will have a flavor in toothpaste that kids like and enjoy," said P&G spokeswoman Linda Ulrey. Earlier this year, Oral-B Laboratories' Muppets brand--available in a Kermit the Frog mint flavor and a Miss Piggy bubble gum flavor--arrived on supermarket shelves. Beecham Group went nationwide with its Aqua-Fresh for Kids in 1986.

Help Select Brands

The childrens' market has received greater attention as national sales of toothpaste have remained pretty much stagnant at the $1-billion mark for several years. In hopes of boosting their sales, toothpaste makers have increasingly turned their attention to certain segments of the market. Toothpastes that fight tartar, for instance, are pitched to adults. Now, it's the kids turn.

Toothpaste has always been marketed with children in mind, industry executives say. In the late 1950s, consumers became familiar with the phrase "Look mom, no cavities" used in Crest advertising. There's good reason for all this: About one-third of all toothpaste is used by children age 12 and under, according to some industry estimates.

Toothpaste makers also note that children are having a greater say in what brands their parents select. "What kids like, parents buy," said Clifford Whall, assistant secretary of the Council of Dental Therapeutics of the American Dental Assn.

"Flavor is a big deal with these products," he said. Adults favor stronger flavors like cinnamon, Whall said, while children like less spicy tastes like mint.

Children often complain that spicy adult toothpastes "taste hot," said Brent Goddard, senior product manager for Muppets toothpaste. "There has been a niche here that has been untapped for some time." He said sales of Muppets toothpaste have reached the $10-million mark.

And what about Colgate, the nation's No. 2 toothpaste? A Colgate-Palmolive spokeswoman said the company does not currently have any toothpaste brands made especially for children, and she declined to comment on Colgate's plans.

Securities analyst Hercules A. Segalas says he does not expect Colgate to come out with a Colgate for children. Many children already prefer Colgate over other brands because of its sweeter taste, he said. "Crest has been thought of as a functional brand," he said. "Colgate is much sweeter, it tastes more like candy."

Although toothpastes for children may taste sweet, toothpaste makers point out that their products contain no cavity-causing sugars and are loaded with fluoride to fight tooth decay.

Aqua-Fresh for Kids tastes like bubble gum but "does not contain any sugar at all," said company spokeswoman Lori Allen.

No mention is made of the bubble gum flavor on Crest for Kids packages. "Some people don't think bubble gum is good for kids," said J. Paul Jones, director of product development for health and beauty products at P&G. Instead, children will decide the name of the product's flavor via a national write-in contest.

Dental experts, for the most part, are not too excited about the new toothpaste tastes. Alston J. McCaslin, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, said: "This is a new marketing technique to get a larger share of the market without doing anything really new."


Market share of biggest sellers based on total market of $1 billion. Figures are as of August, 1987.

Crest 37.5% (Proctor & Gamble0 Colgate 28.2% (Colgate Palmolive) Aqua-Fresh 10.3 % (Beecham) Aim 6.6% (Lever Bros.) Other 17.4% Source: Colgate-Palmolive Los Angeles Times

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