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News
Markets: Toothpaste seeks fresh ideas
Markets: Toothpaste seeks fresh ideas
Simon Clarke, Packaging News, 05 May 2010
 
Toothpaste has been packed in tubes since the reign of Queen Victoria, so how do brands stand out in the sector? Simon Clarke brushes up on the new developments
 
 
The trouble with toothpaste is that it's not all that sexy. It's certainly big business - it's the biggest segment of the UK oral care market, with a £330m share of the nearly £840m total, according to research firm Euromonitor.
 
But it's not a particularly vibrant segment in retail terms. Toothpaste sales in the UK rose just 1.7% between 2003 and 2008. In contrast, consumption of mouthwashes and dental rinses soared - rising just over 64% in the same period.
 
As a result, there is fierce competition to differentiate toothpaste on the supermarket shelf. According to Euromonitor, manufacturers are trying to reposition the product as a premium item in-store, catering to special dental needs or age groups.
 
Consumers can choose from a range of novel and upmarket packaging options, from pump dispensers to aerosols, and are routinely assaulted by bright, metallic printing as brands bid for attention. Not only are the outer cartons jazzed up with foil blocking and high-colour printing, but special textures are used, such as embossing and even holographic printing.
 
"The majority of cartons are as shiny as possible to achieve stand-out on shelf," says Chesapeake marketing manager Bob Houghton. "These are high-value items, often costing between £3 and £5 - they need to look like they're worth that. The use of metallics and foiling supports the value of the brand."
 
But despite a fair amount of packaging innovation, the sector moves slowly. Toothpaste is dominated by just a few players - between them, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Colgate-Palmolive own all the top five toothpaste brands by sales - and consumers have only slowly embraced change. A visit to any supermarket reveals that it is still dominated by the tube - a packaging device that was first used for the product in 1892.
 
Tubes that were once made from aluminum are now routinely made of laminate - either polyethylene (PE) laminate or aluminium laminate. But though toothpaste brands were early adopters of laminate tubes, it took several decades from its inception in 1972 to become ubiquitous globally. Laminate only made it to Australia in 1983, for example, and only started making inroads into the local Chinese market in 1997, when Indian manufacturer Essel Propack started operations there.
 
Laminate construction has some clear advantages over aluminium. The pack has a softer feel and keeps its shape, unlike aluminium tubes, which inevitably became misshapen in use.
 
"It's the main reason laminate tubes have been adopted," says Evelyn Tweedlie, vice president Europe at Essel Propack. "Aluminium tubes dent, crease and even split when squeezed at least twice a day during their use by the consumer."
 
Some laminate tubes are not immune from this, however. "Of course aluminium laminate tubes still dent to some extent due to the layer of aluminium," she adds. But it's difficult to get away from the material. One of the key requirements of the toothpaste sector is protection against flavour loss. "Peppermint oils are very aggressive," notes Tweedlie. So an impermeable layer is still needed. This is another reason cartons are still used extensively on-shelf - to protect the product during transport and in-store.
 
Consumers also seem unwilling to move away from familiar forms. Houghton cites a nationwide trial of cartonless toothpaste about 15 years ago, but this failed to get traction with consumers. "Tubes were dented and damaged and it was awkward to retail," says Houghton. "There was also an issue with tamper evidence."
 
Stand-up tubes
However a few kids' brands, including Colgate's junior range, have moved to tube-only display, because the tubes are shorter and so stand up more easily. Adult brands are taller, so cartons are still preferred - though there is one adult example - Corsodyl Daily - that's sold without a box.
 
Nonetheless, the idea of using a chunky cap that allows the tube to be stood on its end has gained wider acceptance. "It's more user-friendly to stand them up on the cap in the bathroom," notes Tweedlie. "Dispensing or flip-top caps are also used for ease of opening and dispensing."
 
GSK's Sensodyne Pronamel is a case in point. Not only does the cap have a boldly oversized, pearlescent, flared cap, but this is coupled with a carton that features a cutaway section to show off the design.
 
"By looking at how consumers use toothpaste tubes, we created a new user-friendly structural design format for the launch of Sensodyne Pronamel," says GSK design agency Slice Design. "Standing on its head and introducing an easy-clean nozzle meant we could wave goodbye to bathroom mess."
 
Tubes themselves can also stand out better on the bathroom window-sill, thanks to laminate's superior printing qualities. While aluminum tubes are formed from a slug of metal which is extruded into a tube and then offset printed, laminate tubes are manufactured from sheet material allowing letterpress or rotogravure printing to be carried out before forming the material into tubes. Rotogravure is used to provide a high-quality print buried within the laminate structure.
 
Head and shoulders above?
The laminate sheet is then slit and fed through forming rolls, which gently turn the tube and form it into a cylinder. This is sealed using high-frequency heat and then sliced to length at a cutting station.
 
The one disadvantage with this is that, unlike aluminum tubes, which are extruded from one piece, the head and shoulder of laminate tubes must be made separately and attached. Sometimes a preformed head and shoulder are fed to a tube on a mandrel and fused to the top of the tube by high frequency heat. Other options are to use injection or compression moulding to fuse the head to the body.
 
This has implications for toothpaste packaging, however, as the head and shoulder area of the tube don't have the same sealant qualities as the rest of the laminate tube. Essel Propack tackled this problem by developing a seven-layer barrier film that can be inserted into the compression-moulded tube shoulder. Other solutions available include fitting the inside of tube shoulders with doughnut or cup-shaped inserts.
 
Toothpaste may not be sexy, but it is definitely functional. The days of having to roll up the end of the pack to get the last drop out are gone as laminates dominate, but few are yet to do away with the outer carton. Regardless, toothpaste packaging remains as sparkling white as your pearly whites.
 
 
 
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