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Just How Much Variety Do We Need? March 26, 2011

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy.
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The February 23, 2011 issue of the Wall Street Journal had an article entitled, “Whitens, Brightens and Confuses” and it noted the following:

In the toothpaste product world:

  • There were 69 new toothpaste varieties introduced in 2010
  • There are 352 distinct types of toothpaste sold today

That was enough to stop me right there.  The context the WSJ story was this:  Can brands confuse consumers?  If you look at the above data, you’d have to say ‘probably’.  But interestingly enough, brand loyalty to toothpaste is fierce.  I buy only Colgate toothpaste with baking soda (of one flavor or another) whenever I shop.  If I don’t find it, I find it somewhere else.  And that’s why many retailers are reluctant to winnow out the ones that don’t sell as well and focus on keeping the shelves stocked with those that do.

Both Colgate and Crest have long known how inelastic consumers are when it comes to trying another brand of toothpaste.  So, they merrily create the latest version of their branded toothpastes and keep them coming through product development and onto the shelves of retailers.

How much variety do we need?  As much as it takes to keep us brand-loyal.  In the meantime, retailers have little choice but to stock up on as many brands and sub-brands of toothpaste in the market as they can afford.  Confusing for us consumers?  Yes but a necessary evil.

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