On a recent trip to the supermarket, I remembered something I always forget.  Toothpaste!   Maybe it was because my store had just made masks optional for people claiming to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.   Seeing all of these people with mouths must have triggered it.

I set out to find the toothpaste aisle.  It wasn’t difficult.  They’ve got almost a whole aisle, and two-thirds of it is either red (Colgate) or blue (Crest).  It’s like politics.  We’ve got red states and blue states, and nothing in between.    Well, at least in the toothpaste aisle, there are a few in between.  Granted, most are the Meijer brand, which seems to be red and blue.   So why and how do two brands get giant displays, and everything else fights for a few remaining shelves?

Meijer toothpaste aisle-Colgate-TSM Photo by Tim Collins
Meijer toothpaste aisle-Colgate-TSM Photo by Tim Collins

As I searched the space between red and blue, I couldn’t find my brand, even though the picture I took showed me later that it was right in front of me.  It’s like that shortcut icon on the desktop of my computer.  I know it’s there, but when I try to click on it, it turns invisible.

My favorite toothpaste is Tom’s of Maine, founded in 1970 by a guy named Tom from Maine.  Simple, straight-forward, no real gimmicks, natural, and nothing flashy.    I started using it a few years ago when I found out the commercial pastes had sugars, oils, and chemicals that were messing up my diet. Tom’s is intentionally made without ingredients that are chemically derived, environmentally-damaging or are tested on animals.  I guess that’s all good stuff, but mainly, I just like it.

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I reached out to Mark Schultz, the Store Director at the Meijer on Beckley Road in Battle Creek, to find out why the toothpaste aisle is mainly red and blue.  He admitted that he doesn’t actually walk around the store ordering how the toothpaste will be displayed, but he said sometimes vendors will negotiate specific deals for shelf space in stores.  But he said it’s more likely it’s a company directive based on sales.   I looked it up, and sure enough, the top two companies are Crest and Colgate.

According to Statista, the top 10 toothpaste brands in 2019 were either made by Crest (Proctor & Gamble) or Colgate (Colgate-Palmolive) with one exception.   Sensodyne is made by GlaxoSmithKline.

An article from the Regained Wellness website talks about the “science” behind what you see in the toothpaste aisle.

“Top brand manufacturers pay big bucks to have their products displayed at eye level and stores charge slotting fees for these top positions.  So obviously that is where you will find recognized brands as shelf position is paramount. Up higher on the shelves are more expensive specialty items and down on the bottom shelves are the knock-off generic store brand products.  If you want something other than the name brand you will have to work for it by either reaching up or getting down low to search and supermarkets bank on your laziness to not do that.

RDH Magazine published an article that states “the markup on toothpaste is somewhere between 35 to 45 percent, resulting in a lot more profit on the sale than a package of frozen green beans.”

One thing I found out is that most people have different criteria for choosing a toothpaste than me.  The magazine offered some thoughts about what motivates people’s choices when it comes to their favorite paste.  “Years ago, marketing studies indicated that consumers like toothpaste that foams a lot and, as a result, brushed longer, thinking that the foaming action had a therapeutic benefit. Marketing gurus call this the "foaming dog effect."

The clerk at the register politely asked, as they always do, “Did you find everything?”   “Mostly,” I said, as I envisioned squeezing that old tube of Tom’s a few more times.

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