In the early 1980s, Unilever executives learned consumers were concocting their own blends of baking soda and peroxide at the recommendation of dentists. That was the beginning of Mentadent.
However, finding a way to package baking soda, peroxide and fluoride-they lose shelf stability when mixed together-wasn't easy. Unilever's Chesebrough-Pond's unit got on the case, and in 1991 R&D came up with the oversized dual-pump system that is a hallmark of Mentadent. The solution was to keep the baking soda and peroxide separate until they pop out of the pump.
Then came marketing. As VP-Marketing Bill Ecker, 37, cautiously notes: "It was a good idea but it's a tough market."
Under Mr. Ecker and Category Manager Gary Fraser, Mentadent grew to a $60 million brand in the four months following its October 1993 launch. And industry observers project $100 million in sales by the end of 1994.
The sales pace has given the brand a 9.5% market share in recent months.
The team knew it had a winner in test marketing. Mr. Ecker discovered the brand's somewhat premium pricing-$1.94 for 3.5-ounces and $2.49 for 4.5-ounces-was no obstacle to sales. Mentadent went into two other test markets with a 40% price increase, or $2.99 for 3.5 ounces and $3.49 for 5.2 ounces, and even in an everyday low-pricing environment the brand kept growing.
Mr. Ecker credits Mentadent's fresh taste sensation, a result of the explosion of oxygen bubbles when the baking soda and peroxide finally meet. It gets a high degree of consumer loyalty that's made trial through sampling and couponing an integral part of the $60 million introductory marketing support.
"It's just a question of getting Mentadent into people's hands," Mr. Ecker says.