MENTADENT TOOTHBRUSH GETS $26M LAUNCH

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Chesebrough-Pond's is putting $26 million behind the Mentadent Oral Care Brush even as its toothpaste forebear comes under Food & Drug Administration scrutiny.

Late last year, an FDA advisory committee held a two-day hearing questioning data supporting the longheld belief that sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen peroxide promote gum health.

Further, a Canadian government official last month testified before the FDA on that country's prohibition of long-term use of baking soda with hydrogen peroxide. The government contends the combined ingredients can cause cancer in animals; there is no evidence the same holds true in humans.

Against this backdrop, Unilever's Chesebrough is now rolling out its Mentadent toothbrush, part of its plan to extend the successful toothpaste brand into an oral-care system. Chesebrough could use some help in the toothbrush category, where its share is currently less than 1%.

Mentadent's toothbrush is aimed squarely at the super-premium segment, which accounts for 54.1% of the category's $522 million in sales, according to the brand's retail sales materials. It will compete against Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest Complete as well as Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Total, formerly called Precision.

The Mentadent toothbrush boasts a high tech design and bristles that claim to massage and stimulate gums during brushing, selling points played up in advertising from Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York.

The $10 million promotional budget will include cross couponing with Mentadent toothpaste, which now has a 13% share of the $1.5 billion dentifrice category, according to industry estimates. That compares with 29% for Crest, down from a 34% share in 1993, and 22.4% for Colgate, down from 24%.

Colgate markets a baking soda and peroxide toothpaste though P&G doesn't, having instead introduced nationally this summer Crest Gum Care, a stannous fluoride-based product that claims to reduce gingivitis associated with plaque.

P&G has been highly critical of baking soda and peroxide toothpastes since Mentadent's introduction in 1994, though the American Dental Association endorses their use.

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