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NEW ORLEANS-Health & beauty-care marketers are growing a bit weary of the industry's focus on cost efficiencies.

Efficient Consumer Response, category management and other efforts to streamline operations were certainly discussed at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores' eighth annual Marketplace Conference held here last week. But retailer and manufacturer pleasure about the chance to talk about something else-new products-was palpable in several days of meeting and greeting.

"Of course, the work we are doing to reduce costs is important," said Jack Futterman, chairman-CEO of Pathmark Stores, Woodbridge, N.J. "But let's never forget that our ultimate objective is to sell merchandise .*.*. We should never relegate ourselves to being just cost engineers."

Buyers and sellers throughout the show widely echoed the sentiment. Even an executive from Procter & Gamble Co.-leader of the move to value pricing-took pleasure in focusing on marketing.

"We're looking to push our health & beauty care real hard right now, and it's great to be down here just talking product," she said.

Drugstore chains' marketing expertise was highlighted in an industry review by Towne-Oller & Associates, New York, presented at the show. Despite growing competition from supermarkets and other classes of trade, drugstores remain the dominant retail outlet for health & beauty care, generating more than 42% of total dollar sales.

Drugstore chains consistently outperform other retailers in the key growth areas of new products and prescription to over-the-counter switches, the study said.

Anil Jagtiani, a partner with Marketing Corporation of America, Westport, Conn., noted his consultancy's research shows more and more drugstore chains are planning lower everyday prices and fewer price promotions.

"That is prompting a need for more creative merchandising," he said. "How do stores create excitement? Efficiency is the key to staying in the game, but marketing is the key to winning."

Among new products that got retailers' marketing imaginations going were several contraceptive entries.

London International, Sarasota, Fla., maker of Ramses condoms, starts shipping Avanti Duron in October. The first polyurethane condom, Avanti is said to be thinner, and thus more pleasurable, than anything on the market. McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, will handle the ad campaign, possibly including TV, that's to begin in 1995.

Lake Pharmaceutical, Vernon Hills, Ill., in September introduces Advantage 24, the first 24-hour spermicide to hit the market. A "heavy" print campaign, handled in-house, starts in October.

Wisconsin Pharmacal, Chicago, maker of the first female condom, Reality, had no booth at the show, but retailers were talking about the product anyway. Last week, the company announced the appointment of Barbara L. Kriegsmann as its first VP-marketing and McAdams Consumer Healthcare Advertising, New York, as agency for the product's retail launch next month.

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