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Church & Dwight's Arm & Hammer is ready to field a peroxide toothpaste to take on Unilever's highly successful Mentadent.

Industry executives believe other major marketers aren't far behind. Colgate-Palmolive Co. is also working on a peroxide variant as it seeks to boost hard-hit toothpaste share that has fallen as much as 3 points since Mentadent's national introduction last fall.

Smaller marketers have already entered the fray, with Den-Mat Corp. announcing a peroxide version of Rembrandt whitening toothpaste earlier this year. Now CCA Industries, marketer of Plus+White, is coming out with Triplex, a microencapsulated baking soda, peroxide and fluoride entry, that unlike Mentadent comes in a tube, not a pump.

But Arm & Hammer's peroxide entry, expected to reach stores later this year, is expected to be much larger, taking up the lion's share of the brand's $15 million in dentifrice spending handled by Partners & Shevack, New York.

For the year ended Feb. 19, Mentadent built up a 4% market share, according to Nielsen Marketing Research. In the first three months of this year, its share has continued skyward, hitting 10.3%.

Arm & Hammer baking soda toothpaste posted a 15.7% decline in sales for the same 52 weeks. However, overall share stayed roughly even at 9.2%, thanks to last year's introduction of a tartar control variety.

Colgate was hit harder. Through the 52 weeks ended Feb. 19, Colgate's share fell to 20% from 20.5%. In the first few months of this year, industry executives said, that share has eroded further, by about 2 more points.

Colgate is in the midst of introducing a reformulated Colgate Tartar Control with $35 million in marketing support that includes TV commercials breaking this month from Young & Rubicam. The marketer is said to have told some retail accounts to save space for another introduction later this year.

Oral care "is the mother lode for Colgate," said one industry executive. "They have to do something."

The executive speculated Colgate may also try to introduce its global triclosan-based toothpaste Total in the U.S. without making any ingredient claims for the antibacterial agent. Those claims are still under review by the Food & Drug Administration.

A Colgate spokesman wouldn't comment, though another executive at the company scoffed at the notion while acknowledging a peroxide product is in development.

In the meantime, Mentadent, marketed by Unilever's Chesebrough-Pond's unit, will, as expected, add a tartar control version later this year. Additional extensions in oral care, including a mouthwash, are likely.

Warner-Lambert Co.'s Listerine, the leading U.S. mouthwash, is also said to be looking at oral-care extensions, with plans to test a Listerine Cool Mint toothpaste in Canada. A Warner-Lambert spokesman wouldn't comment.

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