Why are there 7+ sizes of Colgate toothpaste?
March 28, 2011 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Why are there so many different odd sizes of toothpaste? Colgate comes in 4.0oz, 4.2oz, 5.8oz, 6.0oz, 6.4oz, 7.6oz and 7.8oz. And I don't know if my local Rite Aid even stocks all the options. Is it just so I can't easily compare the cost per ounce between the numerous varieties?

It's really annoying. Is there anyone who would not be served by 4oz, 6oz or 8oz tubes of toothpaste? Never mind the ridiculous variations (Whitening! Tartar Control! Anti-Gingivitus! Sensitive! Cavity Protection!) when the active ingredients are identical.

I'd also think from a manufacturing perspective it would be much cheaper and easier to have a few standard sizes of tube with different printing options.

These are enormous companies so I think this must be intentional based on some sort of research. What is it?
posted by reeddavid to Shopping (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it's about comparing price per oz. since most drugstores would have that info on the shelf tag.

Two possibilities come to mind:

1. They make it whatever size brings the price they want to charge line up with whatever price margin they want. Once they've decided to charge $1.89 they manufacture it in a size that makes $1.89 profitable.

2. I remember reading once that manufacturers will change the size of a product when they change the price in order to disguise the price change. THe article I remember was about diapers. The manufacturers made the packages include fewer diapers and lowered the cost *BUT* they lowered it less than the size of the package so the new price worked out more per diaper. It makes it less noticeable that the price went up. A history of this could explain odd sizes across brands.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:23 PM on March 28, 2011

Confusion! And to trick people into thinking toothpaste is exciting.

Remember back, oh, maybe 10-15 years ago when they came out with toothpaste in bottles like this? I don't know if you were a dumb little kid back then, but boy my brother and I sure were. We went apeshit over those things. They were new!! and different!! Who cares if it's the same old stuff inside the bottle, we want the pretty one.

Sure, it would make manufacturing sense to put everything in the same sized tube, but it wouldn't be interesting. Make your toothpaste look just a little bit different from your competitors', and you're going to sell more toothpaste.

As for keeping all the different sizes around simultaneously, that keeps people guessing about which one has the best price/oz. Toothpaste (and other health/beauty products) are pretty common loss leaders for supermarkets and drugstores, so the more you keep people on their toes about which one really is the better value, the more you stand to profit.
posted by phunniemee at 5:26 PM on March 28, 2011

How recently have you seen this and whereabouts do you live? I could be an effect of converting to metric from customary units when using new machines or those also used for export production. Some countries (such as mine) sell toothpaste by volume not weight, which could also make conversions iffy. Are the tubes dual-labeled?
posted by Jehan at 5:34 PM on March 28, 2011

The more products you can get on supermarket shelves, the less room there is for your competitors. (See also: Why are there five million different kinds of functionally identical toothpaste?)
posted by dismas at 5:34 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Jehan- I noticed this today in NYC and recently in Seattle. I had the same idea about metric conversions, but the sizes all convert to really odd quantities: 164g, 176g, 221g etc. But I'm not sure about the volume, that would be interesting to know.
posted by reeddavid at 5:42 PM on March 28, 2011

The conversion doesn't have to be exact (especially if there's not a legal obligation for dual-labeling) simply that the machines are set up to produce metric quantities. For reasons of cost the producer might just leave things as they are and print a label that states an amount within the allowed bounds. The 7+ varieties could perhaps come from two different sources: domestic and imports. I don't know if this is the answer, however.

(Did you really see that many in one store? Big chains like Rite Aid will use planograms drawn up centrally making sure that every centimeter is used efficiently. Unless there really is some good reason for so many different sizes, it doesn't seem like something they would allow. For a data point, most stores here carry two or possibly three different sizes of the same brand of toothpaste, and we have unit pricing showing cost per g/ml.)
posted by Jehan at 6:09 PM on March 28, 2011

I'm inclined to say that this is a "throw all the stuff at the wall and see what sticks" thing. Also, between licensing deals, multiple distribution channels, regional differentiation, acquisition and conversion of competition, and competing teams or divisions within the company, it shouldn't come as a surprise that it doesn't look like there's a coherent plan at work.

(Big distributors of this kind of product also rely a lot on local retailers to tell them what to send. Chances are your local store also lacks a plan beyond "buy one case of each, and keep it on the shelves till it runs low."
posted by SMPA at 6:10 PM on March 28, 2011

I hear this is an effect of Walmart pressure.

Say you sell a widget at Walmart for $10. Every year or so, Walmart will put pressure on you to reduce that price. They want it for $9.50 next year, and $8.99 the following year, etc. If you don't do it, your competition will.

The toothpaste (and toothbrush) companies get around this by "improving" their product every year, so it's not the same as last year. So when Walmart comes calling and insisting that Aquafresh be reduced in price by 10%, the response can be that the product is now "Aquafresh Ultra" or whatever.

Of course, I don't know if this is true or not, but there does seem to be a new and improved toothpaste, toothbrush, and deodorant all the time.

Makes me feel like the toothbrush I used 10 years ago must have really sucked.
posted by MiG at 6:12 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: MiG- I like your theory of the Wal-Mart effect. I've read about their zero-sum game supplier price negotiations. This is actually an ingenious way around their tactics. So that is why every year when it's time to buy 6 more sticks of deodorant I can't find the one I liked?

Jehan- I really saw all those sizes in one Rite Aid. And I only included the standard tube shape, not the special form factors. I've also seen the same number of different sizes in Target as well as Kroger-owned QFC.
posted by reeddavid at 6:44 PM on March 28, 2011

I don't think it's exactly an ingenious way around Wal-mart's tactics. As I understand it, Wal-mart will ask you to either lower your price, or offer an improved product for the same price. Perhaps someone knowledgeable in supply-chain management can clarify this. - aj
posted by Alaska Jack at 6:46 PM on March 28, 2011

Another thought is that it could simply be a temporary test program. Maybe Acme offers a number of different anvils in different regional markets, just to see which ones consumers choose. Following that, they simplify their product lines. But again, just a guess. - aj
posted by Alaska Jack at 6:48 PM on March 28, 2011

I'll bet it's a volume vs. density thing. They'll have a standard sized tube that they put all the different toothpastes into, but all the different toothpastes have different formulations, and therefore different densities, and therefore different weights.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:12 PM on March 28, 2011

Totally about shelf space and slotting fees.
The more shelf space a manufacturer has the more product they sell. The more products they have the more shelf space they can buy.
Small manufacturers, or those that can't pay the fierce prices, get less space or pushed out entirely.
posted by artdrectr at 8:03 PM on March 28, 2011

Response by poster: artdrectr- I had heard of pay-for-play shelf space, but slotting fees was just the keyword needed. Thanks.

But wouldn't the multiple varieties be sufficient to dominate shelf space? Why so many sizes? It appeared that each variety had its own size.
posted by reeddavid at 8:53 PM on March 28, 2011

You'd be surprised how fractured some manufacturers' operations are. There may be half a dozen factories, each one making one or two sizes because of historical or other reasons. For instance, factory #1 was converted from making an obsolete toothpaste that came in size #1. Factory #2 usually makes for export, where they demand size #2. Factory #3 makes the two sizes that used to fit in the old shipping container. And so on. Why don't they standardise the sizes? Because it would cost a lot to convert all the machines and there really are some customers who prefer particular sizes. At least, that's what the salespeople say, and they also say they don't want to give the customers a reason to re-think their purchasing decisions or buy fewer units.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:54 PM on March 28, 2011

I believe it's exactly for the reasons you find annoying. You cannot compare apples with apples. Which is why Australia introduced the standard unit weight information. Each item shows its price eg Tomatoes $5 per 2 kilo bag, PLUS a per unit weight detail, so $2.50 per kilo. (yeah, that one was EASY, the toothpaste, not so much).

So as a consumer you pick up X brand at $5 per 200 inches, and Y brand at $2.50 per 5 kilos and you say, huh? which is cheaper? I can't do the math. I'll have to make my decision on other unique* selling points - which toothpase will make my teeth white OR last longer OR more appealing to dentists of the opposite sex. Do note, NOBODY makes a toothpaste that does all these things because then, their other toothpastedly products would be obsolete.

I'm reminded of the cuteness of the Gruen Transfer (Australia docu-comedy) when one of the regulars (an advertising exec) pointed out that X brand of painkiller now came in a fast version. WTF would you buy the slow one? You want to take your time in getting rid of your headache? And yet X was competing with itself and encouraging it's consumers to buy both the original (and goodest) and the new (and fastest) versions of its painkillers.

*irony or marking, I can't remember which
posted by b33j at 1:53 AM on March 29, 2011

All of those different sizes probably aren't for the same formulation of Colgate. There's plain old Colgate tooth paste, gel, gel with whitener, paste/gel mix, gel with sparkles, etc. etc. Each of those different formulations have unique production costs as they add features. I suspect the different sizes are an attempt to hit the same (or similar) price point across the various formulations.

At least that's my early-morning-after-one-coffee thinking.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:44 AM on March 29, 2011

A possibility is that a premium brand could be cost competitive with a lower end brand by offering a smaller package at the same price point, although it'd have a higher unit cost.
posted by electroboy at 6:20 AM on March 29, 2011

Best answer: As fate would have it, Mrs. Primate was the VP of all global package design for all Colgate toothpaste for many years.

She said, there are two drivers to tube size: one, variation so that individual retail outlets can match price vs their local demand for a particular size when putting toothpaste on sale and two, an upper limit on tube size so that if someone were to eat the entire tube, they wouldn't become seriously ill (toothpaste is subject to the same FDA compliance guidelines as drugs and biologics). Shelf space is not a factor, nor is the extrusion fabrication process.

She's left this this job over four years ago, so YMMV, but knowing Colgate, absolutely nothing has changed.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:12 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: digitalprimate- thanks for the inside scoop!
posted by reeddavid at 7:25 PM on March 29, 2011

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