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MARKETING

Will Customers Buy Cocoa-Based Toothpaste?
 

A fancy new product argues that cocoa is better at rebuilding tooth enamel. Whole Foods bought--but will consumers?

Anthony Verde

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Arman Sadeghpour has given chocolate lovers a new reason to smile. Theodent, the company he co-founded, makes toothpaste derived from the cocoa bean. The product stems from Sadeghpour's doctoral research, which suggests that cocoa extract is more effective for rebuilding tooth enamel than is fluoride, and it is completely nontoxic. "This is a natural alternative to fluoride," says Sadeghpour.

Theodent Classic sells for $9.99 and is available in 171 Whole Foods stores. A much pricier, extra-strength version, Theodent 300, sells for $99.99 on the company's website.

Theodent has faced some difficulties in conveying the benefits of cocoa to consumers, as well as explaining that it doesn't actually taste like chocolate--it comes in a "crystal mint" flavor. Given Theodent's lean sales force, how should the company get customers on board?

We asked four entrepreneurs to weigh in.

Enlist some help

Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt's Bees, a Durham, North Carolina-based maker of natural personal care products

Theodent will have to make the point that cocoa-based toothpaste is good for your teeth. If the company doesn't have the sales staff to do that through in-store demos, it should use workers that supermarkets hire on a contractual basis. At Burt's Bees, we would have training sessions with the store's staff members and offer breakfast and goody bags while showing them how to sell the product. People will ask, for example, "Why is the price so high?" Train the salespeople with answers for those objections.

Target celebrities

Lisa Price, founder of Carol's Daughter, a New York City-based natural beauty products company

For high-end products like Theodent, it might be effective to get a celebrity spokesperson. Because that can be so expensive, it would be easier to get the product into influential people's hands. One way to do this is to partner with a company that does gift bags or gifting suites for events. A celebrity might use it and say something nice about it in a beauty magazine. A good PR firm could help with that, and it's less expensive than paying for a spokesperson.

Offer trial sizes

Bob Burke, principal at Natural Products Consulting, an Andover, Massachusetts-based natural products consulting firm

Ten dollars is pretty steep for something people consume so frequently. If customers are unsure about gambling $10 on toothpaste, they will be more inclined to purchase a trial size for $3 or try a small free sample. There's also an expectation gap-the customer is probably looking at the packaging and assuming it tastes like chocolate. Because chocolate has gotten so much press for being a good antioxidant, it might be a good idea to offer a chocolate flavor.

Highlight your values

Tom Chappell, co-founder of Tom's of Maine, a Kennebunk, Maine-based maker of natural personal care products

It's important that customers see on the product's packaging any information that supports Theodent's claims about cocoa. With that said, those claims are subject to Food and Drug Administration restrictions. If the company can't support them yet, it can still market the product to natural consumers, who consider things such as preservatives, nutrition, and eco-friendliness. Those are all good things to incorporate in the packaging.

Feedback on the Feedback

Sadeghpour likes most of the suggestions. The idea of using contract workers for in-store demos is particularly appealing, as one of Theodent's challenges has been expanding its sales force since its deal with Whole Foods.

He also likes the gift-bag strategy. It's not the Academy Awards, but Theodent 300, the company's $100 offering, will be included in gift bags at an upcoming gala for a nonprofit organization founded by celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz.

Sadeghpour adds that Theodent is filing papers this year for FDA approval, which will allow the company to include more information on the packaging. However, don't expect him to change any of the packaging. "It's a revolutionary new toothpaste," he says. "It's made to look like it's something that's never been done before."

The company also plans to offer less expensive product samples at the registers in Whole Foods and hopes to release a chocolate-flavored toothpaste by the end of the year.

Last updated: May 1, 2012

J.J. MCCORVEY is a reporter at Inc. magazine, where he covers a wide range of topics, including technology and business research. He has covered metro news for The Detroit News, and his work has been featured in Men's Fitness.
@jmccorvey




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