Toothpaste hasn’t exactly been a hot consumer product category for newcomers. Though oral care is a $40 billion global category, in the U.S. it’s long been dominated by three big brands: Colgate (Colgate-Palmolive), Crest (Procter & Gamble) and Sensodyne (GlaxoSmithKline). Craig Dubitsky, cofounder of lip balm maker Eos Products and an early investor in Method cleaning products, isn’t one to let that bother him. Walking down the aisle of a drugstore in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York five years ago, he recalls being stunned by the product packaging. “I remember seeing extracted teeth on all these products, and going, ‘That is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,’” he says.
So Dubitsky, 52, started his own toothpaste brand, which he named Hello Products, a goofy name meant to sound joyful rather than scary or medicinal. His goal: a natural formulation that didn’t use triclosan, an antibacterial chemical that had been banned from soaps by the FDA, or saccharin, but tasted good. Plus product packaging that was minimalist and beautiful. “The idea was to take a commodity, and turn it into something desirable,” he says. Call it taking a page from the Harry’s shaving playbook – or from his own past experience at Method and Eos.
Today, he says, Montclair, N.J.-based Hello Products is the number two natural brand in oral care, behind Tom’s of Maine (acquired by Colgate-Palmolive in 2006 for around $100 million), though it’s still a speck compared to the three giants. Dubitsky expects revenue to top $20 million this year.
So how exactly do you take a commodity and turn it into something consumers want?
For Dubitsky, the start was the formulation. He wanted to take out the problematic ingredients, but also come up with something different. Toothpaste is a tough thing to manufacture, and factories are required to have FDA approval. Dubitsky makes all of Hello Products’ oral care in the United States. “I’ve been at this stuff for awhile, and I know manufacturers. I tell them, ‘If you have a crazy idea, some wild new thing, we should be your first call,’” he says. “It’s a hard thing to actually make.”
Hello’s toothpastes – which come in both fluoride and non-fluoride versions – don’t use any dyes, artificial flavors, microbeads, parabens or glutens. Its adult toothpastes include an activated charcoal, fluoride-free, whitening one with fresh mint and coconut oil (in a minimalist black tube with white lettering, for $5.99), while a toddler version comes in organic apple. He says that new products are in the works that could include other oral care items; he’s already launched mouthwash, but doesn’t have floss.