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South Korea Health Toothpaste Market

Local brands, including 2080 and Perioe, have dominated the Korean toothpaste market, making it challenging for global market leaders such as Aquafresh, Colgate, and Crest to gain popularity in Korea. However, the fact that some foreign brands, such as Capitano, Dentiste, Euthymol, Marvis, Red Seal, etc., have succeeded in the premium toothpaste market segment over the past couple of years suggests a changing landscape. The key to success for those foreign toothpaste brands was localization, which some global brands have struggled with in the past.  Let’s examine the specific strategies employed by these successful premium toothpastes in Korea. 

Localized formula

Toothpaste is a quasi-drug that must meet specific criteria for safety and efficacy for oral health. Getting product approval for toothpastes containing new ingredients without usage history in Korea and for those containing generally used ingredients with different amounts allowed by the Administrative Rules by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) is challenging. Animal testing is mandated for new ingredients and new concentration levels for generally used ingredients. MFDS requires toothpaste manufacturers and importers to submit extensive supporting documents, often taking over a year to complete.  Korean consumers tend to favor toothpastes containing preservatives like sodium benzoate, as these agents help prevent mold growth and provide a sense of safety.  In addition, consumers also seek products free from certain known to be harmful ingredients, such as paraben, as they are sensitive to what they put in their mouths, especially when seeking children’s toothpaste.  In order to expedite their product launch and meet Korean consumers’ needs, some foreign toothpastes adjusted their formulas for the Korean market. Others have licensed their brands to Korean manufacturers, enabling Korean companies to produce versions tailored to market needs.  LG Household & Health Care, a Korean conglomerate, acquired Euthymol from Johnson & Johnson to manufacture its own formula products easily and expedite launches in Korea.

Localized product packaging

It is common for Koreans to brush their teeth after lunch, so Koreans often carry their toothbrush and toothpaste sets or have additional sets at their schools and workplaces. Even if consumers use mass market toothpastes at home, they prefer premium toothpaste at schools and workplaces. For better portability, premium toothpastes are focused on travel size. Some foreign brands also had to revamp their packaging to better appeal to Korean aesthetic preferences and convenience needs based on market research. Packaging preferences include wide caps that allow tubs to stand upright and save basin space, as well as an additional layer of packaging to ensure product integrity upon purchase.

Localized positioning

While Korean buyers are willing to pay a premium for products that offer additional benefits, simply adding natural ingredients is not enough to stand out.  Local natural ingredients, such as bamboo salt, have been dominating the Korean market for a long time, so Korean consumers are not easily swayed by natural ingredients like consumers in other markets. In order to differentiate themselves from competitors, some successful sellers have positioned themselves as cute and fashionable items to carry in handbags and decorate bathrooms, allowing them to expand into other bathroom products. Others staked claims as leaders in specific benefits like whitening, protecting sensitive teeth, and remedying bad breath. In Korea’s fierce market, it was important for toothpaste companies to be the first mover to acquire distinct positions to win.

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Ms. Jinjoo Lee, Author of this report
Senior Commercial Specialist