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Just a tube of toothpaste or a teller of tumultuous times?

At the end of a long day, your thoughts might naturally drift towards saving on utility bills or dining expenses. Yet, as you squeeze out the final traces of toothpaste from the tube, you might not realize that even achieving a shiny smile can be a bit pricey. In an era of skyrocketing prices, it seems that inflation spares no good or service.

The Cost of Living Index (COLI) measures prices across six different categories: groceries, transportation, housing, healthcare, utilities, and miscellaneous goods and services. The price for a 6-6.4 oz tube of Crest or Colgate toothpaste resides within the miscellaneous category. According to the most recent COLI data, the average price of toothpaste significantly increased year-over-year by 45%, jumping from $2.71 to $3.92 in Q3 2023. Among the responsible for this rise, are notorious cities for their high cost of living, with San Francisco CA and New York City (Manhattan) NY reporting $4.99 and $4.70 respectively, followed by cities in Alaska, Idaho, and Montana. Meanwhile, a handful of Washington cities maintain the cheapest toothpaste priced at $2.44 —although still higher than the Q1 2022 average of $2.38. The last quarter, Q2 2023, saw the average toothpaste price hitting a record peak at $4.04, marking a slight decline from July to April. Whether this signals a brief pause, or the initiation of a more prolonged downward trajectory has yet to be determined.

When looking at other consumer purchases in personal hygiene, price hikes appear less momentous. Year-over-year price increases for shampoo (19%), a haircut (11%), and a visit to the beauty salon (4%) were low to moderate. So, what sets toothpaste apart, subjecting it to such pronounced price surges? Supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic and potentially recent geopolitical conflicts are the usual suspects for price hikes for goods. This helps explain the moderate increase in shampoo prices and the notably lower increases for services like haircuts and beauty salon visits. Nonetheless, the extreme inflation of toothpaste prices is perplexing. Given unique global circumstance, numerous factors could be fueling the increase. According to Global Market Watch, consumer awareness of health and wellness has become a larger driver of demand. Additionally, industry leaders are making substantial investments in sustainable and more efficient production. In fact, major retailers are already witnessing these innovations take form in their stores. For example, Colgate and Crest have introduced enhanced options priced at $10 and above on the shelves.

Markets are navigating a dynamic terrain shaped by a confluence of external forces, where the cost of a tube of toothpaste serves as a small, yet significant reflection of this landscape. As inflation looks to settle, the evolution of the cost of living becomes a point for further observation. To dig into the data or learn how your organization can become a data collection participant for the Cost of Living Index visit coli.org.