Does the plethora of new progressive products help or hinder the market?
That depends on the dispenser.
by Brian Dunleavy
Looking for a progressive lens for a presbyopic patient? A quick look at the Lenses Product Guide published by Frames Data (Jobson Publishing) shows this is hardly an easy decision for today’s dispensers. The guide lists more than 350 variations of progressive designs and brands.
At 23.3 percent of overall lens sales, according to the Jobson Optical Group Database, progressives still lag behind traditional multifocals (24.5 percent). But with presbyopes representing the largest potential eyeglass-wearing population, nearly every lens manufacturer has ensured itself a piece of the pie by developing at least one entry—actually, several entries in most cases—in the progressive market.
A look at the numbers shows why. According to the Jobson Optical Group Database, sales of progressives increased from 2000 to 2001, continuing an upward trend started in 1997. Since that time progressive sales have increased by almost 10 percent. Conversely, sales of bifocals and trifocals, according to Jobson, have declined by 16.5 percent from 1997 to 2001.
Statistics provided by Vision Service Plan (VSP), the largest third-party managed vision care provider in the U.S., demonstrate an even more profound market movement. In 1993, progressives accounted for only 11 percent of the lens products requested by VSP customers. Last year, that number was up to nearly 25 percent.
In speaking with the people who work closely with both lens designs and the dispensers who sell them—wholesale lab executives—however, the problem isn’t the ongoing proliferation of new products per sé, but the refusal by some manufacturers to phase out the older lens lines they replace. The result, they say, is a crowded and confused marketplace—one that includes some of the most important innovations in the history of optical as well as a troubling deficiency in knowledge about them at the dispensary—and, in turn, consumer—level.
“Every lens manufacturer is trying to get their piece of the progressive market and is reluctant to discontinue a design for fear of losing an optician customer committed to that design,” says one wholesale lab executive. “As a result, in my opinion, there are too many progressive products on the market. I can’t imagine that many of the hundred-or-so designs are actually making an impact on the market.”
Of course, lens manufacturers would argue they aren’t just introducing progressive products for the sake of simply bringing something new to market. Research has shown companies have improved upon progressive design and performance significantly in recent years, reducing many of the peripheral distortions that resulted in patient non-adapts with earlier generations of the product. In addition, specialty progressive products—such as “occupational” progressives (see “In the Lens Lab,” page 100), “short-corridor” progressives for smaller frame sizes and “active-wear” progressives with less distortion in the periphery—have successfully adapted progressive technology for new wearer populations. Progressive offerings also come in a full range of materials, with any number of add-ons.
“Some manufacturers have just changed their marketing story or branding, but others have actually redesigned their lenses,” says one lab executive. “There have been several important innovations in recent years, such as short-corridor progressives, occupational lenses for specific tasks and the overall high performance of newer, softer designs.”
Indeed, for the most part, lab executives and dispensers alike applaud manufacturers’ abilities to react to a changing progressive market and develop functional applications for their products. They also see it as a sign of things to come. One development they are anxiously awaiting is the introduction of computer imaging technologies designed to allow labs and other lens processing facilities to match the specific visual needs of individual patients. Most lens manufacturers have systems such as these in development. Some have versions of them in use.
“I believe that is by far the most important development,” says one lab executive. “Designers now have the ability to use recently developed software programs that create the virtual reproduction of vision at various distances. The information can then be converted into manufacturing data, yielding efficient progressive powers over the entire surface of the lens.”
Unfortunately, however, it seems more has been less in some cases. Because of fears that phasing out older designs will cost them customers, many lens manufacturers have a plethora of progressive brands available, with a lot of duplication in function as well as in features and benefits. With dozens of progressives flooding inventory at the lab level (some labs say they offer as many as 80 designs or more), there is a definite “information overload” within the industry.
“As nebulas as it may sound, most professionals gravitate toward those products they perceive offer ease-of-fit, ease-of-adaptation and relative value in a broad range of materials,” adds another. “This perception can also be influenced by a re-enforcing incentive—such as promotional or marketing programs. As a lab, we have to carry a lot of different designs, because we want to be able to address all of our customers’ patients. But there’s not enough discussion at the dispensary level about the differences between designs. One lens does not fit all.”
The solution lab executives offer sounds familiar: education. With so many different progressives on the market, dispensers have an increased responsibility to research all of the available products and pick several brands and designs to meet the needs and wants of their patient bases. Issues to consider include: design, material availability, treatment availability, price selection and ease of fit. Manufacturers may be guilty of muddling the marketplace, but they have also armed dispensers with an arsenal of products that should, ultimately, make it easier for them to move patients away from traditional multifocals and into premium progressive designs.
“It’s a big market with lots of niches for price, availability, private labeling and so on,” says a lab executive. “It’s up to the dispenser to sort through those options and find the best ones for them. If they can cut through the confusion, it’s to their benefit.”
the lens list
PENTAX INTROS SHORT-CORRIDOR PAL Pentax is expanding its short corridor progressive lens line with the introduction of the DC (Diamond Clear) Mini. Designed for small frames, the aspheric DC Mini features a minimum fitting height of 17mm. The lens combines an “ultraclear” polycarbonate resin with a “super tough” hardcoat to meet the needs of the most active patients, according to the company. The DC Mini is available in an Rx range of +7.25D to –7.50D out to a –4.00D cylinder in add powers of +1.00D to +3.00D. The lens is available in either hardcoat, or hardcoat with Surpass A-R and EasyClean.
PRIO RELEASES ZEISS-DESIGNED COMPUTER LENS PRIO has released a new lens for computer users—the PRIO Browser. Designed by Zeiss, the Browser is an aspheric variable focus lens optimized for computer and intermediate use. PRIO will be the exclusive U.S. distributor of the Zeiss lens. The lens has been sold in Germany since 1997. The PRIO Browser has been optimized for near and intermediate vision through special adaptation of the asphere and the base curves.
SHAMIR RELEASES PICCOLO IN TRANSITIONS NEXT GENERATION Shamir Insight has expanded its Piccolo short-corridor progressive line to include Next Generation Transitions gray. The lens is available in base curves of 1.5, 3, 5, 6.5 and 7.5, with an add range of +0.75D to +3.50D.
YOUNGER OPTICS INTRODUCES NEXT GENERATION TRANSITIONS Younger Optics has introduced Next Generation Transitions in several of its product lines. The technology will be available in both gray and brown conventional plastic (1.50-index). Younger will release the product in semi-finished single-vision, flat-top 28, flat-top 35, trifocal 7x28, trifocal 8x35 (in gray only), Image progressive and finished single-vision (in June).
KBCO RELEASES TWO NEW LENSES Kbco has released two new lens products designed to accommodate minus and plus prescriptions for the increasingly popular 8-base wrap frames. The 8-base plastic plano is available in a 74mm diameter and the semi-finished is available in both 70mm and 76mm diameters. The lenses can accommodate prescriptions ranging from +5.00D to a –4.00D. These new lenses are available in gray, brown, gray, Apple Green, Sky Blue, yellow and Hi-Contrast Amber. The 8-base semi-finished glass polarized lenses are available in a 70mm blank. The prescription range in glass is from +2.00D to –3.00D. Colors available are gray, brown, Mira Pol Blue (blue mirror with a gray polarized film) and Mira Pol Green (green mirror with a brown polarized film).
ESSILOR EXPANDS 1.67 Essilor Lenses has introduced single-vision 1.67-index Thin & Lite plastic lenses in Crizal. The lenses are available in an aspheric design with a range of +8.00D to –13.00D, out to a –4.00D cylinder. The lens has 1.1mm minimum center thickness. It is available only through an authorized Crizal distributor.
SIGNET EXPANDS SUNSENSORS OFFERINGS Signet Armorlite has released three new Corning SunSensors lenses in Kodak single-vision aspheric, Kodak flat-top 28 aspheric and Navigator short-corridor progressive. All three lenses are made of 1.56-index plastic. The single-vision aspheric is available in a prescription range of +9.50D to –13.00D. The flat-top aspheric is available in an Rx range of +9.50D to –13.00D, with add powers from +1.00D to +3.00D in 0.25D steps. The Navigator Short progressive features a 14mm corridor designed to fit small fashion frames to a minimum fit height of 17mm. The Navigator Short comes in a power range of +5.00D to –6.25D, with adds of +1.00D to +3.00D in 0.25D steps.
AOSOLA LAUNCHES B’ACTIVE IN TRANSITIONS GREEN AOSola has introduced B’Active, its progressive lens with an expanded “active viewing zone” for active wearers, in Transitions Green. The lens is available in 1.50-index plastic in an Rx range of +5.00D to –9.00D out to a –4.00D cylinder, with add powers of +1.00D to +3.50D (excluding +3.25D) in 0.25D steps.
ESSILOR INTROS NEXT GEN TRANSITIONS Essilor Lenses has released Next Generation Transitions (Essilor Transitions NG) gray 1.50 lenses in Varilux Panamic, Essilor Natural, semi-finished single-vision and straight-top bifocal. All of the new Essilor Transitions NG products are available with the Crizal anti-reflective coating. Next Generation Transitions can be ordered through VisionWeb. In addition, the lenses in Varilux Panamic can be ordered through authorized Varilux and Crizal distributors. The others can be ordered through all optical laboratories.