Doing Double Time With Disposable Diapers

By Karen Bitz McIntyre | January 10, 2008

My dual roles as the editor of this magazine and a mother of two children causes me to spend a lot of time thinking about disposable diapers. Not only how they perform but also why they perform the way they do and which products give the best bang for the buck. This month, as we worked on our annual look at the disposable baby diaper market (see page 24), I decided to put my two girls to good use, as test subjects for a number of different kinds of diapers.

For this project, I tested diapers ranging from the value private label to premium-positioned store brands to value national brands to premium branded products in two sizes—size two for my four-month-old and size four for my two-year-old. The results opened my eyes on both a personal and professional level.

For my four-month-old, who usually wears premium store brand diapers like Huggies Supreme of Pampers Swaddlers, I found that all of the products used achieved satisfactory levels of absorbency but in some cases leakage was a concern. Additionally, few brands were able to match the aesthetics of the premium brands in terms of softness and tactile feel. On my two-year-old, however, aesthetics are not as much of a concern, and I felt that the private label brands generally did as good a job as the store brands in terms of absorbency. As for fit, the private label brands, although they tout stretchability as a key feature on their packaging, did not offer as many bells and whistles as the store brands, but overall they were satisfactory.

According to my sources who work closely with disposable diapers, my findings were not that much of a surprise. The private label market continues to add elasticity and other features to compete with the national store brands, but achieving the same level of performance in this area has been challenged by both intellectual property and cost pressures (see Stretching Sales on page 38). This could change in the near term, however, as new private label capacity comes onstream and manufacturers and their suppliers work harder to mimic these attributes without violating patents. While, this could create continued cost pressures throughout the diaper supply chain, it will mean a win-win for consumers, like me, who want to get as much value as possible from the dollars they spend on diapers.

Karen Bitz McIntyre