Adult Incontinence Soaks Up Sales

August 17, 2005

the aging population has boosted this absorbent market segment

At one time adult incontinence was a taboo subject and sufferers were forced to keep their conditions a secret. But, with an estimated 13 million adults, or 5% of the total U.S. population afflicted with some type of incontinence, this disorder has become more accepted by the general public. Likewise adult incontinence has become a stronger focus of nonwoven producers hoping to catch a share of this growing market. As the population continues to age, there will no doubt be more consumers of adult incontinence products to propel this category even further.

“Baby boomers are entering the 50-plus age group, in fact, every eight seconds, one of the 78 million baby boomers turns 50, a total of 1000 a day,” said Mary Pat O’Connor, product manager, adult care marketing, Kimberly-Clark, Dallas, TX. “Seniors are more active and youthful than ever before. They want (adult incontinence) products to meet their needs and support their dignity. Discretion and effective protection are key attributes that consumers want.”

The U.S. adult incontinence retail market grew 3.1% to reach $594 million in 2000, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, IL. This figure does not reflect institutional sales to hospitals and nursing homes, which are a strong segment of the adult incontinence market. With a 52.4% share, K-C is the undisputed leader of the retail side of the market. In fact, some segment watchers credit K-C with bringing the category mainstream and lifting taboos often associated with incontinence through its ad campaigns for its “Depend” product range.

Such is the case with all consumer product categories, product demand and consumer growth have predicated new technologies and product forms in the adult incontinence segment. Manufacturers are vying to reach their potential customers by attaching claims of superabsorbency, comfort and discretion to their products. These product forms range from absorbent undergarments for severe conditions to panty shields for more mild incontinence disorders.

“Through our consumer research we know that consumers want more discreet, effective, absorbent protection to fit their active lifestyles,” K-C’s Ms. O’Connor said. “Incontinence can be embarrassing for many people. Consumers tell us they want more normalcy and dignity . . . the closest thing to regular underwear they can buy.”

K-C first launched Depend protective underwear in 1998. At that time, consumer demand was so strong that retailers could not keep it in stock. In the last six months, the company has increased its production capacity to meet the strong demand for this product.

Matching Products With Problems
There are basically five types of adult incontinence products—protective underwear, briefs, undergarments, guards and underpads. These different products target the varied forms of adult incontinence. For instance, there is stress incontinence when leakage occurs during coughing, laughing, exercising, lifting and other strenuous activity. Many women experience urge incontinence, a feeling that they cannot reach the toilet fast enough. This can be caused by infections that irritate the bladder or urethra or the loss of bladder control caused by strokes, spinal cord injury or dementia. Additional forms of adult incontinence include overflow, functional, total or medication related.

These many types of adult incontinence have kept manufacturers on their toes. Hospital Specialty Company (Hospeco), Highland Heights, OH, is currently rolling out a reconfigured line of “At Ease” adult briefs in both its “Special” and “Premium Plus” brands. The new adult brief configuration includes an anatomical shaped core with enhanced performance characteristics—absorbency, rewet and strikethrough. The adult briefs will be quad folded and compressed, resulting in reduced cube size for easier storage and reduced freight cost.

“The changing technology in the adult incontinence market has allowed use to improve product perfection in a search for a cost effective product solution,” said company president Bill Hemann. “The product reconfiguration leads to better economy as the packed item doesn’t take as much space on store shelves. There has been a great proliferation of products in this market and shelf space is at a premium.”

Most of the adult incontinence product manufacturers interviewed by Nonwovens Industry agreed that protective underwear is the fastest growing category in the segment. As older consumers are staying in their homes longer and continuing to lead active lifestyles despite their urinary issues, they are demanding incontinence products to keep up with them. “Protective underwear is more like real underwear than ever before,” said Joe Howard, marketing manager, Kendall Confab, King of Prussia, PA. “The design limits anxiety because it looks, feels and wears like regular underwear. Technology has allowed it to fit a little better and maneuver more easily.”

“Understanding the needs of the consumer is our first step in product design,” K-C’s Ms. O’Connor said. “Extensive work is done with market research and product development to confirm not only product design but also acceptability with our consumers. Manufacturing efficiency is equally important to identify early in the design process, given our competitive demands.”

Boom Times Ahead
During the next 20-30 years, the portion of the American population older than 65 is expected to steadily increase until it eventually doubles the level it is at today. While this demographic may lead to headaches for healthcare workers and social security strategists, it will pan out to mean big sales and earnings increases for adult incontinence manufacturers. These manufacturers are already preparing for the baby boom generation’s entrance into the golden years.

“People, particularly women, will be moving away from the sanitary protection area into the adult incontinence products area and we are expecting to see 5-7% annual growth,” said Kendall Confab’s Mr. Howard “It will by far outpace the growth in the baby diaper market.”

While the baby diaper will undoubtedly remain the most important absorbent market in the nonwovens industry, the adult incontinence category has been receiving considerable attention in recent years. Because of the similarities of the two categories, many baby diaper manufacturers have been using their equipment and technology double time to add adult incontinence products to their staple.

“The general design of the core and protection benefits are similar in baby diaper and adult incontinence products,” Mr. Howard said. “But, in adult incontinence the products are considerably larger. There are more kinds of products in adult incontinence—shields, guards, slip-on garments and protective pants. Also, there are many types of incontinence issues that need to be addressed whereas a diaper is a diaper and all babies are generally doing the same thing.”

Paper-Pak Products, Washington, GA, recently expanded its position in the adult incontinence segment through the acquisition of the “Attends” brand from Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH. The move brings a major national brand into the company’s line up to complement its strong private label business. “There is significantly more raw material in an adult brief than there is in a baby diaper and it is much larger dimensionally,” company representative John Hopkins said. “They are similar in that they are trying to achieve the same things—leakage control, dryness, ease of application, discretion and comfort.”

Quality and comfort issues are also more paramount in adult incontinence products. “An adult incontinence consumer is a lot more aware of how the product is working and how it feels, where babies don’t offer much feedback on these qualities,” said Paul Rankin, president, Absorbent Products, Bowling Green, OH. “A mother only knows so much about how the product is performing.”

Furthermore, adults are extremely brand loyal when it comes to adult incontinence. Once they find a product that works well without embarrassment, they stick to it, regardless of price concerns. This can be good and bad for manufacturers. On the positive side, if they provide a satisfactory product, it could get them a longterm customer base. One the down side, however, this brand loyalty makes new product introductions risky and difficult. Companies have to spend a great deal of time and money in technology and marketing innovations to get customers to try new products.

Among these marketing approaches are Internet strategies (see page 52) and print and television advertising. Not only have these strategies helped reel in customers, they have also helped propel the image of the industry as a whole. Where once adult incontinence was a taboo subject that few sufferers wanted to discuss, it is now an accepted condition that people realize is common among adults. Gone are the days where sufferers had to travel to strange towns or do their shopping in the middle of the night to buy their adult incontinence products. Absorbent Products’ Mr. Rankin likened adult incontinence today to feminine hygiene 25 years ago. “Five years ago, you wouldn’t see an article dealing with adult incontinence in a local newspaper, where today no one would think anything of it. This is because people are more aware of it today than ever before and more people are seeking out products designed for this use. It’s now different from feminine care 25 years ago. It’s becoming more acceptable to talk about.”

There is no doubt that as the consumer base for adult incontinence products grows and as the condition and the category become more mainstream, products will become more technologically advanced and sales will increase. “Adult incontinence products have become more sophisticated and will continue to get more sophisticated,” Paper-Pak’s Mr. Hopkins said. “The more prevalent incontinence becomes, the higher the demand gets for better products. What the industry has learned is that if you do come up with an innovative product that meets the needs of consumers, they will pay for it.”

This growth is sure to be seen both in the retail and institutional markets and in the U.S. as well as around the world. “During the next five years, we expect the growth trend to continue in the U.S.,” K-C’s Ms. O’Connor said. “To compare the U.S. market with the global market, you have to add institutional sales, since global sales outlets are tracked much differently than in the U.S. In the year 2005, we expect the U.S. retail and institutional sales to reach $2.1 billion and global sales to hit $5.8 billion.”

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