| Ultrathin. Improved leak protection. Increased absorbency. Dryness. These are just a few of the many ways feminine hygiene products are constantly being improved. With more types of feminine hygiene products crowding store shelves and smaller companies introducing more specialty-type products, it is no wonder that end user sales for the global feminine hygiene market are increasing annually. Increased innovation is providing women with myriad options in choosing a feminine hygiene product that will best suit their needs.
Today, there is a sanitary protection product available for every day of the month, whether the requirement is everyday freshness or protection from heavy flow. As more women become aware of the many types of products available, they can more easily choose the product and absorbency level they need.
The global feminine hygiene market is wide and varied in its scope, and world leaders in this segment continue to expand the market by innovating to maintain their leadership. Currently, the North American market is dominated by four major players who produce sanitary napkins, or tampons, or both, for the feminine hygiene market. They are: Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH, with its Tampax tampon and Always sanitary napkin brands; Kimberly-Clark, Dallas TX, with its Kotex brand of sanitary napkins and Poise panty liners and pads; Johnson & Johnson, Skillman, NJ, the supplier of OB Tampons and Stayfree Maxi sanitary pads and Playtex, Westport, CT, whose Playtex tampons are available in a variety of fits, applicator types and absorbency levels.
Some of the major participants in the European feminine hygiene market include: SCA Hygiene Products, Munchen-Flughafen, Germany; Ontex, Buggenhout, Belgium and Torún, Poland-based TZMO. Leaders in Japan’s feminine hygiene market include Uni-Charm Corporation, Kagawaken, Japan and Kao Corporation, Tokyo, Japan.
With more well-known companies competing against one another, feminine hygiene companies are depending on new product development and innovation to set them apart from the rest. In order to be successful, market leaders and smaller players alike must always be aware of what other companies are producing. This has created a “me-too” environment in the feminine hygiene segment. Once one company pinpoints a new trend and develops a successful new product, other companies are quick to follow suit.
Panty Liners Soar
Designed for everyday use offering increased daily hygiene and overall freshness, panty liners are now comprising a larger share of the feminine hygiene market than ever before, due to usage for daily hygiene in developing areas of the world. Panty liners are also being sued with tampons.
Women who are wary about how well tampons will hold up during their higher flow days are playing it safe by using two products at once for increased protection and a better sense of security.
Panty liners are also being marketed to women as light incontinence items, when a thick pad or brief is not necessary. For instance, K-C’s Poise panty liners are designed to protect against light incontinence but are also comfortable as ultrathin sanitary napkins. Most women affected with light urinary incontinence issues prefer discreet, thin pads and liners to bulky adult briefs, undergarments or guards.
“Some women may not want to buy or wear a thicker incontinence pad or brief for minor incontinence, but instead prefer using a panty liner,” explained Ms. Hanna.
A Preference For Thinness
A move toward thinner products is one trend that has defined the feminine hygiene market in recent years. More and more companies are now offering ultrathin sanitary pads as part of their product lines. Although there are still some older women, along with those living in less developed regions of the world, who remain hesitant in trusting a thinner product over a thicker one, the use of ultrathin products has gained popularity in North America and other developed world regions.
Women will often test out a new ultrathin product on a lighter flow day, and, if pleased, will then try using the same product brand that offers a higher level of absorbency on a heavier flow day, noticed Kevin Crawford, sales and marketing manager at feminine hygiene Consolidated Ecoprogress Technologies, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
“Ultrathin pads are definitely increasing for us,” said Kenneth Dafoe, president of private label supplier Tendasoft, Van Wert, OH. “We believe it is because of absorbency improvements in airlaid cores and new innovations, such as ‘leak guards’ on the thinner products. Ultrathin products are also preferred by younger females who are wearing tighter and more fitted clothing.”
The ability of thinner pads to provide superior protection can be attributed to the incorporation of airlaid cores in many sanitary napkins. Compared to cores containing fluff pulp, airlaid cores in sanitary napkins and panty liners offer thinness, which, in turn, establishes a more discreet and comfortable product.
The Inside Scoop
While sanitary napkins and liners comprised $899million in North American sales for the 52-week period ended September 8, 2002, according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago, IL, tampons are another large segment of the feminine hygiene market with a reported $576 million in sales for the same period. Both of these figures exclude Bentonville, AR-based Wal-Mart sales.
According to IRI, P&G led this market with $231 million in sales, followed by Westport, CT-based Playtex, with sales of $175 million. Other leaders included K-C with $72 million and Johnson & Johnson, with approximately $60 million in sales.
P&G, in an effort to hold onto its leading position in the tampon market, recently extended its Tampax line with Pearl tampons. Tampax Pearl features an absorbent braid that expands width-wise to provide a better fit. The tampons also consist of a plastic applicator with a smooth, rounded tip and contoured grip for a more comfortable insertion. Available in three absorbencies of Regular, Super and Super Plus, the tampons are now available nationwide at major drug and grocery stores and mass retail locations for a retail price ranging from $3.99-$4.99.
“Tampax Pearl is made out of the same absorbent materials that have been trusted and used safely by millions of women for more than 30 years,” said Elaine Plummer, Tampax spokesperson.
In both North America and Europe, private label tampons have established a significant position in the market. “Many women have learned that they can trust the performance of private label tampons so they choose these lower priced tampons over name brands,” explained Ms. Hanna.
U.S. private label leaders include Tyco Healthcare, Mansfield, MA and First Quality Hygienic, Great Neck, NY. For the year ended September 8, 2002, private label tampons equaled $37 million, according to IRI.
One of the reasons why national brands, such as P&G’s Always sanitary napkins and Playtex’s Gentle Glide Tampons, dominate the feminine hygiene market, is because of consumer brand loyalty. Once a woman is satisfied with a product, she is less likely to try a different brand. With this in mind, private label and specialty-based companies face several challenges in establishing a spot for themselves on store shelves. Many times, a company’s marketshare is so small that its products are not available in stores, so product orders have to be placed through a catalog or on a company website. Still, many of these companies have been able to differentiate themselves on the market by offering feminine hygiene products for niche markets.
In A Class By Themselves
One company relying heavily on niche products is Consolidated Ecoprogress Technology. Its Flushaway sanitary pads and panty liners are reportedly the first-ever entirely flushable and biodegradable sanitary products available in the world. The pads are produced with an alternative to plastic, called B-9, a Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA), and a water soluble and biodegradable film. Company tests have found that the pads are 75% biodegradable within 28 days after flushing.
“The biodegradable film dissolves in water but remains in tact when menstrual fluids contact it,” explained Consolidated’s Mr. Crawford. “We are offering a preferable choice to consumers that is presently unavailable. Hopefully, with this product’s trend-setting appeal, it will soon be available worldwide.”
To date, the company has sold more than four million Flushaway pads and liners. “A large number of consumers are buying the product for environmental reasons. The fact that the products are flushable is a convenience factor that is currently unavailable with any other product,” Mr. Crawford added.
Producing an environmentally friendly product to compete with leading brands is tricky because most consumers do not place as much emphasis on a product’s environment friendliness factor as other factors, such as quality and effectiveness.
“Unless you live in a more ecologically aware area, most people want a feminine hygiene product that has a good reputation for quality and a reasonable price,” said PCA’s Mr. Mills. “If the product is also biodegradable and good for the environment, that will definitely help, but having a high quality level and a good price will be more important than environmental-friendliness in the long run.”
Also pushing the environmentally friendly factor is Cincinnati, OH-based The Keeper Inc., which supplies a small, reusable cup, that stores menstrual fluid for up to 12 hours. Unlike more traditional feminine hygiene products, which are disposable, The Keeper has a life expectancy of 10 years and costs $35. The cup, which is worn internally, is similar to the reusable rubber used to make baby bottle nipples. The Keeper was launched in 1987 and sales have since “increased monumentally worldwide,” according to company owner Lou Crawford. Once the cup is full, it needs to emptied, thoroughly washed and can then be re-inserted for use again.
“We have hopes that the cup may eventually replace pads or tampons. It is just an option that all women should know is available to them,” Ms. Crawford added.
Aside from The Keeper, another distinctive product within the feminine hygiene market is a reusable panty, called Ashley Lee, which is available from Hygienics Industries, Miami, FL. The panties are geared toward use for both light incontinence product and for everyday feminine hygiene needs and can be used in compliance with an incontinence or sanitary pad. “Ashley Lee panties are comfortable, stylish and are currently in the process of being sold to retail stores across the U.S.,” said Michael Brier, president of Hygienics Industries. The panties are available in sizes ranging from small to XX-Large and can be washed 50-100 times.
In addition to these newer products establishing a niche in the feminine hygiene market, disposable wipes have also been seeping into the market. Wipes for feminine hygiene is something many manufacturers are currently keeping an eye on.
“I think these feminine cleansing wipes are going to be big, because there is a wipe for everything these days,” predicted PCA’s Mr. Mills.
With more products available for everyday use, and manufacturers hope that newer products, such as disposable feminine wipes, will add depth to the feminine hygiene market.
“The feminine hygiene industry never stands still,” said Mr. Mills. “Once one company produces something and it is introduced to the major players, everyone else will start to follow.”