How Young Is Old?

By Ellen Wuagneux, Associate Editor | March 6, 2006

adult incontinence products target increasingly active consumer base


Have you noticed that old folks are getting younger? The traditional notion of sedentary retirees and slow moving grandparents is being turned on its head by a generation of elderly consumers who are not only on-the-go but also on the look-out for products that can keep up. In response, producers in the adult incontinence market are tweaking products to target an elderly population that is, paradoxically, as youthful as ever.

Also at issue is the fact that these products are being purchased by a younger consumer. Take, for example, the middle-aged women who are purchasing adult incontinence products to address stress incontinence. This marks a shift away from the purchase of feminine hygiene products to handle bladder complaints. Overall the line between these two product categories is fading fast, especially considering the presence of light incontinence products on feminine hygiene product shelves.

Increased comfort, discretion and ease of use are three specific product trends resulting from the increasingly active lifestyles of wearers. “The market is trending high in the growth of the protective underwear category,” commented Melissa DeMarinis, North American brand communications manager for SCA Personal Care–HealthCare Division. In response, SCA has introduced a new line of Tena Protective Underwear to meet individual needs for more protection levels and choices. In Fall 2005, SCA introduced Tena Protective Underwear in a new Plus absorbency for moderate to heavy protection. “This new product meets customers’ demands for more choices in protective underwear, which is the market’s fastest growing product category,” said Ms. DeMarinis.

In a similar move, absorbent product giant Kimberly-Clark recently expanded its Poise product line to include the new Poise Panty. Made of cottony-soft material with all-over stretch, the new panty features a gently scalloped, full waistband designed to add a feminine touch that flatters as it keeps the panty top smooth. The new Poise Panty offers breathability, comfort and a discreet fit designed to be virtually invisible under clothing.

Two recent offerings in Paul Hartmann AG’s adult incontinence product line.
Several thin layers of absorbent materials help keep the wearer dry and protected as they neutralize odors. The materials are effective without adding unnecessary bulk. The panty is specially shaped for a woman’s body with gentle leg elastics that help hold absorbent material effectively in place while contributing to a smooth, flattering, feminine fit.

Available on store shelves in the same aisle as other Poise products, the new panty is offered in size small/medium in 17-count packages (fits sizes 4-8) and size large in 15-count packages (fits sizes 8-12).

For its part, Paul Hartmann AG, Heidenheim, Germany, offers a range of absorbent incontinence products as well as patient care and skin care products. The company’s product portfolio includes MoliMed pads for light incontinence, MoliForm in-liners for medium to severe incontinence and MoliCare Mobile pull-ups for medium to severe incontinence.

Hartmann’s MoliMed Pants Active are an example of a light incontinence product with underwear characteristics developed for European and Asian markets. It provides improved safety compared to normal light incontinence pads and is suitable for out-of-home activities. “The combination of discretion and improved safety makes it an ideal product for women with bladder weakness,” explained Dieter Feustel, marketing director for incontinence management at Hartmann.

Also on the new product front, Hartmann’s MoliCare Mobile Pull-Ups, its fastest growing absorbent product category, has been extended to include a night version. Because this product can be worn like underwear, it is a popular product choice in the home care sector. “People suffering from incontinence but still mobile and living at home, prefer these products and are looking for a ‘super’ version for the night,” offered Dr. Feustel. The night product offers increased absorption capacity. He added that, in the home care sector, products are primarily selected and bought by users or their relatives and hence the tendency to demand more comfortable and better performing products will continue.

Retail Reality

These new product launches are breathing fresh life into a category that has not seen much innovation in recent years. Meanwhile, they are keeping growth levels steady in the North American retail sector. Ian Butler, director of market research and statistics for INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, Cary, NC, pinpointed retail sales for the year at about 4.6% above the previous year. “From what I see, our preliminary estimate for the North American (U.S. and Canada combined) adult incontinence industry’s sales at retail to the end user totaled about $1.2 billion in 2005.”  Mr. Butler added that sales to end users continue to rise and are estimated at slightly above $900 million.

Offering a perspective on the European market was Hartmann’s Dr. Feustel. “Following the demographic development of western societies, the volume of adult incontinence products will grow in the coming years,” he predicted. “The annual growth rate in volume will be between 2% and 6% annually, depending on the conditions in the individual markets.” He went on to forecast a lack of similar value growth due to price pressures, a trend that he expects to continue in coming years. “In order to maintain profitability in such a market scenario, suppliers of adult incontinence products have to position themselves carefully and prove the success of their strategy,” said Dr. Feustel.

SCA’s Tena brand boasts breathability as a key feature.
Demographically speaking, the number of older consumers in the U.S. is increasing quickly compared to the rest of the population. With the leading edge of the baby boom generation approaching 60 and life expectancies continuing  to rise, this trend will continue. This will mean increases in the adult incontinence market through both institutional and retail channels, as incontinence issues are linked to age.

According to market tracker Euromonitor, Chicago, IL, incontinence products was one of the most dynamic disposable paper product types in 2004, due to the increasing number of older consumers in the population who account for the bulk of consumers of such products. Euromonitor assessed sales of incontinence products at $868 million in 2004, which represents an increase of nearly 7% compared to the previous year. In 2004, these products saw an increase of almost 31% in current value terms, Euromonitor estimates.

Manufacturers of incontinence products are enjoying growing demand, although this sector is highly competitive and purchasers are price-sensitive. While some consumers are given to brand loyalty if a product works for them, other users of incontinence products are more motivated by price, especially given soaring costs of other elder-care necessities, such as prescription drugs, health insurance, nursing services and assisted living facilities. Pricing pressure remains intense as consumers are willing to switch brands and channels in search of more appealing prices.

The outlook for incontinence products has much in common with its recent performance, according to Euromonitor, with strong volume growth, and slow or negative price development. In 2005, some price increases were expected as the market-level trend toward higher prices had an impact on the sector, albeit limited. More intense price-based competition is expected to resume in later years, however, given the price-sensitive mindset of incontinence product users.

Going forward, Euromonitor expects volume growth to be strong and consistent, with year-on-year gains varying from just more than 5% in 2005 to just more than 4% in 2009, lessening due to increasing maturity. Supported mainly by volume growth, incontinence products are expected to realize a total increase in constant value terms of  just more than 11% over 2004-2009, to reach $965 million in the latter year.

Table 1
Forecast Retail Sales of Incontinence Products:
Value 2004-2009 (U.S. $ million)
  2004 2005 2009
Light AI products 130.5 135.1 139.0
Moderate/heavy AI products 737.9 771.4 825.9
Total AI products 868.4 906.5 964.9
Source: Euromonitor

Table 2
Forecast Retail Sales of Incontinence Products:
% Value Growth 2004-2009
% constant value growth 2004/09 CAGR 2004/09 TOTAL
Light incontinence products 1.3 6.5
Moderate/heavy incontinence products 2.3 11.9
Incontinence products 2.1 11.1
Source: Euromonitor

Table 3
Forecast Retail Sales of Incontinence Products by Region:
% Value Growth 2004-2009
  2009 US $ million 2004/09 CAGR 2004/09 Total 2004/09 increment
Western Europe 1,017.8 6.9 39.7 289.5
Eastern Europe 46.2 10.4 64.2 18.0
North America 1,034.3 2.4 12.6 115.5
Latin America 186.2 7.8 45.9 58.5
Asia-Pacific 1,357.6 11.8 74.6 580.0
Australasia 72.7 16.8 117.4 39.3
Africa and Middle East 65.9 9.1 54.8 23.3
World 3,780.7 7.3 42.3 1,124.2
Source: Euromonitor

Institutional Insights

The burgeoning retail side of incontinence is only half of the story. More than 50% of total incontinence volume travels through institutional channels. This half of the total is also growing, albeit at a slower rate. While demands in the retail sector continue to focus on performance and discretion, in the institutional arena, products are expected to deliver optimum support of patient care processes. This is a sector where cost pressures in healthcare systems trigger continuous change in the care process for patients, so it follows that the focus is on products that are available at a reasonable cost performance ratio. While absorption performance and the avoidance of leakage is a must in this field, another important consideration is ease of application. Key requirements range from availability and visibility of different product types, wetness indicators and easy and safe application. In the institutional sector, demands reach beyond the actual product to servicing caregivers.

Taboo Topic

Despite such growth, the issue of adult incontinence remains encumbered by social stigma in societies around the world. This is certainly the case in North America, where consumers are embarrassed by the need for these products, which leads to manufacturers choosing euphemistic, positive-sounding names such as Depend, Serenity, Poise or Attends, and packaging these products unobtrusively.

However, there is a slow-growing realization among consumers that incontinence is a natural part of aging for many and not a reason to feel shame. Demographic trends and increased awareness and acceptance of incontinence problems have driven growth rates and created interest in such products. As a result, incontinence products are increasingly located more prominently in stores and with greater shelf space dedicated to them.

SCA is one company working to remove this stigma by increasing education and awareness with consumers through television commercials, marketing collateral and its website. “Our commitment to promoting our customers’ independence by providing incontinence products that they can trust to fit their lifestyle remains strong,” said the company’s Ms. DeMarinis.

“The simple fact that incontinence is accepted for babies but at the same time it is expected that children learn to become continent is a psychological burden for any person suffering from incontinence,” offered Hartmann’s Dr. Feustel. “In comparison to other markets with taboo problems, e.g. feminine hygiene or condoms, where the taboo could be reduced through continuous information and education of the public, the adult incontinence market is way behind. In the eyes of society, a continent person becoming incontinent is regarded as a loss in living quality. This can be taken as an indicator that the taboo topic will not disappear soon, if ever,” he opined.

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