Flow of Incontinence Products Picks Up As Consumers Warm To The Idea Of Protection

By Adrian Atterby, Nonwovens Staff | March 12, 2007

a Euromonitor Report

Improved diet, better quality healthcare and living conditions as well as higher levels of disposable income have combined to ensure that people in the Western world are living longer than ever before. By 2015, the average life expectancy is expected to climb above 80 for the first time and, on average, 25% of the developed world’s population will be over the age of 50. Looking further into the future, by 2050 it is estimated that approximately one-third of the population, approximately 150 million people, in Western Europe alone will be older than 65. This means more revenue for adult incontinence manufacturers as their customer base grows over the next few decades.
This is nothing new for the industry. After eight consecutive years of near double-digit growth, the global incontinence market has grown to $3 billion, according to Euromonitor International.

Developments In Incontinence Products Follow Advancements in Sanitary Protection

Throughout 2005 and 2006, manufacturers of incontinence products worked to develop products that offered greater protection against not only leakage but also improved discretion.  SCA launched Serenity Discreet Activewear, a range of underwear-like protective pants aimed at the more energetic sufferers of incontinence.  This range has been developed using a new cotton soft fabric that when stretched in every direction, hugs the body and provides excellent protection no matter how strenuous the activity.
Kimberly-Clark also attempted to satisfy consumer needs with the August 2005 launch of Poise Panty. Aimed at sufferers of light to medium incontinence, this product features a proprietary cotton material designed to look and feel the same as women’s normal underwear. The Poise Panty was introduced to offer a more feminine solution for sufferers who were prior users of incontinence pads but were disappointed with their performance.
According to Euromonitor, one of the biggest obstacles manufacturers face is the threat from substitute and sanitary protection products. In some markets, such as the U.S.  and France, it is believed that as many as 30% of sufferers use alternative solutions, particularly among women who suffer from light stress incontinence. In response to this, SCA launched the Tena Lady Mini Magic product claiming to be as thin as a panty liner but eight times more absorbent.  SCA also claims that its new Lock Away Core helps to keep the surface dry, thereby preventing the feeling of dampness.  The product also features new technology offering odor reduction, ensuring discretion and security.  The marketing campaign for Mini Magic also compares its strengths to the perceived weaknesses of traditional panty liners when used to combat incontinence.
Although incontinence mainly affects females, the number of male sufferers will increase as a direct result of aging populations. In response, manufacturers have developed products specifically for men. SCA offers a small range of men’s products under its Tena brand, featuring two different pad options and pants for those men suffering from more severe forms of incontinence.  Kimberly-Clark offers a more complete range of men’s incontinence wear under its Depend brand, with pads, belted products and disposable pants available in a variety of absorbency types.

How Major Markets Have Developed

The vast majority of incontinence product sales are concentrated in the top 10 markets with the largest being the U.S. According to Euromonitor, in 2005 the U.S. market was worth $955 million, up 17.4% since 2003. The launch of Kimberly-Clark’s Poise Panty and SCA’s Serenity Discreet Activewear has prompted a switch in the American market away from pads toward protective underwear products. Consumers favor these because of their greater levels of comfort, their security compared to traditional pads and particularly because they are now virtually indistinguishable from normal underwear.
One potential challenge for the U.S. market is the developing tendency for consumers to purchase products in discount stores, restricting potential value growth opportunities. This is also a problem in Germany, although the country is seeing increased levels of product penetration due to the availability of products in discount retail outlets as well as traditional supermarkets.  The distribution shift in the German market towards retail channels away from the pharmacy/chemist channel has resulted in lower prices for branded products and further encouraged the introduction of lower-priced private label products. Indeed, private label’s revenue share of the market has increased from 5.9% in 2001 to 10% in 2005, according to Euromonitor. Consequently value growth of light incontinence products significantly lagged behind volume growth in 2005.
In America and Japan, the two largest markets for incontinence products, leading manufacturers are working closely with patient associations to develop their businesses and gain acceptance from consumers.  In Japan the market leader Unicharm has established a close relationship with the Japanese Continence Action Society to gain recognition for its products and to establish a hotline service to offer advice on how to deal with incontinence problems. Unicharm has also run educational campaigns on the ordinariness of incontinence problems during the later stages of life.  Since 2004 in America, Kimberly-Clark has paired with the Spirit of Women Network, a national group of hospitals and healthcare facilities working to advance the cause of women’s wellness, to provide educational events discussing incontinence and to empower women who suffer from loss of bladder control. These events also promote Kimberly-Clark’s Poise and Depend brands.
France is currently the largest market in Europe for incontinence products with sales of $171 million in 2005. Manufacturers concentrated their efforts on reducing the stigma connected with incontinence by running  commercials and advertisements in leading magazines. Segmentation of the market has been a major theme in the French market recently, leading to the introduction of gender-specific products. A further interesting development was the launch of SCA’s Tena wet wipe, featuring aloe vera. Although incontinence wipes are not new, it is novel to see a new product launch. This again follows developments in the sanitary protection market, which has seen the development of the feminine hygiene wipe category in recent years.  

Eco-Friendly Features Not High on Consumer Wish Lists

While environmentally friendly products are slowly becoming available through mainstream manufacturers in the sanitary protection market, incontinence products have yet to see a similar breakthrough. Consumer demand is not high as older consumers do not find the environment an important enough issue compared to younger users of sanitary protection.
There are ranges of eco-friendly products available but these are currently niche market solutions and tend to be manufactured by small national companies such as Natracare, a manufacturer of eco-friendly sanitary products. Natracare’s Dry & Light Incontinence pads were the first to be made using plant-based bio-plastics.
Although eco-friendly features will always be an issue for a number of consumers, other factors will continue to have a greater impact on market developments during the next few years. However, if eco-friendly products and features become increasingly entrenched in sanitary protection, and possibly diapers, then innovations will inevitably flow down into the incontinence market.


Through 2010 the top 10 incontinence global markets will grow at a combined CAGR of 8% according to Euromonitor International’s latest forecast data. This means that by the end of the decade, the global incontinence market will be worth $4.4 billion. Japan will experience the highest growth worldwide with an increase in size by 74%. It will be the world’s biggest incontinence market by 2010, valued at $1.3 billion.
The U.K. market is also forecast to grow at a high rate, 68.6%, in value terms during the forecast period, helped in no doubt by decreased government spending on healthcare. This will mean that heavy incontinence products, usually available only by prescription, will switch over into the retail channel, helping to further spur growth.
The likelihood of new players entering the global market is high, particularly those players who are already active in the sanitary protection market and can leverage existing brand equity, such as J&J. It would also not be surprising to see P&G commit more resources to its incontinence products in order to grow its share of the global market, which currently stands at approximately 5%.
As the global market grows, it will become an increasingly attractive target for private label manufacturers and retailers. To combat this threat, producers will need to quicken the pace of innovation as well as add value in other ways, such as offering larger pack sizes or increasing the availability of combination packs, which are currently only available in France.
In terms of product developments, we are likely to see increased levels of absorbency performance and the use of thinner materials, resulting in higher levels of comfort as well as discretion. Discretion will be key through the use of more discreet packaging, particularly as manufacturers attempt to sell more units through the supermarket/hypermarket channel.

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