The Feminine Hygiene Market

By Steve Katz, Managing Editor | November 11, 2011

An aging population, and growth in emerging markets are among the feminine hygiene sector challenges, and brand owners and manufacturers are responding in innovative ways.

An aging population, and growth in emerging markets are among the feminine hygiene sector challenges, and brand owners and manufacturers are responding in innovative ways.

The feminine hygiene market has issues. Throughout the supply chain and product lifecycle, there are varying topics that are chief concerns for all those involved – the manufacturers, brand owners, retailers and end users. And these issues run the gamut, and include brand loyalty, sustainability, innovation, comfort, globalization and ethics.

Feminine hygiene products are necessary items – in many parts of the world – and one might think that this contributes to a healthy market. And it has. However, according to research firm Euromonitor International, an aging population will factor in to a decline in sales for the foreseeable future, at least in the U.S., where volume sales of sanitary protection, excluding intimate wipes, increased only marginally in 2010, while current value sales of sanitary protection overall increased by 3%, to reach $2.6 billion, Euromonitor reports.

“Volume growth for sanitary protection was negligible in 2010,” says the firm. “Over the forecast period, volume sales are expected to decline by 2%. The decline will largely be driven by an aging female population that’s exiting the market for sanitary protection.” The U.S. female population in the 15-49 year old age group is forecast to decline by 1% between 2010 and 2015.

And it’s more than just an aging female population. Euromonitor says that a decline will also be exacerbated by competition from cheaper private label products and also raw material and energy costs in the construction of nonwoven materials could be a further impediment to future growth. “

Larger companies with the advantage of long-term strategies for raw materials acquisition will be better positioned to respond to these challenges than their smaller competitors. In March 2011, Kimberly-Clark announced price increases on its Kotex line to offset raw material costs. “As retailers pass higher prices on to the consumer, consumers could flock to private label products, which are increasingly comparable in quality with their branded alternatives. This could threaten future value sales growth,” Euromonitor says.

Outside of the US, there are other factors at play, illustrating a complicated market, where issues regarding ethics and social taboos present there own set of challenges. Also globally, economics and affordability play key roles. (Ian Bell, Euromonitor’s head of tissue and hygiene research, takes a close look at these issues in the accompanying sidebar.)

Continuous innovation
Innovation and new product launches – and their accompanying branding and marketing strategies – play a significant role in stimulating sales. In March 2010, Kimberly-Clark’s U By Kotex brand extension successfully increased K-C’s market share. The launch was backed by a break from the usual marketing campaign that aimed to change the tone of traditional sanitary protection advertising. U By Kotex targeted a younger consumer with new, colorful packaging. And a successful sub-brand introduced U By Kotex Tweens launched in early 2011, is aimed at early pubescent girls as young as seven years old.

Most recently, Kimberly-Clark extended the line with the U by Kotex* Limited Edition Designer Series – four distinct new products designed “to capture young women’s personal style with trend forward colors and patterns, keeping her interested by creating surprise, delight and variety on shelf,” the company says.

The U by Kotex* Designer Series packaging features high-contrast colors and vibrant patterns and are designed to reflect an individual fashion trends. The iconic U by Kotex black logo stands out against the saturated colors and is accompanied by a black bellyband that wraps around the package, creating a ribbon, gift-like effect. Visuals on all the panels reveal what’s inside: pads and product wrappers as colorful and coordinated as the packages.

“We created a limited edition, designer series package to allow for customized interaction with the brand. Our consumers can now choose products that reflect their own personal style,” says Kristi Bryant, design manager, Kimberly-Clark. “Overall, the designs allow for self-expression and style. When she realizes that these products fit seamlessly into her purse, along with her other fashion accessories, it is an added bonus of surprise and delight,” she says.

One recent K-C product has gone beyond packaging as a means for innovation. The contoured shape of a woman’s body is the inspiration for its latest Poise brand bladder leakage product. The Poise Hourglass Shape Pads is a premium line extension, offering a curved shape that improves fit while providing protection consumers expect from the brand. It is especially designed to meet the needs of women with light bladder leakage (LBL) who experience difficulty with the fit and performance of traditional protective pads.

The new Poise Hourglass Shape Pads have innovative “stand-up” leak shields that help eliminate gaps, an absorbent core that offers the protection the Poise brand is known for, all in a narrower product. In addition, Poise Hourglass Shape Pads have pink lace graphics and are packed in an attractive pouch, for a feminine look and feel.

“Poise Hourglass Shape Pads bring breakthrough technology to the world of light bladder leakage,” says Jay Gottlieb, VP, North American Adult & Feminine Care for Kimberly-Clark.“This first-of-a-kind product is designed especially to meet the needs of women who are experiencing LBL and have difficulty with the fit of traditional protective pads. Poise Hourglass Shape Pads provide the performance women expect from the brand, and now offers a more feminine design these consumers will love.”

Brand loyalty

Proctor & Gamble is another industry leader that incorporates both form and function in its latest feminine hygiene products. The company knows the importance of brand loyalty in this category, and does its research in determining what women want.

“Feminine Care is a very brand-loyal category, with quality and trust being the two most important attributes for choosing a brand,” says Velvet Gogol Bennett, Fem Care external relations for P&G. “Always and Tampax have the highest loyalty rankings in the category. In addition to loyalty, regimen usage is very common, 70% of women use two or more forms (pad, liners or tampons),” she says.

This year, Tampax introduced Duopacks on the Tampax Pearl and Tampax Compak Pearl brands, to meet the needs of women who prefer to have multiple absorbencies of tampons during their period. “Duopacks contain the two most popular absorbencies – Regular and Super – in one convenient package,” explains Gogol Bennett. “Tampax Pearl tampons have a built-in LeakGuard braid for amazing backup protection and FormFit protection that gently expands to fit her unique shape. Only Tampax has CleanGuard, an extra layer of protection that surrounds the tampon core to help prevent leaks. Tampax Pearl Compak has a 40% smaller, “ready-click-go” plastic applicator, a smooth tip for comfortable insertion and a Leakguard Skirt for backup protection,” she says, adding that
Tampax Compak Pearl offers “full size protection in a discrete size.”

P&G’s Always and Tampax brands continuously look to provide the consumer with what she is looking for in her feminine hygiene products, Gogol Bennett adds. Always recently introduced new “Odor-Lock” technology for both liners and maxi pads. This new technology neutralizes odors by transforming ammonia into undetectable vapors, masks urine odors by blocking malodor detection through the use of proprietary technology; and freshens the user by releasing a light fresh scent when liner is moistened to let her know it is working.

“We know that women make this personal choice based on their own discretion and comfort needs,” Gogol Bennett says. “The feminine hygiene category is about protection and confidence that the product will perform and not leak. We have learned over and over again that women will not make a trade off in these areas.”

A suppliers POV
Suppliers to the nonwovens industry play a critical role in the development of new fem care products, and can provide a uniqueperspective on where the market is heading. After all, these companies are on the front lines, responding to the demands of their customers, who are listening carefully end users.

H.B. Fuller, a global adhesives manufacturer, is one such company that provides its detailed insight into the market. “The trends that we are seeing in the feminine hygiene market are related to thinner materials, thinner products and improved fluid management,” explains Heather Campe, H.B. Fuller’s North America business director, Nonwovens. “Feminine hygiene products are becoming thinner for improved comfort, fit and discretion. More women are wearing them daily for hygiene needs, and some women are wearing them for light incontinence needs.The use of new materials to improve fluid management is a new trend that we believe will continue in the future,” she says.

Additional trends Campe notices is a move toward removing the silicone release paper that prevents the positioning adhesive from sticking to the outer wrap. “This reduces the amount of packaging material needed, as well as making the product thinner and less bulky. And colorful feminine hygiene product packaging is a new trend that we didn’t see a few years ago,” she adds.

From a global perspective, Campe emphasizes that growth is strong in emerging markets where market penetration of feminine hygiene products continues to grow. “China, India and Latin America have not yet achieved full market penetration, so we believe these markets will continue to see strong growth in the future. The thin feminine hygiene product trend is also popular in China, where education programs are encouraging women to use feminine hygiene products and change them three times per day. Innovation and product design are the trend in mature markets, where we have seen colorful packaging, and thinner and more comfortable materials used in construction of the product,” Campe says.

H.B. Fuller’s Full-Care positioning adhesives and construction adhesives are its most popular feminine care products. The Full-Care positioning adhesives offer high peel performance for a wide variety of back sheets and application methods. The high tack level of our positioning adhesives allows our customers to reduce coat weight and maintain excellent performance.

“Our Full-Care construction products are popular with customers because we offer a range of technologies that provide strong adhesives performance, low strike through, and non-blocking performance,” Campe says, adding that H.B. Fuller is now developing its 3rd generation polyolefin construction adhesives that offer robust bonding strength with raw materials derived from light cracking slates.

H.B. Fuller sees challenges within the market as opportunities. “There are opportunities to develop adhesives to meet the requirements of new substrates used to make the feminine care products as well as changing fabric trends that feminine hygiene products need to adhere. We take a partnership approach with our customers and material suppliers to identify the change or challenge as early in the design process as possible. This allows us to work collaboratively with our customers and material suppliers to ensure that we are designing adhesives that meet the demands and requirements of new products designs.”

Ethics and Sanitary Protection
By Ian Bell, Head of Tissue and Hygiene Research, Euromonitor International

Sanitary protection remains one of the most accessible hygiene products. Basic products are within the reach of consumers with annual incomes of as little as $1000, or $3 per day, and have formed the basis of a boom in hygiene sales across many developing markets, especially in Latin America and Southeast Asia, with markets as diverse as Bolivia and the Philippines seeing availability explode once this income threshold is reached. That said, six of the top 80 economies globally still fell below this threshold in 2010, with Kenya as well as Vietnam and Uzbekistan among this list, meaning that women who struggle to afford sanitary protection are not the reserve of sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, with incomes in India only moving above the $1000 mark in 2010, it is estimated that there are around 1.5 billion women who are either on the fringes or excluded from sanitary protection on the grounds of income alone.

Clearly, women in many parts of the developing world are in need of help in order to gain access to higher standards of sanitary protection. However, while ethical brands have been something of a feature of FMCG markets since the millennium, there has been relatively little activity in sanitary protection. This is despite there being a large group of willing and sympathetic participants ready to buy them, given that women on the whole give up more of their time and money to charitable causes than their male counterparts.

Feel-good products make mainstream appearance
In almost every FMCG category, ethical brands are high profile, to the extent that the big brands have even copied some of the features that originally only brought success to a small group of often local but highly political brands. Although the term ethical is wide ranging, the general premise, to date, has been to label a brand as such if it is: kind(er) to the environment; likely organic; fair(er) to producers in terms of the conditions they work in or the payment they receive; and manufactured in a responsible way. More recently, this list has been extended to include brands that offer a charitable donation, in various forms. Perhaps one of the most high profile of these has been seen in soft drinks, where the Evian brand has teamed up with World Vision for its “1L-for-10L” campaign which, as the title suggests, has sought to provide 10 liters of clean drinking water to African residents for every one liter of the Evian brand bought in the West. For a category facing tough questions over the ethics of shipping water around the world and the amount of waste produced by plastic bottles, the promotion has been well received and has given consumers an in-store, feel-good choice, which has helped circumvent the issue of price differential between Evian and local competition, including private label.

While the example of soft drinks seems light years away from sanitary protection, there are lessons to be learned, as the latter is certainly heading for a period of increased scrutiny due to issues of disposal. To date, sanitary protection has not been the focus of any mainstream public debate over the amount of waste the category creates, as has been the case with nappies/diapers, although this state of affairs is unlikely to continue. Although the industry has made some efforts to improve the standing of its products, such as Procter & Gamble’s introduction of a biodegradable applicator for its Tampax range, there is still a huge gulf between the industry and increasingly stringent waste disposal legislation. This legislation is coming into force in developed markets, thus increasingly placing both tampons and towels in much closer proximity to bottled water than the initial analogy perhaps suggests.

High-tech sanitary protection products marginalize the green trend
Sanitary protection has, thus far, made little impact with organic products, despite initial indication that strong growth was likely and a positive consumer response to organic products in general earlier a decade ago. Organic sanitary protection has now largely been relegated back to niche product status, with Natracare in the UK and Seventh Generation in the US still some way off mainstream. Online retailing has become a key distribution channel for organic products, despite them suffering as consumers continue to choose performance as a key requirement in far greater numbers than the ethical sourcing of raw materials. Indeed, the latest technological developments in sanitary protection have seen manufacturers move further away from natural ingredients and more into synthetic absorbent cores in towels. The latter offers similar and even slightly less absorbency compared to pulp but can be provided in far thinner formats, which has made for a popular global product for Procter & Gamble since it launched its Always Infinity brand in 2008. With consumers looking for ever more effective products, the world of sanitary protection appears to be moving further away from the prevailing green agenda, which suggests the time will come sooner or later when the category will have to look at how to appeal to the growing clamor for more ethical products whilst not compromising on function and efficacy.

Worthwhile opportunities abound
Taking a lead from bottled water, sanitary protection could look to charitable organizations for support: female-orientated charities, such as Breakthrough Breast Cancer, would be a fairly obvious choice, but there are projects already underway by UNICEF, which have specific connections with sanitary protection. In countries such as India, where strong taboos regarding menstruation still exist, UNICEF, alongside India’s Rural Development Council, has invested in placing sanitary protection vending machines in schools that vend at discounted prices. For many schoolgirls, the loss of up to seven days of school per month due to menstruation is cited quite broadly as a key reason why there is still such a gulf between the academic performance of Indian girls and boys in many regions. The provision of improved toilet facilities, as well as subsidized sanitary protection, has, in schools in receipt of this aid, made a significant contribution towards improving the academic performance of and opportunities offered to female students.

There is a similar situation in sub-Saharan Africa, where girls can be treated as outcasts in some instances during their period due to a lack of sanitary protection products, with the use of rags also widely reported to be a source of infection and discomfort to the user. Especially in more remote and outlying areas, where supply and distribution are a major obstacle, groups such as Sustainable Health Enterprises, or SHE (www.sheinnovates.com), have begun establishing micro industries charged with providing affordable sanitary protection made from locally available materials, such as banana leaves. Procter & Gamble, for its part, has been running its “Keeping Girls in School” campaign since 2006 across 17 countries and has continues to give away free supplies of its Always towel as part of its campaign.

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