“Overall, global unmet potential for adult incontinence in retail alone is estimated to be well over eight billion units, much higher if we are to consider further opportunities in institutional spaces, especially in developing markets with improving healthcare systems,” says Svetlana Uduslivaia, research manager for Euromonitor International.
This potential encouraged Procter & Gamble (P&G) to re-enter the market in 2014 after more than a decade away. Since then, the company’s Always Discreet brand has continued to gain marketshare with sales growing 20% in 2017, according to IRI, a Chicago, IL-based research firm. However, Kimberly-Clark (K-C), with its Depend and Poise brands, continues to be the clear market leader, commanding a 50% marketshare of the $1.8 billion market in the U.S.
On the global front, K-C and Sweden’s Essity (formerly SCA) continue to vie for the number one spot in global retail sales of incontinence products with Japan’s Unicharm in third place. However, P&G continues to show strong growth globally.
“The whole incontinence market is on the rise. Especially world regions like Eastern Europe, Asia and South America stimulate this development,” Philip Hellmich, communications manager for incontinence supplier Paul Hartmann. “A reason for this is the income growth and the possibility to do more for their own health.”
Sales and demand are being driven by a number of factors, says Uduslivaia. “On the population side, the population is aging globally, providing a growing consumer base for the products as incidences of incontinence increase with age,” she says. “Additionally, growing rates of obesity, cancer, and other health factors further provide a platform for growth in demand as these come usually with increased risks of urinary incontinence.”
Demographic and health factors are coupled with growing awareness and understanding of the condition, improved dialogue, product normalization, better access to products, and more product formats to help address specific needs and conditions.
Tom Wilson, a managing director of CenterBrain Partners and an expert on hygiene products development, explains the interest in adult incontinence more simply. “Every morning there are 10,000 baby boomers that have turned 65,” he says. “That is what is really feeding interest. You don’t find too many markets that are big, are growing strongly and are expected to grow for a long time.”
According the U.S. National Institute of Health, about 20 million adult women and six million adult men experience or have experienced urinary incontinence in the U.S. and there are countless more living with fecal incontinence. Incontinence does not alone affect older people. In fact, men, women and children of all ages are living with the condition, but it is more common in older adults, particularly women who have had children.
While this condition is not new, many solutions for it are, as manufacturers of disposable products continue to find new ways for sufferers to live with their conditions.
“Twenty years ago, I was working at K-C and briefs dominated the market,” Wilson recalls. “ We built the first machine and made the first disposable underwear for adults and we could see right away that pull-on underwear would displace briefs. They are much more discreet, easier to put on. It all comes down to the word dignity.”
Since then, manufacturers have advanced disposable underwear design making them more similar to regular underwear in terms of fit, thinness, softness and discretion. P&G takes this a step forward with its latest offering, Always Discreet Boutique, a line of beautiful bladder leak underwear. The company says the new line takes bladder protection out from under the bathroom sink and into the underwear drawer.
P&G developed the product by talking to sufferers, listening to their stories and considering thousands of design combinations to create a product that would meet their needs, according to Sion Agami, a research fellow in P&G’s feminine care business and a key collaborator on the creation of the underwear.
“We had the opportunity to help people regain their self esteem and help them feel beautiful again,” he says. “By doing the right research at the right time, we were able to come up with the right strategy.”
Completely absent from the adult incontinence category until the launch of the Always Discreet line three years ago, P&G now holds the no. 2 or no. 3 marketshare position in many regions and categories. The company introduced Always Discreet Boutique in Europe in June and in the U.S. in July, giving incontinence sufferers a new option.
“We are replacing grandmama’s diapers with mama’s sexy underwear,” Agami explains.
To develop the product and find out exactly what incontinence sufferers want, P&G formed an online community where women were able to interact with other women with similar conditions. This community forum was research for P&G, allowing developers to understand behavior, but it was therapeutic for the women as they shared stories of how they came to live with incontinence.
“A major hurdle in reaching this stage is confronting the stigma—the feeling of humiliation or that they are trapped or isolated. Once this stage is reached the next step is figuring out an ideal solution,” Agami says.
And, 77% of bladder leak underwear users say that, while effective, current products make them feel older than they would like to feel and erode their confidence and femininity. Two in three women who have tried bladder leak underwear say they avoid wearing them even when they know they need them.
P&G hopes this is about to change. Made with silky-soft fabric and curve-hugging contours and available in a rosé color with delicate lace prints, the design was inspired by fashion industry trends with the help of lingerie experts and fashion designers.
The result is a product that is firmly aligned with its marketing message—The Sexiest Thing a Women Can Wear is Confidence—which was developed long before the final product.
It’s a message that P&G researchers hope will transform the adult incontinence category from the “aisle of despair” to one that empowers women.
Across the entire Always Discreet range, P&G has sought to raise the bar on product experience with a slim, comfortable fit, says Jeannie Tharrington, communications for feminine care North America at P&G. Its products were designed by reapplying many years of technical innovation and consumer knowledge from both the feminine care and baby care categories. The products offer P&G technologies like Unique RapidDry protection, Double LeakGuard Barriers to help stop leaks and Exclusive OdorLock technology that neutralizes odors instantly.
“Always Discreet Boutique was designed with input from real women who were frustrated with the current bladder leak underwear on the market. We spoke to thousands of women to understand how we could design a superior-performing, beautiful product that would delight her,” Tharrington adds.
“With silky smooth fabric and curve-hugging contours, the Always Discreet Boutique underwear offer the ultimate in protection with the femininity that helps women life their lives confidently and without compromise.”
Market leader Kimberly-Clark also continues to innovate in its Depend and Poise adult incontinence brands. The company announced in April 2017 that its Depend Real Fit, Depend Silhouette and Depend Silhouette Active Fit Briefs have all been improved to offer a look and feel that is superior than the previous materials.
“Depend brand is committed to enhancing the lives of those with bladder leakage and offers dignified solutions that provide comfort, protection and confidence through innovation and design,” says senior brand manager Jennifer Nobui.
To help lift the stigma associated with urinary incontinence the Depend brand partnered with three individuals who, with a little help from these new and improved products are able to participate in everyday activities like being a yoga instructor, saving lives as a firefighter or dancing at a half time show.
“We’re excited to partner with real people to help encourage others to find a solution that works best for them so they can continue to live their best lives, free from worry,” Nobui says. “As a brand, we make continuous updates to our products to ensure we are meeting the needs of our consumers to help them feel comfortable living a full, confident life.”
Alyn-ing with the Market
A group of disposable products experts have taken their combined decades of experience working in product development to create a new design for adult underwear that manages fluid absorption differently by using multiple layers of different superabsorbent polymers that absorb at different rates, from quick absorption to complete absorption without bulkiness. The SAP layers are diamond quilted in a pocketed structure, sandwiched between layers of polypropylene spunbond and then ultrasonically bonded together.
The design can provide stability, excellent SAP absorbency management, thinness, dryness for more comfort and discretion that provides the wearer confidence through protection.
“Reducing pulp is not as easy as people think it is because you need to replace the functionality of the word pulp,” says Joe Howard, CEO of Advanced Absorbent Technologies. “There are only so many things that we are aware of that can replace the functionality of the wood pulp.”
AAT has incorporated this technology into a new design for adult underwear being marketed under the Alyne brand name. In November 2017, Alyne won the Hygienix Innovation Award for excellence in a nonwoven-based product at the annual INDA Hygienix conference.
“During the past couple years, there has been this realization that the user group is much broader in age,” Howard says. “These consumers need, and are getting, more options so they can make choices to make sure they feel more comfortable wearing something because of the way it looks and the way it feels. They want something as close to real underwear as possible. That is why the thinness and other design elements need to fit it all.”
Despite this innovation, manufacturers must be cognizant of cost when it comes to solutions. A heavy user could spend as much as $1200-1500 per year on incontinence products, which is a considerable amount for users on fixed incomes. While Alyne is clearly premium, Howard says his company has not priced it that way. “We did this purposely so that people whose pocketbooks aren’t quite as full can participate. Some people will pay more but we remember that adult incontinence does not just hit the upper class. It hits every socioeconomic group the same.”
Howard, who once worked for Covidien, is not daunted by competing against well known names like K-C and P&G, saying that consumer loyalty will come naturally once the benefits of this product are seen. “We honestly believe that we have shifted a paradigm and this is the future,” says Howard. “My partners and I were the first ones to bring underwear to the U.S. and that was a hit. Once consumers start trying and seeing and using our technology, it is going be significant.”
Tena Hangs On
While Essity’s Tena brand has felt the impact of the P&G launch in North America, it continues to remain strong globally and still dominates Western Europe thanks to a strong track record of innovation and marketing support.
“The company supports its products through ongoing innovation and marketing support, including an innovative approach to marketing its new line of men’s incontinence underwear by taking the leaf out of fashion marketing,” Uduslivaia says.
In spring 2017, Tena launched the Mr. Pantstastic marketing campaign featuring a man with every bit as much swagger as a Calvin Klein underwear model. The model, along with Tena, was aiming to normalize the taboo subject of male incontinence. This campaign was promoting a new absorbent underwear product featuring a grey stripe design and elasticated waistband to look and feel like everyday underwear for men.
Other recent initiatives from SCA were enhancements across its portfolio to promote skin health. Tena Premium Briefs, Protective Underwear and Heavy Pad incontinence products now feature Tena ConfioAir 100% breathable technology, which allows excess moisture to evaporate, to help maintain skin’s natural moisture balance and improve comfort for wearers.
The technology features a unique outer layer with micro-pores that allows moisture from the inner absorbent core to evaporate. This helps maintain skin’s natural moisture balance, allowing it to breathe and keeping the skin on the inside of the product comfortable and dry. This technology is now included across Tena’s premium absorbent product line.
“We look beyond the product to focus on the individuals, and are dedicated to finding new solutions that offer optimum fit and functionality while improving quality of care,” says Jessica Lan, director of Product Management for Essity Health and Medical Solutions, North America. “With this upgrade to our absorbent line, we are pleased to provide more options that help maintain a care routine and lead to better skin health.”
For the large population that suffers from incontinence, discomfort can happen quickly. Many incontinent individuals are elderly and have fragile skin that faces a variety of threats including skin ulcers, incontinence-associated dermatitis and infection as well as greater potential for injury as healing slows down.
Recognizing that skin health is important for incontinent individuals, who are at risk of painful irritations from prolonged exposure to moisture, it is vital to provide comfort and care to the perineal area and support the overall quality of life for product users.
“Adult incontinence is more complicated for consumers to navigate and many do no have sufficient knowledge to choose the right type of products,” says Uduslivaia. “Hence, medical advice/professional advice is often crucial to secure the right type of products and protection. The condition can also change over time, which will mean the need to change/adjust product selection.”