and Hilary Eng, Euromonitor International Analyst, Singapore
Asia-Pacific is currently the largest market for retail disposable hygiene products, supported by a sizable and yet not fully tapped consumer base, rising awareness and availability of products and increasing spending power.
Within Asia-Pacific, South East Asia (SEA) and India take up one-fifth of the retail hygiene market. SEA brought in $5 billion in retail sales in 2019, while India achieved $2 billion. Over the next five years, SEA and India are expected to see healthy growth in retail, at CAGRs of 8% and 16%, respectively.
In SEA, markets like Indonesia and Vietnam are seeing healthy gains in retail and are among the engines of the regional growth. Meanwhile, India also sees more households joining the ranks of the middle classes with more spending power, coupled with the efforts by the government and the industry to promote modern hygiene practices and products.
Baby diapers remains the largest category within disposable hygiene in the region, by value and volume, followed by feminine sanitary protection. Higher sales of baby diapers can be attributed to numerous factors, including a large consumer base and improved product access. Population studies suggest that one in two children under the age of four lives in Southeast Asian countries and India. Looking at the high untapped potential, manufacturers of hygiene products help generate demand and growth by driving product awareness and availability. Also, many parents are more open to getting the best products for their kids. According to Euromonitor’s Lifestyle Surveys, about three in 10 (30%) of APAC consumers are willing to pay more when buying children’s products that are of higher quality.
While baby diapers will continue to be a significant long-term growth opportunity for the region, disposable feminine sanitary protection products have seen rising demand, with healthy growth in emerging markets including Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and of course, India.
Female population in the age group of 12-54 years in SEA and India is expected to reach close to 650 million by 2024. Moreover, Euromonitor Health Surveys released in 2019 indicate that over half of the women in Indonesia and India, indicated that periods have moderate/high impact on their daily lives, thus opening up further opportunities for engagement with female consumers on period management and available products.
It is also important to note that female disposable incomes continue to grow in the region, thus supporting women’s ability to purchase feminine hygiene products.
A significant untapped consumer base and increasing product awareness, in conjunction with the ongoing efforts by governments, non-profit agencies and the industry to support the use of female hygiene products, results in growth in retail.
Functionality of the product remains an important aspect of the industry innovation efforts in SEA and India. Manufacturers are focusing on products that feature improved leak protection, comfort and are easy to use. Product features center around odor control, coolness or all-night use. An example is Softex in Indonesia and its new Daun Sirih, which utilizes Bethel leaves for odor removal and was launched in 2019. Also, Unicharm released Cooling Fresh in Indonesia in 2018. This product uses mint extract for a cooling sensation. It is also the first Unicharm sanitary product with Halal certification which is an important step considering the large Muslim population in the country. Softex was the first local company to obtain Halal certification in 2017, followed by Unicharm in late 2018.
Other innovation strategies that consider local culture and religious practices include UUCare in Malaysia, which launched washable disposable sanitary pads to appeal to Muslim women who must rinse off soiled pads before disposal.
Disposable night pants have also been launched in SEA. Kao and Unicharm have both launched night pants under the Laurier and Sofy brands. These products have been well received by some consumers in markets like Thailand, for instance. However, price remains prohibitive for many women, limiting access to these products to high income earners.
While many markets in SEA have seen the launch of value-added and premium products, in India, the main focus is on affordable quality. While affordability helps drive the demand, it remains a challenge for the brands operating in the country on tight margins.
Sustainability trends are making inroads into the region, too. According to Euromonitor Lifestyle surveys, in 2019, one in two respondents in SEA and India agree that they try to have a positive impact on the environment through their everyday actions. While consumers are increasingly involved in making educated choices on sustainable and eco-friendly products, manufacturers are also incorporating sustainability into manufacturing and brand building. ENYA, a local start-up in Malaysia, incorporates organic cotton into sanitary pads without the use of synthetic pesticides. These products are positioned as more breathable and skin-friendly, free of fragrances, harmful chemical and toxic adhesives. In India, the eco-friendly pads are available in the mass and premium segments. Start-ups like Saathi promise to use locally sourced raw material for production and seek to manufacture products that do not release toxins into the environment upon disposal. Another example of sustainable innovation in India includes Carmesi, which sells pads made from corn starch, bamboo fibers and compostable bioplastic. These, however, sell at a comparatively higher price point and thus are mainly targeting higher income women.
While disposable sanitary protection products see healthy growth and demand, the region is also seeing a number of brands and initiatives that focus on reusable products. In the Philippines, Hannah, for instance, offers reusable sanitary protection made from certified 100% organic cotton that is unbleached and undyed. Sinaya Cup is a Philippines menstrual cup brand that operates on a “Buy One, Donate One” business model. For every cup sold at retail price, Sinya donates one cup to an underprivileged girl in need. However, the penetration of these products remains low in SEA markets and India as consumers lack good awareness and knowledge of such products. There are also concerns of safety and usage that hinder consumption. In general, Asian markets are still conservative and show a lack of significant motivation to adopt such alternatives.
With the unmet potential estimated at well over $7 billion in incremental retail sales of sanitary protection in the region, against the background of rising hygiene awareness, product diversity and income levels, the industry has significant long-term opportunities in SEA and India. Habit persistence will help drive growth ahead. Government and industry actions will also continue to help drive product use. For example, in India, the government has made feminine hygiene one of its key focus areas and has been trying to educate school-going girls about the products, also giving away free samples of sanitary pads. Similarly, in Indonesia, Kao collaborated with UNICEF and local agencies to create educational pamphlets on menstrual hygiene management.
It is important to remember that while there are some overarching trends affecting all markets in SEA and India, it is necessary to recognize that consumers across SEA and India have a unique set of local characteristics, including cultural and religious practices. These local characteristics, unique to individual countries, are useful in contextualizing marketing and commercial efforts to suit consumer needs and preferences.