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Meeting the demand of the retail market: a look at critical issues for the incontinence products manufacturer.

Meeting The Demand of the Retail Market

It has been estimated that one in four people will suffer from some degree of incontinence in their lifetime. What this means to manufacturers and retailers is the opportunity for increased growth and profitability in the incontinence category, which has been projected by some as having the potential of becoming a $1 billion market, bigger even than the baby diaper market.

In order to fulfill the potential and to be successful, manufacturers and retailers must have a greater understanding and empathy for the consumer and be cognizant of the critical issues confronting the incontinence market.

Consumer Sensitivity

There are basically three driving forces for the incontinence market - consumer sensitivity, cost and product bulk.

The incontinent condition is a subject that many consumers are unwilling to discuss or acknowledge. It centers about physiological functions that are common to every man and woman in the world, yet we find it extremely difficult to talk about. It is a natural function of life; however, what does one do when it is no longer a normal, controllable function? Keep in mind that, technically, we all start off life with incontinence. It is almost a passage of rites when we can control our bladder and bowels. Imagine the stigma and distress losing this ability can cause.

When incontinence is one of the results of a crippling accident or illness, it is probably the most difficult aspect with which to come to terms since the individual now requires help to do something so basic and private. When it is associated with the elderly, it infers that the individual is no longer capable of taking care of himself. What a cruel and debilitating condition.

Very recently, the ABC television show 20/20 aired a segment on incontinence entitled "What Nobody Wants To Talk About." The segment addressed the issue in an all-too-brief manner, but it did point out that incontinence is not a disease of the elderly but rather a symptom than can occur within many males and females of all ages. More of these types of "public awakening" shows will help in eliminating the embarrassment factor this particular condition causes.

Marketing and advertising can also help consumers overcome their sensitivity, but this takes a long time and it most assuredly will be quite costly. The additional time and expense associated with effective marketing and advertising will need to be covered somewhere. However, the obvious choice - the product's price - should not be the only answer. The sensitive nature of incontinence also limits a key marketing tool, specifically word-of-mouth advertising.

The Cost of Incontinence

Unlike the baby diaper purchaser, who is usually young and has a lifetime of earning power ahead, the incontinence product user is generally an older individual on a fixed income with less disposable income. To these people, the cost of incontinence products can be perceived as prohibitive, especially since the products are not reimbursed (usually) under health care insurance. As a result, the consumer will most likely choose less costly alternative products even if these products were not specifically designed for incontinence care and may not work as effectively. The bottom line is that incontinence products must be perceived as affordable in order to improve sales.

Manufacturers can best help the market, and themselves, by focusing on manufacturing costs. By evaluating product design, materials and possible process refinements, the manufacturer may be able to optimize the product. The manufacturer should also take a hard look at its operation to see if there are cost centers that can be better controlled. Minimization of waste, downtime and out-of-specification production can all deter costs and assist in maintaining product affordability.

In fact, all aspects and costs of doing business should be analyzed. Proper investment in personnel, plant and equipment will permit cost reduction while maintaining quality products.

Cost is a critical and pervasive issue to keep in mind at all times. This is a market that will grow through expanded use of the products, yet one that will offer very tough resistance to price increases unless third party reimbursements become a reality.

Product Bulk

Product bulk is a driving force for the incontinence market because it affects both the consumer and the retailer. For the consumer, the bulk impacts on their major performance concerns. The proper bulk provides the right absorbency along with a comfortable and discreet fit. Each manufacturer must design its products to find the proper balance to these features. Additional bulk to improve absorbency may negatively impact comfort, while thinner products may not provide sufficient absorbency or protection against leakage.

For the retailer, the bulk of the product impacts the profit potential of retail shelf space. Incontinence products take up considerable amounts of valuable and limited shelf space, while not necessarily returning sufficient profit dollars per square foot. There is a finite and competitive limit of retail space that can be given to these products.

Since the retailer can only give space to one or two branded items and a store brand/private label product, there is going to be even greater pressure on innovation, uniqueness and price. A breakthrough will be required to get a new line on the shelf. It will be a zero sum game for nonwovens - a new line will be introduced at the expense of an old line because retailers can simply not handle a proliferation of products. Private label will ensure its place on the shelf if it continues to focus on quality and provide a value to the consumer.

Educating Ourselves/Educating

Each Other

Keeping these critical issues in mind, manufacturers and retailers should focus their efforts accordingly. For retailers, it means maximizing the profit potential from the retail space it has committed to incontinence products. This means putting the right brands, sizes, products and absorbency types on the shelves and capitalizing on private label opportunities.

For manufacturers, this means meeting the criteria of product quality, product innovation, bulk optimization and cost reduction. The manufacturer must also prove to the retailer that its products contain these meaningful differences. To do this, the manufacturer needs to educate the retailer about what incontinence is and why it is important to stock so many different products to deal with the condition. The manufacturer must explain what the consumer is looking for in a product so the retailer will know what to offer.

Most importantly, the manufacturer must listen and learn from its customers, the actual users. Several studies have shown that the majority of users are not totally satisfied with the incontinence products currently available. On-going communication with the product users will only help to improve the products and, as a result, improve overall sales.

The Perfect Product?

Consumers want a product that permits them to "forget" that they are incontinent and gives them back the dignity that is perceived as lost when one is incontinent. The desired attributes of the "perfect product" are quick and effective absorbency, no leakage, discreet comfort, affordability and prevention/elimination of odors. These demands remain the same regardless of the type of incontinence or the choice of protection.

While many of the products manufactured today achieve these attributes to varying degrees, none have yet reached the optimization of each element in concert with the others. Continued technological advances in both materials and equipment will allow manufacturers to make products that better meet consumer demands.

The incontinence product market poses an extremely unique situation for private label manufacturers. In general, the overall private label philosophy has been to mimic the leading national brand or brands as closely as possible and ride the national brand's advertising and promotions to help sell their private label product.

This strategy must be reevaluated in light of the fact that incontinence products are not heavily promoted. Yet, there are national brand market leaders, so some retailers will require "national brand comparable" products for their private label. Add to this the fact that the definition of "national brand comparable" varies from chain to chain and it makes for a confusing situation.

Some chains demand national brand comparable but don't necessarily expect that the private label product has to be a twin of the branded item. Their interpretation is that the private label should function similarly to the national brand product but can look very different. Other chains might simply expect that the private label product be a quality product on its own merits. These different philosophies can be the reason why a product from one supplier is accepted at one chain and rejected at another.

I have never seen a private label incontinence product match the specified national brand target completely. The primary reason is that most private label manufacturers have developed their own design to meet consumer demand, in many cases offering special designs or features not found on the national brands. Sales figures prove that this strategy has been and continues to be quite successful, as the national brands are not the overwhelming choice of consumers.

Of course, changing a retailer's private label philosophy is not always feasible. Many chains have built their private label success by demonstrating equivalency for their entire private label program in all consumer perceptible attributes, the very reason for their customers' loyalty. Should a chain now bring an item out under its label that is visually different? If the chain is determined to maintain this visual comparability for its private label line, the logical option for the manufacturer is to look at introducing the product under a control label.

A Difficult Job

The marketing of incontinent products is difficult. The products address a condition that is embarrassing to discuss and is, for the most part, not clearly understood by the general public. To a great extent the customers that manufacturers are trying to reach utilize other means to do the job, methods that are not specifically designed for incontinence.

There are not national brand products that are far and away superior to any other products in the market. Advertising and its "teaching" through repetition doesn't exist to any significant degree. The retailers who need to be convinced to buy a manufacturer's products and put them on their shelves are no different from the average person in their lack of knowledge of the condition and its treatment.

Incontinence care is a tough sell. Manufacturers must teach first and sell second. They must try to empathize with those who have to deal with it every day of their lives. In turn, product suppliers must make the buyer understand, so that their products get a piece of that valuable retail shelf space.

The business of incontinence is more than just an opportunity to make money. It is an opportunity to make peoples' lives better. It would be a serious mistake to think otherwise. Business success can translate into people success.

P&G, K-C Have Altered

Incontinence Product Advertising

The absorbent products industry, recently the focus of a number of government actions due to environmental concerns, has drawn the attention of another state agency, but this time the targets are incontinence products and the reasons are advertising claims by the country's two largest manufacturers.

Both Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH, and Kimberly-Clark, Dallas, TX, have altered their packaging and/or advertising to suit the demands of the New York State Attorney General, who had charged the two largest incontinence products marketers with misleading advertising claims.

Last December Attorney General Robert Abrams, who had also been involved in the recent actions against environmental claims by baby diaper manufacturers, demanded that P&G and K-C clearly indicate in any advertising of their incontinence products that urinary incontinence is often a treatable medical disorder.

At the time of the New York announcement it was revealed that K-C, while strongly denying that advertising for its "Depend" line was misleading, had made an agreement with the Attorney General earlier in 1990 to change the wording of its advertisements and to add an easily visible message to commercials advising sufferers to consult their doctor. Also denying any intention to mislead, P&G, maker of "Attends," said at the time it would not change the wording of its commercials but agreed to add a line about "see your doctor about incontinence."

A P&G spokesperson told Nonwovens Industry last month that it had immediately complied with the Attorney General's request that it change the wording in its print advertising to more prominently feature the advice to consult a physician about incontinence. The company, according to the spokesperson, has always included this labeling on its Attends packaging.

A K-C spokesperson also told Nonwovens Industry that "Kimberly-Clark has always believed we had an obligation to convey that our Depend absorbent products represent only one of several ways to deal with incontinence problems. For this reason, we have always included that message on our ads and on our packaging. Therefore, we agreed to the minor modifications requested by the New York Attorney General's office."

Mr. Abrams, quoted in the New York Times, said that "Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark took advantage of the general lack of knowledge about help for incontinence. They played on people's shame."

The advertisements in question, which appeared on television and radio and in print, told incontinence sufferers that they could resume normal lives because of their disposable undergarments. What concerned Mr. Abrams was the implication that these undergarments were the only solution to incontinence when in fact it has been determined to be a treatable disorder.

According to the New York Times, at least 10 million Americans suffer from urinary incontinence and a full 90% can be greatly helped or cured. Unfortunately, only about half of those suffering seek medical attention.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Rodman Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes additional article on alterations in incontinence product advertising
Author:Perlman, Alan L.; Jacobsen, Michael
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Previous Article:Adult incontinence products; competing for the future.
Next Article:Gender specific diapers, compressed packaging mark private label diaper trends.

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