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Where do the opportunities lie in feminine hygiene? Sanitary protection currently stands at $22 billion globally and registered 10% growth in 2008, with rising uptake in emerging markets countering slowing sales in developed markets.


Demographics Impact Mature Markets

At a regional level, Asia-Pacific accounts for 40% of sanitary product sales, followed by Western Europe, which accounts for 21%. However, in terms of value growth, it was Latin America and Eastern Europe which registered the biggest increases, growing by 19% and 18%, respectively. This drive in growth can be attributed to the rise in disposable income, which expanded the consumer base, thus, allowing consumers to trade up to more expensive products.

In terms of value growth, many Western European countries, including Switzerland, France and Portugal, posted declines in 2008, as did Japan, the only declining market in the Asia-Pacific region. These mature markets are suffering largely because of long-term demographic changes, as is North America at a regional level, which registered the lowest regional growth of 1%. Slowing birth rates have meant that fewer younger consumers are entering the sector than the number of elderly consumers leaving it, eroding the consumer base and forcing manufacturers to look for growth through innovation.

Asian-Pacific Manufacturers Make Gains

According to Euromonitor, Procter & Gamble leads the global sanitary protection market, with a 27% share based on its Always, Tampax and Whisper brands. In second place is Johnson & Johnson with 12%, followed by Kimberly-Clark with 9%. Of the top five manufacturers, only Uni-Charm managed to grow its share in 2008 as it expanded its presence in China and maintained its dominance in Japan, but the company's gains were minimal. China's Hengan registered the strongest gains in 2008 to reach almost a 2% share. Hengan's success was based on the company's rapid expansion in China, particularly through its Space 7 brand. With the Asia-Pacific region predicted to further grow in importance and expected to account for 42% of the world's sanitary protection sales by 2013, manufacturers based in the region may well become an increasing global force.

Lil-tets U.K. Activity Points Towards a Trend

One of the current defining trends in sanitary protection, which is likely to further influence major manufacturers' tactics in the near future, was evident in the U.K. during 2008. Lil-Lets UK Ltd, which ranks second in the U.K. market with a 12% share, became the first manufacturer to include the whole scope of feminine hygiene products under one brand name. Included in the Lil-lets Harmony portfolio are tampons, pads and pantyliners as well as feminine hygiene wipes and wash. Offering the complete range of products under one brand, and expanding the product range into washes and wipes, is likely to gain momentum in developed markets as more manufacturers look to play on the strong brand loyalty that the category inspires and offset any slowing sales of core products caused by demographic changes.

Ultra-thin is Top of the Pads

Pads account for the majority of sanitary protection sales, making up 71% of the sector and currently standing at $16 billion, according to Euromonitor statistics. The category continued to outperform the sector in 2008, registering growth of 11%, driven in particular by ultra-thin pads with wings, which registered growing value sales even in mature markets where overall sales are slowing. The desire for a more comfortable, effective and discreet pad is driving women's purchase decisions the world over and, as a result, ultra-thin pads with wings posted above category level growth in every global region - a trend that is predicted to continue throughout the forecast period.

In light of the continued global potential of the category, it is likely to be the focus for manufacturer innovation, the most recent example of which is Procter & Gamble's launch of the Always Infinity pad in North America. Marketed as"the world's first pad of its kind,'the product claims to be more absorbent than any other because of its use of a new material, Infinicel, which is able to absorb more than 10 times its own weight. The pad also includes channels on the surface of the pad for greater leakage protection and shaped and flexible wings, again for greater protection. The potential popularity of the Always Infinity pad is likely to shape future innovation in the sector and lead to the introduction of other rival ultra-thin pad capable of greater absorption with less material.

Panty Liner Innovation Focuses On Performance

In 2008, panty liners registered just over 11% growth, the highest of the sanitary protection categories. Sales of pantyliners are expected to continue to show steady growth as more consumers are looking for everyday protection and manufacturers are looking to exploit the opportunity to increase usage occasions.

While previous product innovation has largely focused on varying the formats and colors to better fit various styles of underwear, more recent innovation has blurred the difference between ultrathin pads and panty liners. In the U.S., Johnson & Johnson recently extended its Carefree range to include Ultra Protection Liners, which the company claims are 10 times more absorbent than an ordinary liner, promising the protection of a pad combined with the comfort of a liner. Product innovation remains the key to maintaining consumer interest in panty liners, and, as is the case in pads, manufacturers are likely to concentrate on developing more discreet products with increased absorbency, which are also suitable for everyday use. However, this tactic does run the risk of increasingly blurring the boundaries between categories, potentially running the risk of confusing consumers and cannibalizing sales.

Tampon Brands Focus on Marketing

Registering 2%, tampons posted the slowest global growth of all sanitary protection products, caused by a lack of uptake in key emerging markets such as China and a lack of any real product innovation in developed markets. The majority of manufacturer activity has instead been focused on marketing.


Procter & Gamble's Tampax brand, the global category leader, has been extremely active on-line in a bid to target younger consumers and develop early brand loyalty. The brand launched a website,, which offers sanitary protection ad vice from agony aunt, the site's official intermediary, and information on health and beauty tips. The aim of the campaign is to forge an intimate relationship with the consumer and create a loyalty that will last for life. Kimberly-Clark instigated similar on-line activity for its Kotex brand, linking up with Dot Girl First Period Products in 2008. Dot Girl provides kits for pre-teen girls to prepare them for their first period. The kits now include Kotex products and the companies' websites feature cross branding. In an unusual move, SCA, meanwhile, dropped its Libresse tampon onto Dutch beaches in summer 2009 to encourage product trial.

In light of the lack of real product innovation and tampons' lack of uptake in some emerging markets, the category is predicted to grow only marginally throughout the forecast period. In markets where the product is already established, manufacturers must continue with innovative marketing tactics to attract new, younger consumers who may form a lifelong allegiance.

Feminine Hygiene Wipes Offer Opportunity

Feminine hygiene wipes, a relatively recent extension of the sector, registered 14% growth in 2008, the strongest of all feminine hygiene categories, albeit from a small base, according to Euromonitor The category currently stands at $117 million, with the products largely confined to the most developed markets. In these markets they are, however, serving to drive growth in the sector as a whole, offsetting some of the effects of the demographic changes previously mentioned. The products have also attracted consumer interest in more wealthy emerging markets, such as Saudi Arabia, where the category registered 400% growth in 2008--a boom that is set to continue.

Feminine hygiene wipes have attracted attention from major players in sanitary protection, such as Procter & Gamble, which added the Always Freshelle wipe to its product range, and Johnson & Johnson, which includes a wipe in the Carefree range, and OTC manufacturers, with both Canesten Care and Vagisil including wipes targeted at daily usage. Uptake in the category is predicted to continue at a pace, with average global annual growth of 6% predicted to 2013. In light of this potential, wipes are likely to see plenty of activity in the near future as more manufacturers expand their ranges to offset any slowing sales in core products. As evident in the Lil-Lets Harmony range, feminine washes also allow for further brand extension.

Healthcare Crossover Allows for Added Value

Just as OTC brands have crossed into sanitary protection in wipes, there is also opportunity for sanitary protection manufacturers to incorporate healthcare properties into their core products, adding value to the sector and perhaps shifting some of their product positioning away from its current commodity status. Cotton products offer one such opportunity. Although currently the preserve of environmentally-conscious manufacturers such as Seventh Generation and Natracare, which both offer biodegradable organic tampons, sanitary pads and wipes that are flee from synthetic materials and promise to be kinder to the skin, with healthcare being a growing consumer concern major manufacturers could look to extend their brands in this direction. In the case of panty liners and pads, the use of 100% natural cotton top sheets would perhaps be a cost-effective option that would add value.

Taking the health trend one step further, and perhaps an indicator of more long-term innovation, are probiotic tampons, currently manufactured by Ellen AB and available in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, with further distribution deals agreed in the Western European region. The product is aimed at promoting vaginal health by regulating bacteria and strengthening the body's defense systems against infections. In a similar vein, Welfare in China recently launched a pad impregnated with antibacterial properties. Although the long-term potential of these crossover products remains to be seen, major manufacturers will no doubt be keenly watching the progress of these forerunners.
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Author:Kondej, Magdalena
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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