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Wings and things: developments in the U.K. feminine hygiene business.

The U.K. external feminine hygiene sector, which was worth 97 million [pounds] in 1991, grew to 109 million [pounds] in 1992 and holds 54% of the market by value. During the last seven months, the market has changed dramatically.

To set the scene, the U.K. market had been controlled by four multi-national companies for many years. For more than a decade, Kimberly-Clark has been the leading player with its flagship brand "Simplicity." The other main players have been Johnson and Johnson, Smith and Nephew and Sancella (Molnlycke/Scott).

During the 1980's, product innovation was gradual. In a fully penetrated market with low population growth, the only way to expand market size was diversification and this is what happened - manufacturers convinced women that ultimate comfort and hygiene meant everyday protection and panty liners and shields came on the scene, growing the market by 25%. The main innovations were:

* Press on napkins virtually replacing looped products

* Square ends being largely replaced by rounded ends

* Tri-fold products in individual packs

* Introduction of panty liners (everyday protection) that now occupy 24% of the market

* Slimmer napkins: limited use of superabsorbent to reduce bulk

* Profiled (Z direction) wedge shaped napkins from Molnlycke

* Hourglass shaped panty shields from Kimberly-Clark

The biggest change that has taken place is Procter and Gamble's entry into the arena, a move expected and dreaded by the competition for many months. The "Always" range was launched in February with a huge publicity campaign that has been outstandingly successful in a market where brand loyalty is strong. Market shares are in great flux as women try out the new products. K-C's combined brand share stands at about 22%, but in terms of single brands, Always is in the top slot with approximately 15%. To achieve a 15% share six months from launch is remarkable.

Until this year, P&G's European absorbent products business activity consisted of baby diapers and "Attends" hospital/institutional incontinence products. Having achieved a dominant European diaper market share (amounting to more turnover than the rest of the competition put together in the branded sector), the company has turned its sights to the feminine hygiene market.

For years, European feminine hygiene manufacturers have watched the development of Always in North America and have considered the merits of the patented "Dri Weave" perforated film topsheet. The holes in Dri Weave are funnel shaped to reduce wet back. In the 1980's, there was a lot of skepticism among European feminine hygiene manufacturers whether women would find the "plastic" topsheet acceptable. A theory went around that even if American women accepted it, European women never would. Today no one denies that the wet back performance of Always sanitary napkins is excellent compared to those utilizing a nonwoven. In fact, the Always topsheet is quite soft and many women find the slightly "plastic" feel a small price to pay for a drier surface during use.

P&G is not unique in favoring perforated film over dry laid and spunbonded nonwoven coverstock - J&J's Silhouettes" have been available in continental Europe for three or more years with "Stay Dry" apertured film topsheets. This product was introduced in the U.K. last year as "Vespre Silhouettes." The J&J topsheet has smaller pores than Always, which may mean slightly lower fluid wicking performance, but this could be offset by a softer, fabric-like feel.

There are two other "new generation" features incorporated in, but not unique to, the Always concept. The first of these is the addition of side "wings." These provide additional reassurance and protection to the side of the underwear. The wings fold over the sides of the panties and have adhesive strips that adhere to the underwear, reducing the risk of the napkin bunching or slipping. Bunching is a well known shortfall of conventional flat pads that leads to a high chance of product failure due to the dreaded "side leakage."

P&G is not alone in incorporating wings - the first winged product to appear on the U.K. market was "Bodyform Plus," designed by Molnlycke and sold under license in the U.K. by Sancella Ltd., a joint venture between Molnlycke and Scott. This product has met with a very favorable reaction from British women and Bodyform has been the market leading brand in the U.K. due to good marketing and customer preference for a wedge shaped 3D product with the absorbency in the center of the product.

The other new generation feature of Always is the replacement of conventional fluff pulp/tissue cores with superabsorbent laminates. As with baby diapers, P&G indicates the addition of superabsorbent by the use of the word "ultra." Always Ultra is three mm thick, compared to 14 mm for a typical conventional pad.

The nonwovens used are exclusive to P&G. Under the topsheet there is a wicking layer of a soft, square embossed nonwoven. Beneath this is an envelope containing superabsorbent, the envelope being made of what appears to be Kroyer process air formed nonwoven. The latter appears to contain a high proportion of cellulose fiber.

J&J's approach to attaining the ultimate in discretion and slimness is the introduction of an innovative product called Vespre Ultra, which is even thinner than Always Ultra. The absorbent core is made from brownish colored sphagnum moss.

The old leader of the pack, K-C, has not introduced winged or ultra products, concentrating on what now seems an outdated Simplicity range. It is hard to guess what the company's next move will be, as K-C has declined comment on future plans. The proposed joint venture with Vereinigte Papierfabrik Schickedanz announced on July 1 excludes the U.K. and Ireland, so no "Camelia" or other Schickedanz products will be marketed in these areas. At the moment this joint venture proposal is at the "due diligence" stage with both parties disclosing details of their business and assets to each other.

The Always product range is reminiscent of "Pampers Phases"; it offers a purpose-designed product for different women and for each stage of the menstrual cycle. There are seven products in the range. Four of these configurations are "Always Plus" products with wings - the configurations are normal, super, standard or ultra. The ultra products are packed in individual pocket packs. The non-winged product is hour-glass shaped and is available in normal absorbency, standard or ultra. The last member of the range is a pack of 24 panty liners. Three color codes help the consumer to select the right product.

With the introduction of new generation products with wings, price levels have increased dramatically Using 1989 as a bench mark, price levels for branded press on sanitary napkins (excluding mini pads and panty liners) ranged from 8.3 pence per unit at the top of the premium end down to 4.2p at the high value end. Today the most expensive product, Always Ultra Plus, is retailing at an unbelievable 18.7p per unit, which is more expensive in unit cost terms than some all-in-one diapers. During the last three years inflation has been at a low level so these increases are real increases.

Clearly there has been an enormous amount of product diversification in the sanitary napkin business in the last year. Brand differentiation is much more apparent with several different elements being differentiated. The performance of new generation products is clearly superior in terms of both absorbency/reduced leakage and slimness. All these factors have been stressed in marketing.

Manufacturers have taken advantage of the recent lifting of the restriction on TV advertising of feminine hygiene products in the U.K. The hike in price levels has as much to do with advertising expenditures as product innovations. J&J opted for an advertisement containing straightforward talk about the product and a lot of reference to "wings," while P&G has bombarded recent advertising slots on TV with a more subtle advertisement featuring an actress playing today's woman.

The U.K. sanitary napkin business is typical of the rest of Europe and it seems likely that there will be casualties in the current marketing and product innovations war. The multi-nationals seem determined to reach into deep pockets to support their new products. To attract first time buyers, excellent and costly discounts - such as a 20% discount for purchasing two Always products - have been used.

One of the casualties is Smith and Nephew, whose Dr. Whites products were top of the league in the 1960's and 1970's; its market share dropped from 8% last year to 4% currently. It seems likely that this company's future rests in the private label business. One thing seems certain-with such diversity of products, retailers will limit the number of brands they stock alongside their own label to reduce shelf space in the category. In the medium term there is not going to be room for P&G, K-C, J&J and Sancella and it will be interesting to watch the battle that ensues.

Clare Haddad is an independent consultant in Godalming, England, specializing in research for suppliers in the nonwovens, disposables and paper industries. She is a frequent contributor to NONWOVENS INDUSTRY and a well known speaker at international nonwovens industry meetings.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:United Kingdom
Author:Haddad, Clare
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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