Feminine hygiene takes a natural approach
Some good news: There are more products in the feminine hygiene category than ever.
Some bad news: There are more products in the feminine hygiene category than ever.
With growing demand for new products, especially in the natural category, feminine hygiene is in the middle of a huge expansion of merchandise, giving retailers the opportunity to offer a broader assortment and increase profit margins and penny profits.
At the same time, however, this explosion of merchandise is putting the onus on suppliers and retailers to ensure they are stocking the right items across such segments as pads, tampons, wipes and freshening sprays. No one wants to get stuck with a product assortment that is out-of-date with an increasingly demanding consumer.
“Recent trends in our cultural zeitgeist highlight the need for more female empowerment in all aspects of women’s lives, including feminine care,” said Jennifer Delaney, senior director of marketing for intimate health at Vagisil maker Combe.
Marketing is crucial, and education is an important part of empowerment, especially in health issues. Delaney said White Plains, N.Y.-based Combe recently conducted a study that found that 79% of women think that vaginal health is very important relative to their overall health, yet 95% do not typically talk about their vagina.
“Education and open dialogue about vaginal health is imperative for women of all ages and stages, so that they can make the best choices for vaginal care,” she said. “One of our key missions as a company is to break down the social stigmas that surround vaginal health and to normalize conversations around it, so that women feel comfortable and empowered to take control of their own vaginal and sexual health.”
The Vagisil brand has long had a mission of reducing shame around vaginal health issues. The brand has been “Shameless about Vaginal Health” for 45 years, Delaney said, and in 2019 it is celebrating “Generations of Shameless” to highlight women’s issues that span age groups.
Empowerment is a theme for other manufacturers, too. “When it comes to feminine care, the biggest trend we’re seeing is that women are looking for products that work seamlessly in their active, busy lifestyles,” said Joseph Juliano, vice president of innovation, Canada and marketing services at Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Prestige Consumer Healthcare, which makes Summer’s Eve freshening sprays, washes and wipes. “Feminine hygiene is a big part of that personal care puzzle, helping women feel empowered and confident to take on their day.”
Juliano agreed that eliminating stigma is an important part of feminine care products’ branding. “Gone are the days when feminine care was a whispered-about purchase,” Juliano said “The category is expanding and capitalizing on the idea that self care and wellness, no matter what form they come in, should be a celebrated and non-taboo topic.”
Social Media Helps
Menstruation, pregnancy care and related women’s health topics have become less taboo with the passage of time, as well as with the emergence of social media as a source of information and community. Women can go online to research product benefits and warnings, and also to inform each other about recalled products and other cautions. For example, in December, Kimberly-Clark announced a voluntary product recall of its U by Kotex Sleek Tampons for what it called “a quality-
related defect that could impact the performance of this product.” Women used social media to post stories of the tampon’s unraveling inside their bodies, and Kotex used social media and other outlets to announce the recall.
“It used to be you had to call a phone number or reach out to the Better Business Bureau, but now with Facebook and Instagram and things of that nature, people are holding companies more accountable,” said Beatrice Feliu Espada, founder and CEO of the Honey Pot in Atlanta. She also said that another trend also is playing a role. “When you have movements going on such as #MeToo, all of these affect each other.”
The Honey Pot manufactures plant-based feminine care products, including 100% cotton tampons made without pesticides, chemicals, chlorine, dyes, dioxins or other synthetic materials. There also are washes and wipes made with coconut oil to fight bacteria, aloe vera to soothe irritated skin, cucumber to moisten and refresh, and other plant-based ingredients.
New products include the Honey Pot Refreshing Panty Spray, which contains no fragrances, parabens or sulfates, and is available in lavender and jasmine. They are talc-free and 100% natural and cruelty-free. Also coming soon is a CBD pain salve. “Natural is a consumer trend right now all across the board,” Feliu Espada said.
Eco-friendly Still Strong
Sustainability also is a big trend. According to Nielsen, in its 2018 report on the sustainable consumer, sales of products with sustainable attributes made up 22% of the total store, with organic, sustainable and clean attributes driving the majority of the sustainable segment’s growth. Also according to Nielsen, sustainability’s share between 2014 and 2017 grew nearly three percentage points, while conventional products’ share of sales dropped by almost four percentage points.
Young consumers are driving much of this trend. According to Nielsen, millennials are twice as likely than Baby Boomers (75% versus 34%) to say they are definitely or probably changing their habits to reduce their impact on the environment. The younger age group also is more willing to pay more for products that contain environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients (90% versus 61%), organic/natural ingredients (86% versus 59%), or products that have social responsibility claims (80% versus 48%).
Gen Y represents a growing force within the feminine care category, said Tracy Garbowski, director of commercial marketing for feminine care at Shelton, Conn.-based Edgewell Personal Care. “With over 60% of millennial moms with children under three working outside of the home, they need products that are both versatile and fit into their active lifestyle,” she said. Edgewell Personal Care makes products under several brands including Carefree, Stayfree and o.b.
Also, Garbowski said, women of all ages are seeking products that are free of unnecessary ingredients. “Women are becoming increasingly aware and selective about the products they use for their bodies,” she said. “With consumers seeking ‘better-for- you’ feminine care products, interest in natural and organic, less and transparent ingredients, as well as those that have a lower environmental impact, have been exhibiting strong growth within the category.”
Several factors are driving interest in organic feminine care products. “The trend is women now understand that conventional products are made of plastic that are full of toxins and chemicals,” said Helen Robinson, co-founder of Organic Initiative, a New Zealand-based company with U.S. headquarters in Manhattan Beach, Calif. “They know they now have a choice. For an affordable price they can have a healthy option to them and also a healthy option for the world from a biodegradable standpoint.”
Organic Initiative, or Oi, makes organic cotton tampons with biodegradable applicators, organic cotton tampons without applicators, and pads and panty liners made with organic cotton. There also is the Oi menstrual cup that is free of silicone, latex, BPA and phthalates. New products include Oi Girl for younger consumers and also tampons with plant-based applicators.
“Our mission is to take plastic out of feminine hygiene products,” Robinson said. “All the conventional product players will say the amount of chemicals in plastics is so minute it won’t have an impact, but we know inherently if you use these products over time, it must have an impact.”
Robinson also said that these features are important because women have to trust the brand they use. Trust helps build loyalty, and feminine hygiene is typically a very loyal category. Oi products have been certified by the New Zealand-based BioGro and by Global Organic Textile Standard. The certifications help Oi products stand out from competitors’ products that contain only small percentages of organic materials, Robinson said, because women are reading the fine print on packaging.
The sustainability trend is contributing to interest in other products, such as reusable menstrual cups. “The eco-friendliness
of the product is more important than ever,” said John Szustaczek, president of Ontario, Canada-based Ultumum Sales and Marketing Innovations Group, makers of the UltuCup. “With the amount of plastic in our oceans, landfills and sewer systems, the amount of refuse we are discarding as a country, it’s becoming more and more evident that menstrual care items play a large contributing factor to that environmental issue.”
Szustaczek said the UltuCup, a reusable silicone menstrual cup, has several environmentally friendly features. The packaging is recyclable, and the starter guide is printed on recycled paper with vegetable-based inks. Also, UltuCup is made in the United States so the company does not use resources to ship the product from overseas.
The product launched in 2018, and Szustaczek said sales are strong and distribution is growing. Social media has had a positive impact. “We have seen a lot of discussion and communication at educational institutions,” he said. “Colleges and universities are having groups of individuals that discuss health and hygiene and personal issues and menstrual issues.”
Consumers of all ages are looking for not just organic or non-synthetic, but for innovative products that work. “The most important trend related to feminine care is having truly effective natural alternatives to what is currently available on the market,” said Deeannah Seymour, CEO and founder of pH-D Feminine Health in Madison, Tenn.
The solution, Seymour said, is a natural alternative that is not only effective but also can be used prophylactically to maintain normal vaginal health. The company makes boric acid vaginal suppositories, as well as supplements such as pH-D Women’s Health Menopause Support and pH-D Women’s Health Probiotic with Cranberry capsules. The company offers information about the products on its own website, and Seymour said retailers also are posting information on their own channels. “The more innovative retailers are educating their customers in social media about natural alternatives that customers are discovering at their stores.”
The future will see more sustainable, natural and toxin-free products available.
“More and more, women are looking for more organic and more sustainable feminine hygiene products,” said Vilmante Markeviciene, founder and designer of Orland Park, Ill.-based Genial Day. “We even see the big brands shifting to more natural feminine care products.”
The big players still rely on TV advertising for their marketing, Markeviciene said, and smaller players are trying more creative approaches, including social media channels. Genial Day, which makes certified organic menstrual pads, reaches its audience through influencers, vloggers and bloggers, digital marketing, and online subscription offers. Online product reviews and ratings also are part of the mix.
Retailers Can Thrive
Digital marketing is not only a way for manufacturers to engage with consumers, but also a way for retailers to reach key shoppers. “Most retailers are focused on attracting the millennial consumers, who are critical for success in the feminine care category,” said Edgewell’s Garbowski. “As such, they are leveraging targeted marketing tactics that appeal and effectively reach her throughout her journey, which includes a strong focus on digital and social media, including influencers, as well as targeted sampling programs.”
Ultumum’s Szustaczek said retailers have moved beyond wondering whether to carry UltuCup and other menstrual cups. Now they are trying to figure out how many SKUs to carry, and how quickly that section of the category will grow.
It is important for retailers to understand that a woman’s time is her most precious commodity, said Combe’s Delaney, and that there isn’t a magic bullet approach. “As our shopper research shows, retailer success in the intimate health category
cannot be distilled down to one best practice in retail, but rather is the result of many best practices that ladder up to executional excellence.”
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