HEALTH

Sexual wellness awareness on the rise

BY Nora Caley

Sex sells and, yes folks, it is selling more and more at mass retailers these days.

As the sexual wellness category expands to include not only contraceptives and family planning, but also products related to comfort, pleasure and self-care, suppliers are developing items that answer consumer demands for effective products made with natural ingredients that can help retailers update their sets.

The result is that consumers are looking to mass retailers to carry a healthy assortment of products in the category, and the once-embarrassing section suddenly has turned into the talk of the store for many merchants. Many said that talk is resulting in big sales and profits for those merchants willing to give the category an ample amount of space.

Yet retailers need to pay attention to the trends with the category. As with many categories in the store, shoppers are reading labels and carefully looking at what they buy. “Consumers are far more educated than ever before and have become very ingredient conscious when shopping for sexual wellness products,” said Taylor Means, vice president of sales at Las Vegas-based Trigg Labs. “Paraben-free, glycerin-free, hypoallergenic are all becoming standards in the personal product category due to this demand from the customers.”

People are learning more about their bodies, Means said, and driving the industry to use ingredients that are of higher quality. Retailers can benefit from this shift by making sure their staffs are educated on the products. “For some consumers, it may be their first purchase, or maybe they’re unsure of which type of product would best suit their needs,” Means said. “This can be embarrassing and a sensitive topic, but a well-trained associate can point them in the right direction and make their purchase feel far more comfortable.” Trigg Labs makes the Wet line of lubricants, and recently launched the Wet Warming Desserts lineup and Wet Vibe Wash for adult toys.

Consumers’ quest for education has shaped how they shop for sexual wellness products. “In the past, consumers were reactionary, and they would purchase to satisfy a need,” said Tracy Meyer, vice president of operations and marketing at Fortera Nutra Solutions, based in Morganville, N.J. “Today, they are proactive about their health. They are more conscious that a healthy lifestyle is no longer defined just with fitness and diet, but also with mental health and sexual health.”

Part of that shift is due to societal changes. People are busy, and they have many demands for time and attention from their careers, partners and family. They also have the Internet and social media to help them learn about new products. If consumers have that much information at their fingertips, then retailers should keep current with what these shoppers find online and want to see in store. “A lot of these big retailers are really trusted,” Meyer said. “People want to go into the store, see the product in their hands and look at the packaging, so it’s important for retailers to keep current.”

Keeping current includes updating their sets to feature more products targeted to women. Fortera Nutra Solutions, which makes the male enhancement supplement Red Fortera, recently announced the launch of Diamond Fortera, a supplement meant to enhance women’s libido and pleasure on demand. The supplement is to be taken 30 minutes before intimacy. “Women have really been wanting something for themselves,” Meyer said. “There has been a lot of focus on the man, and now women have something specifically designed for them.”

Retailers often merchandise Red Fortera and Diamond Fortera in both the family planning section and the vitamins and supplements aisle. “We tend to do well in both,” Meyer said.

Focusing on Women
As with Fortera Nutra Solutions, other manufacturers agree that a category refresh would entail bringing in more products for women. “There is much more awareness of what women’s issues are,” said Chia Chia Sun, founder of Toronto-based Damiva. “Related to that is the fact that as the younger generation is coming up, they essentially have fewer taboos. They have no embarrassment, they have no awkwardness.”

In addition to being more willing to discuss sexual wellness, millennial shoppers also are looking for natural products. “Women who care a lot about self-care have the same sort of values in the sense of sustainability and how this impacts our world around us,” Sun said. “It’s not just self-care, but also about the holistic view. I think that’s very important for manufacturers and brands moving forward.”

Damiva manufactures five feminine care and body products: two for genitals, two for breasts and one sensual massage oil with hemp/CBD. The genital products are Mae for vaginal dryness and Cleo for labial dryness. The company is planning two clinical trials this year for lichen sclerosus, white patches on genitalia, and hidradenitis suppurativa, genital abscesses. A pipeline of products will target new mothers, as well as niche conditions. “There is a need to change the dialogue around embarrassing conditions,” Sun said.

More women are paying attention to the science behind sexual wellness products. “It’s clear that consumers of this category are waking up about the ingredient base in products,” said Wendy Strgar, CEO and founder of Eugene, Ore.-based Good Clean Love. “There’s been a lot of scientific research that has gone on over the last five years.”

One important concept in personal lubricants is osmolality, which refers to the concentration of molecular ingredients in a product. Recent studies have examined the effects of high-osmolality lubricants that contain glycerol, propylene glycol and other compounds that can cause epithelial cell damage. “If you’re using a product that is hyperosmolar, that are heavier than our own human tissue, basically all the fluids from those cells flow out,” Strgar said. “What happens is you slough off those epithelial layers, and the vagina becomes more susceptible to bacterial vaginosis, which is a common infection.”

The solution, she said, is to use natural and organic products that do not contain these harmful ingredients. Good Clean Love makes such products as BioNude Ultra Sensitive personal lubricant and, coming soon, BioNourish Vaginal Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid, and BioGenesis Fertility Lubricant. The new fertility product works with the natural pH level of the vagina. “Rather than pushing the woman’s pH to seven, the vagina is more healthy at 3.5 or 4.0,” Strgar said. “It’s just going to be much better for women conceiving.”

Healthy Sales
Women’s sexual health is one of the areas in which sales are growing at a healthy rate. According to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 24, sales of sexual health products in total U.S. multi-outlet — grocery, drug, mass market, military and select club and dollar stores — totaled more than $1.03 billion, an increase of 3.4% compared with the same period the previous year. Sales of female contraceptives totaled more than $408.9 million, an increase of 10%. Sales of sexual enhancement devices totaled more than $32.7 million, an increase of 13.2%.

Meanwhile, sales of male contraceptives decreased 2.3% to $349.3 million, while sales of personal lubricants were essentially flat, up 0.7% to just under $243.5 million.

“The condom category overall is declining,” said Meika Hollender, co-founder and CEO of New York-based Sustain Natural. “Retailers need to partner with brands that are growing the condom category in order to combat this. Additionally, lubricants have become more and more popular among millennials who are demanding natural alternatives versus what’s been on the market for decades.”

The company sells sustainability-focused tampons, condoms, lubricants and other sexual wellness and feminine care products. “By focusing on women and offering the most natural and sustainable condom on the market, Sustain brings incremental sales where we are in stores, helping combat the category trends,” Hollender said. “Our organic lubricant and period products are where the market is headed, which is why we’ve been so successful to date.”

Innovation
New products can help revitalize these stalled segments. “Category-wide, a lot of retailers are looking for innovation, not duplication,” said Jared Maraio, senior director of brand strategy at Boston-based Global Protection. “A lot of products out on the shelf are pretty similar. Category sales are not blockbuster right now.”
Consumer attitudes toward safer sex and condom use are changing, Maraio said, so the industry needs to adapt to meet these consumer needs. “Our entire purpose as a company is to make people more comfortable talking about condoms,” he said. “From our perspective, when we develop products, we try to develop items that go out and educate the public about the importance of condom use and speak to concerns that consumers have.”

The concerns are about fit and comfort, so Global Protection’s new condom line, MyOne, has 60 different sizes to answer that demand. Consumers go online to determine the correct size and customize the fit, and they can buy the condoms online from retailers’ websites. “Walmart was the first to jump on board,” Maraio said. “A lot of retailers are interested in getting the product in stores. The difficulty is a lot of stores don’t have 60 spots for condoms.”

The Future Looks Good
“Millenials are more comfortable with the notion of self-care,” said Jamie Leventhal, CEO of Clio, a Newton, Mass.-based company marketing the plusOne brand of sexual devices. “This is an underserved market at mass retail, with most sales taking place online or at prestige retailers. It’s time for these items to be available at mass.”

The trick for retailers and manufacturers will be appealing to a generation that uses condoms less frequently than others. According to a recent survey from Lifestyles’ Skyn condoms brand, while 65% of Gen Z respondents said they used a condom all or some of the time, only 54% of millennials responded the same. These self-reported practices come as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report about 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections each year in the United States, with roughly half affecting people between the ages of 15 and 24 years old.

Helping consumers be in the know can help. In an effort to share relevant information about condom use to young adults, Okamoto USA, which makes thin condoms called 0.04, embarked on a long-term initiative that included one-on-one consumer interviews to find out about sex education levels, awareness about contraceptive choices, accessibility, pricing, naming, pack design, and what is missing in sexual health today.

“The results of that study, coupled with a plan for content and messaging, will launch this summer and is expected to change the way we talk about condoms and relationships, and respond in a relevant way to millennials and Gen Z that will change behavior and contemporize the condom category,” said an Okamoto spokesperson. “The objective is to reduce the number of new STIs that seem to be escalating with each new national report.”

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