By Richard Turcsik
A well-merchandised selection of feminine hygiene products can help supermarkets gain back sales from the drug and mass channels. It is certainly no small wonder. In 1986, the editors of Consumer Reports surveyed more than 100,000 products and services that had been introduced in the previous half century since the magazine’s founding to find those that had exerted the greatest impact on everyday living. In addition to air conditioners and running shoes, the editors chose the tampon as one of the “50 small wonders and big deals that revolutionized the lives of consumers.” That revolution is still ongoing. Manufacturers continue to improve offerings with scented products designed to appeal to ethnic consumers, all-natural ones for environmentalists and those concerned about what they put in and on their bodies, money-saving private label versions and other innovations designed to make that “time of the month” as comfortable and worry free as possible. “Kimberly-Clark created the feminine care category with the launch of the Kotex brand almost 100 years ago,” says Kanchan Patkar, senior brand manager – Kotex, in the Neenah, Wis. office of Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark. “In 2010, Kimberly-Clark redefined the category with the launch of U by Kotex, which changed the way young women think about and experience feminine care.” U by Kotex revolutionized the feminine care category by introducing color and design variety on pads and liners for the first time, Patkar says. “This breakthrough in design is part of a larger mission to change the thinking around feminine care and empower young women to take control of their health and bodies,” she says. “U by Kotex supports women by updating the conversation about periods and vaginas and helps them understand and be comfortable with their femininity and bodies through straightforward, honest and fun advertising that reflects real female experiences, as well as an online community where women can learn more about vaginal wellness as well as voice their opinions and concerns.” Patkar adds that Kimberly-Clark’s latest innovation was the August 2013 launch of U by Kotex Extra pads. “U by Kotex Extra pads are super premium maxi pads designed to keep girls feeling clean and fresh while providing maximum, heavy duty protection,” she says. “The new U by Kotex Extra pads have a soft dual cover that keeps wearers clean and dry, an ultra-flexible four-layer absorbency system and Tru-Fit wings that help prevent bunching and scrunching and keep the pad in place.” According to Patkar, “Innovation is the biggest opportunity in the category and also what continues to drive sales.” U by Kotex has been a category sales leader, she says. “As of September 2013, U by Kotex had achieved 7.8 points of market share, quickly becoming one of Kimberly-Clark’s fastest growing brands, and helping drive consumer interest and growth in a relatively flat category.” Bella Flor has brought innovation to the category by infusing its pads with natural chamomile extract for odor absorption. “Chamomile has been proven effective in Latin America, where this category is huge,” says Dominique Rivera, sales manager/marketing, at Bella Flor, based in San Diego. “In Latin America it is normal to see a whole aisle of feminine hygiene products infused with natural scents.” That is why Bella Flor initially targeted Hispanic women. “During the first year that we launched we noticed that this brand was really created for today’s Millennial woman, somebody who is modern and cares about the environment and what they put on their body,” Rivera says. “Chamomile is a natural odor absorbent, and it helps to soothe the skin and avoid irritation, which is a common reaction women suffer when wearing pads.” Bella Flor is also touting the value of its pads. “We offer great quality in terms of absorbency,” Rivera says. “We position ourselves with a similar or higher absorbency than the leading brand in the market, but at a lower price.” Bella Flor offers its panty liners in 20- and 40-count sizes, and its overnight pads in 14- and 28-count packages. Rivera suggests retailers stock both sizes. “For women trying a new brand, it is always good for retailers to offer them in small counts,” Rivera suggests. “It kind of creates a trial pack. Women don’t like to buy a big pack to try something, but once they try it—and like it—it is good to offer a bigger pack. Women definitely like to buy bigger packs of items that they are going to use more often. Panty liners are daily use, so why would she buy a 20-count when she could buy a 40-count and save some money?” If concerns about pesticide use, chemical allergies and intolerance to synthetics are issues, why would women not buy an organic item? The Natracare line of feminine hygiene products was created especially for that consumer. “For 25 years Natracare has spoken out about the effects on women’s health and the environmental devastation caused by the production of the raw materials and post-consumer disposal of feminine hygiene products, specifically crude oil plastics, chlorine bleaches and the synthetics and chemicals persistently being used to make feminine hygiene products,” says Theresa White, senior executive officer, at Natracare, based in Greeley, Colo. Natracare recently extended its panty liner range with the individually wrapped panty liner—normal. “Normal is our latest innovative product, its advanced curved shape design is soft, absorbent and breathable,” White says. “This panty liner offers a discreet and practical solution for women wishing to carry their panty liners in their purses.” Each pack contains 18 compact panty liners, individually wrapped in a totally chlorine free paper pouch. Natracare packaging has also been redesigned to incorporate a daisy motif. “The strong blue and a pretty daisy motif will make the packaging more memorable and appealing,” White says. “The daisy flower was used on the original Natracare packaging 25 years ago, and it is a motif that we will be integrating into our 2014 marketing and advertising.” Diva International has carved out a niche for itself by manufacturing The DivaCup, a reusable silicone menstrual cup that sits low at the base of the vaginal canal, collecting rather than absorbing flow. “Offering 12 hours of leak-free protection, the DivaCup is comfortable and easy to use, making it ideal for overnight and the active lifestyle for women of all ages,” says Nina Henry, business development manager, USA and e-commerce, Diva International, based in Kitchener, Ont., Canada. Because it is reusable, The DivaCup can be used month after month, saving consumers money in the long run—up to $150 a year—and is more environmentally responsible, Henry says. “Unlike the ingredients found in tampons and pads, The DivaCup is free of chemicals, plastics and dyes and is made only of 100% health care grade silicone,” Henry says. “Additionally, as a reusable option, The DivaCup eliminates the waste produced from tampons and pads, ensuring better care for our planet and women’s health.” TENA twist TENA is also making a name for itself in the feminine hygiene category with its television commercials with the catchy “TENA twist” jingle. TENA products are designed to be ultra-thin, making them comfortable and discreet, says a spokesperson for Philadelphia-based SCA Hygiene Products, a division of a Swedish company. “As a global leader in incontinence care, TENA products across the board are the best in terms of quality, comfort and technology. We have experienced that once a consumer tries the TENA brand they are happy with the product and peace of mind it offers,” adds the spokesperson. As women grow increasingly happy with private label groceries, many are also giving private label feminine hygiene products a shot, and often like the quality—and savings—that are offered. However, private label feminine hygiene products need to follow a different set of rules than groceries or even other nonfoods, say manufacturers, and should mimic the national brands. “Retailers want to standardize the packaging of their private label across all categories,” says Martine Hénault, marketing director for Fempro, a private label feminine hygiene manufacturer based in Drummondville, Quebec, Canada. “Using the same packaging for private label across the board—food, hygiene, etc.—is negative to a category such as feminine hygiene and doesn’t always give good results. This is because the look, color code or the logos are sometimes difficult to adapt, too masculine or send a mixed message when the category is already difficult to shop.” Industry observers say that generally, national brand equivalent (NBE) is an easy comparison, especially if merchandised right next to the brand benchmark. Rockline Industries offers wipes that are NBE’s to Procter & Gamble’s Always, Playtex and Summer’s Eve. “The consumer can tell if there are enough visual cues, how these products are similar and easily see the value comparison,” says Donna Rippin, category director, personal care, for Rockline, the Sheboygan, Wis.-based manufacturer of private label and Fresh’n Up control brand feminine wipes. Rockline’s program is mainly a spunlace offering, but that is changing. “A few of the more progressive retailers have moved into dispersible substrate products,” Rippin says. “We view this as a smart move, since the majority of consumers either flush these wipes away, even though spunlace products are not designed to be flushed, or want to have the ability to do so.” About a year ago, Rockline came out with a Summer’s Eve compatible product. “This is in recognition of the fact that Summer’s Eve has gained sales and is now the market leader over Always,” Pippin says. “They have done a good job with their new feminine packaging look and they continue to enjoy strong growth, in excess of 20%.” Rippin say though the feminine wipes category is small—about $75 million in annual sales—and fragmented among four major brands, including Vagisil, it is growing. “It is not a big business but it is growing and moving along at a pretty steady pace, five, six, sometimes nine percent growth a year,” Rippin says. When it comes to feminine hygiene, industry observers say supermarket operators need to do a better job in the category to win back sales lost to other channels. “The drug channel and mass merchandisers is where most of this product lives,” says Rippin, adding that Rockline manufactures private label wipes for the Walgreens chain. “The challenge for grocery is that you just get these bigger assortments at drug and mass. They just put more shelf space against this category. By the time you incorporate all of the feminine needs, the internal and external, medicated items, wipes and solution, all of the douches, when you put all of that together it is a pretty big piece of retail space. Clearly grocery is not the destination channel for these products.” However, retailers with selling areas devoted to large pharmacy departments have the ability to change that, she says. “If consumers are already going in there for meds and prescriptions, I think there might be the opportunity, especially if the feminine hygiene products are merchandised in that general area to get some more attention,” Pippin says. Observers say that finding retail space can sometimes be the biggest challenge because there continues to be more product and assortment—and stores aren’t getting any bigger. To help rectify that situation, Rivera suggests retailers short on space give up the large club pack sizes. “What sometimes limits the space are those large, bulky packages with 100 or more. That definitely limits the variety that you can offer for other brands or products,” she says. Hénault suggests supermarkets use price shielding to boost sales of feminine hygiene products. “Price shielding is a promotional tactic in which retailers promote private label products at the same time as the national brand,” she says. “They promote comparable products within the same category. More purchases in the category are made during the promotional period, and it is imperative that the retailers frequently offer promotions to motivate consumers to discover and to adopt the products.” Cross promotion might also help stimulate sales. “Women use different products during their periods, and thinking of creative ways to promote pads, panty liners and tampons can optimize sales,” Hénault says.