Once-discreet personal care products, ranging from feminine hygiene to adult incontinence to family planning, are showing up on supermarket shelves in eye-catching packaging with an important message: I'm not so taboo anymore.
Personal care categories are growing, and while retailers once again have baby boomers to thank, the cash register speaks for itself.
For instance, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, the personal lubricants category in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandise outlets, excluding Wal-Mart Stores, has risen 5.1% in dollar sales, to $107.8 million, in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 31, 2006.
For the same period, adult incontinence products are up 7.1% to $597.5 million; family planning products are up 1.9% to $265.2 million; and sanitary napkins/liners are up 1.5% to $1.4 billion.
“Baby boomers and other women have a healthy perspective on personal and sexual health, and are looking for resources and solutions,” said Lisa Martinez, founder and executive director of the Women's Sexual Health Foundation, Cincinnati.
The foundation was formed three years ago as part of a grass-roots movement to make sexual health information readily available, Martinez said. This serves as evidence that women are looking for resources, and with them, innovative products. “If there is a need for information, then there is a need for options on store shelves. More than 1,000 women are paying $25 a year to belong to our foundation just to get information.”
Although Wild Oats Markets carries only two primary brands, feminine hygiene is a strong category at the chain, said spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele. The brands are natural alternatives to mainstream feminine hygiene: Natra Care and Seventh Generation. “These products do well in our stores as many women are sensitive to bleached materials and prefer organic or natural cotton,” she said.
These brands aren't tracked by IRI, but feminine hygiene medications and treatments from another brand, Nature's Cure, based in San Francisco, are: They've risen 2,544.8% to $838,834 in the past year, according to IRI.
The popularity of natural and organic products reflects an overall push toward better health and better health education. This attitude is driving open interest in personal products, as does the marketing support for the men's erectile dysfunction drug Viagra and other ED products, industry experts tell SN.
“Viagra came out in 1998 and Pfizer [based in New York] spent about $120 million launching it that year,” said Younis Zubchevich, chief executive officer of Zestra Laboratories, Charleston, S.C. “It changed the entire discourse, attitude and thinking about what sexual problems were for men — from psychological to something that could be cured physically.” This paradigm change pushed Viagra to $1.6 billion in sales in its first year, and because it was the only product of its type on the market for five years, it became a brand “like Jell-O, Xerox or Coke,” he said.
“Women see Viagra commercials and ask, ‘What about us?’” Martinez said. Women are looking for sexual health options, and many drug store and supermarket products have been getting consistent positive feedback from members of the Women's Sexual Health Foundation. The top three are: Replens, a personal moisturizer from Lil' Drugstore Products, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Astroglide, which is a lubricant from BioFilm, Vista, Calif.; and Zestra, a topical botanical feminine arousal fluid from Zestra Laboratories.
While no physiological answer to Viagra was found for women, pharmacologist Martin Crosby, inventor of Zestra, and others at the company went to women's health conferences and asked questions. “Above all, safety is the No. 1 issue for women. They don't want a pill, they don't want side effects and they prefer all-natural,” Zubchevich said.
Zestra was introduced online in 2004 and to drug store shelves in 2005, as well as at Stop & Shop, Fred Meyer, Bi-Lo, H.E. Butt Grocery and Ingles. Its dollar sales are up 206% to $3.1 million in the past year, according to IRI.
Zestra is now shelved either with family planning items or lubricants. However, “I dare think that some people are considering putting us in [health and beauty aids], but it hasn't happened yet,” Zubchevich said.
In 2004, Durex, from SSL International, London, introduced a line of massage oils, called Play, and in 2005, Astroglide, launched its Astroglide Warming Liquid. Astroglide's dollar sales are up 11.9% to $12.1 million, according to IRI.
The top performer in the personal lubricant category, KY Liquid from McNeil Consumer and Specialty Pharmaceuticals, Fort Wayne, Pa., rose in dollar sales by 33.6% to $12.5 million.
KY owner Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J., introduced a line of massage oils in 2004. Among the line extensions are: KY Warming Liquid; KY Touch Massage, massage oils that come in five fragrances; KY Sensual Silk and Sensual Mist lubricants; Touch Massage 2-in-1 Warming body massage and personal lubricant; the soon-to-come Touch Massage 2-in-1 Tingling body massage and personal lubricant; and four gift collections with different combinations of each.
MARKETING TO WOMEN
Women are predominantly doing the shopping, Martinez said. “Women want personal care products made available, and they want it presented in a way that is appealing and appropriate.”
This same thinking led to the first line of condoms and related products marketed directly toward women. In September 2005, Church & Dwight, Princeton, N.J., launched Elexa by Trojan. The elegantly packaged condoms, cleansing cloths and vibrating rings were designed to be sold from the feminine hygiene aisle.
“Through in-depth conversations with more than 5,000 women, Trojan gained a tremendous amount of consumer insight, which helped to create Elexa,” David Johnson, group product manager for Trojan Brand Condoms, told SN. “They wanted a brand that empowered them to feel comfortable in buying condoms. [Elexa] is sold in feminine care aisles of most supermarket chains where women feel more comfortable making these types of sensitive purchases already.”
Industry observers have found that drug stores such as Duane Reade in New York have begun moving not just Elexa, but other brands of condoms and lubricants to a separate section in feminine hygiene as well. Duane Reade spokeswoman Melissa Kahaly said the company could not comment on the category because the information is proprietary.
“Certainly any attempt to de-stigmatize access to safe and available methods of birth control will have a positive effect on people's health,” said Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute in New York. In December, the institute completed a study finding that 95% of Americans have had premarital sex by age 44 and that this statistic has remained nearly unchanged since the 1950s. “Marketing over-the-counter birth control methods to both women and men is a sensible approach.
“One of the reasons we did the study is because a gap between perception and reality remains. From the perspective of public health, any method approved by the [Food and Drug Administration] for use as being safe and effective should be made accessible, and the larger variety of methods that are available, the better chance each person will have in finding a good fit,” Finer said.
A significant innovation in the family planning category this year was the availability — without a prescription — of the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B from Barr Pharmaceuticals, Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Plan B was made over-the-counter in September 2006 to women age 18 and over. “Plan B will remain available as a prescription-only product for women age 17 and under,” stated the FDA, after the drug was in an evaluation stage for three years. Retail pharmacists are still debating the issue of their professional responsibility to dispense the drug; some have moral issues with doing so.
Matters of Health
With retail clinics gaining in numbers and a self-care culture becoming mainstream, much of what is fueling innovation in personal care products is knowledge-based.
“One of the most frustrating aspects for women is finding a health care provider to help with sexual health problems,” said Lisa Martinez, founder and executive director of the Women's Sexual Health Foundation, Cincinnati.
Since women make up a high percentage of supermarket shoppers, “supermarkets could have educational brochures for women,” she said. “You look at all of the retail health clinics popping up and see that the consumer is driving a lot of changes in health care. The next step could be sexual health.”
The foundation provides sexual health information to women as well as to health care professionals, she said. “This need is going to continue to grow.”