There has always been a connection between romance and food. Oysters, chocolates, strawberries — affairs of the heart always seem to go through the stomach.
Yet, as one-stop food purveyors, supermarkets lag in the sale of intimacy products such as personal lubricants, massage oils and related products that are part of a new era of sexual liberation.
“It's still not a topic that we're comfortable with discussing publicly, even though sex is everywhere,” noted Wendy Strgar, CEO and loveologist of Good Clean Love, a Eugene, Ore.-based manufacturer of all-natural lubricants, oils and edible body candy. “There's still this embarrassment about being seen with a sexual health product in your cart.”
Sales of sex enhancement items in the food/drug/mass channel are down almost across the board. According to SymphonyIRI Group, sales of lubricants dropped more than 7% over the past year. Could it be that consumers remain intimidated by purchasing products in such an open environment?
“You still don't find people standing in front of the shelf holding these products and lingering, reading labels or examining packages,” Strgar said.
Discretion hasn't stopped well-known brands, such as Johnson & Johnson's K-Y line of personal lubricants, from expanding their presence on the shelf with his and her formulas or ingredients that warm body tissue.
“The category has definitely gotten more mainstream. One of the big condom companies has even gone into toys,” said Tom Vierhile, director of Datamonitor's Productscan Online, a database of new products. “That's the kind of activity you're seeing now.”
Some retailers with a strong wellness presence and a female customer base fare better with sales of intimacy products. Whole Foods Market's Whole Body sections, and Kroger Co.'s Fred Meyer banner are two chains carrying both K-Y and smaller lines such as Good Clean Love, which is made using natural or organic ingredients.
For most mainstream operators, however, marketing lubricants and massage oils might take a bit of imagination and a certain amount of diplomacy. Creating a “sexual health” section can help consolidate family planning, pleasure and feminine hygiene products into a single destination, experts point out.
Timing is also important. Vierhile said that certain holidays and times of year are ideal for retailers interested in stepping out and distinguishing themselves as more than just a food store.
“You tend to see product launches around Valentine's Day, at least the more experimentation ones, the more daring ones,” he said.