Consumer awareness pushes up availability of nonwoven female hygiene products
Suddenly, everyone is looking closely at cleanliness. It took a broom in the hands of India's Prime Minister for most of us to peek under the carpet at the dust bunnies. What we need to look at closer is the global fight against disease and ill-health. The ghost of the recent outbreak of Ebola is yet to be buried so the sanitiser-spritzers are justified in underlining the fact that hygiene is one of the most important issues.
Millions of people across the world do not have access to safe, sufficient and affordable hygiene. The devastating impact of this can be seen on health and overall prosperity of nations. What was once a 'their-world' perspective has now fetched up to every developed doorstep in the world, thanks to travel facilities going global. So have the germs.
The politics of health and hygiene have changed vastly in recent times. No longer is access to hygiene a privilege for some. Its absence, in fact, is violation of human rights. If millions of children die every year from unhygienic water, their mothers and aunts are just as vulnerable to infections due to unhygienic sanitary conditions.
Gradually, and much slower than the development sector would want it to grow, the health and technology sectors are looking at viable, economical and hygienic products for women.
The good news is, easy availability of female hygiene applications has pushed fabric the age-old menstruating woman's friend and often far from sterile out. Its place has been taken by nonwoven female hygiene products like tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups and sanitary napkins. Collateral gains accrue to infants and incontinent adults who use diapers made of much the same technology. The biggest benefactors, though, are women.
Performance pushes demand
Non-profits like Goonj have been working towards equitable access to sanitary products but it has taken decades for hygiene corporates to rise to the occasion. In fact, they are still far from an ideal world of sanitation for all, though they are getting there.
And it is no surprise that the bottom line has pushed up production. Feminine hygiene products represent 31.5 per cent of the global hygiene market sales in value terms, and account for 61.9 per cent of the total global hygiene market unit sales. Anticipating demand to continue growing, the Smithers Apex report reveals that by 2018, the global hygiene product market will grow to US $ 78.9 billion, a climb of over 551 billion units. You need not study television advertisements to deduce that nonwoven personal hygiene items have become an integral part of the global hygiene market. Diapers and training pants, feminine hygiene products and adult incontinence products bulge out of consumer store shelves because they suit modern lifestyles: they are disposable, they are more efficient than any such product ever was, and they are getting easier to lay one's hands on. In comparison to baby diapers and adult incontinency products, feminine hygiene products have become more of a necessity than luxury.
They created demand
To a large extent, the early manufacturers have driven the market. Through television and print media commercials, they drove home the point of hygiene and reliability. Gradually, awareness grew and with it, demand. That encouraged leading corporates in female hygiene products to enter the market, especially in developing and underdeveloped countries.
From field and home to factory and office: women have traditionally toiled hard but never have they enjoyed the financial stability that contemporary employment offers them. That helps them drive the market for their own reliable, discrete packet of nonwovens.
Count them off
Apart from the growing range of features that non-wovens continue to offer, they ensure better everything than their predecessors ever could imagine: absorption, softness, smoothness, stretchability, comfort and fit. Although the earlier nonwovens were a mark of financial stability, savvy pricing and growing demand has ensured that they continue to become more and more affordable. Of course, there is still some way down the price index before the nonwovens can guarantee hygiene to every woman. Shushing their squeaky early ancestors, current nonwovens are discrete. The regular, ultra-thin and superabsorbent categories of nonwoven female hygiene products have taken the world by storm. Better performance and remarkable comfort are attracting women to nonwovens.
Pace of change
Currently, markets of North America and Europe have been dominating the feminine hygiene segment globally. The United States is the largest market for feminine hygiene products followed by Canada. Among the other major representatives in Europe are Germany, France and the UK.
The developed world is about to reach a plateau but it is the developing economies that excite FMCG manufacturers. After suffering centuries of ill health, it is these markets that are driving the demand for newer, more reasonable and better hygiene products. According to Asia Transparency Market Research report, Asia Pacific and the Middle East are predicted to be the fastest growing regional markets for nonwoven materials and products. It's a look East policy for these manufacturers that now pander to the considerable increase in the female working population. More confident than her mother ever was, today's woman does not hesitate to shop for these products. It is predicted that the next five years will be the most exciting in Asia which will witness the highest growth rate in female hygiene products. Like most other products, manufacturers find Asia a dream factory: low cost of manufacture, easy availability of cheap labour and business friendly laws attract major players in the segment. The result is evident in the female personal hygiene section of stores. Asia remains a magic market where the sheer numbers signify that there is more in store for manufacturers: they have just reached the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
It takes little to deduce the link between population and demand. If developed countries have reached a stable but slow growth rate in female personal hygiene products, there isn't much hope for the graph to go up unless there is a sudden spurt in population. Reports of research firm Euromonitor International suggest that slow population growth rate in developed countries have led to rise in aging population. In the US, female population in the age group of 15-49 year is forecast to decline by 1 per cent by 2015, which in turn has affected the sale volume of nonwoven sanitary napkins and tampons. Moreover, in developing and underdeveloped nations, nonwoven female hygiene products have to fight social taboos that hinder further expansion of the market.
The drop in sales volume of nonwoven female hygiene products is also aggravated by tough competition from cheaper products in the segment. The key players in the industry have to pass on the increased cost of nonwovens' raw materials to customers. That could be good news for cheaper brands. Kimberly-Clark, one of the major companies operating in the global female hygiene products market had to make an unpleasant announcement recently: a price hike on its Kotex line. The move was necessitated because of the rise in the cost of raw material. Will customers cling to their loyalty for the brand? Pundits predict otherwise.
Every ploy to play
But no one's giving in without a fair fight. Companies are innovating to capture customer attention. Their R&D sections have never looked so determined to find new ways to boost performance of nonwoven female hygiene products. The marketing and design teams have put their heads together to come up with snazzy packaging. Riding the exclusivity juggernaut, Kimberly-Clark's U by Kotex included a limited edition designer series to capture the personal style of the trend-conscious young woman. As Kristi Bryant, design manager, Kimberly-Clark stated the obvious, "Our consumers can now choose products that reflect their own personal style. When she realises that these products fit seamlessly into her purse, along with her other fashion accessories, it is an added bonus of surprise and delight."
Whether the manufacturer is looking to reach millions in the emerging segments or is targeting the famous few, one thing is for sure: Rags are out of the closet. After millennia, they make way for the non-wovens and for better women's health across the world.