Going Beyond the Tampon, Big Brands Try New Ideas

Date : 09/17/2019 @ 5:30PM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : Kimberly Clark Corp (KMB)
Quote : 136.9  0.78 (0.57%) @ 12:05AM
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Going Beyond the Tampon, Big Brands Try New Ideas

Kimberly Clark (NYSE:KMB)
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By Sharon Terlep 

The market for feminine-care products has changed little in the more than half-century since modern tampons hit stores.

Now, consumers' growing affinity for products that minimize waste and cut down on chemicals is fueling interest in alternatives to traditional pads and tampons. Some are products that have existed for years yet failed to generate mass sales.

Kimberly-Clark Corp., which sells Kotex brand tampons and pads, hopes to capitalize on the shift. The consumer-products giant is investing $25 million in startup Thinx LLC, which makes reusable period underwear.

The pairing aims to get the mostly online brand into mainstream retailers like Target and Walmart.

Thinx has remained a niche product since it launched in 2015, with $50 million in sales last year. Feminine-care products are a $1.6 billion industry in the U.S., according to Nielsen data provided by Wells Fargo.

Thinx Chief Executive Maria Molland said getting the brand into big retailers will ensure consumers know it exists -- which has been a major hurdle, she said. Thinx also makes a line of underwear for bladder leaks called Speax.

"It takes a while to change behavior," Ms. Molland said, "and part of how you do that is by letting people know you exist."

Kimberly-Clark's investment will enable Thinx to launch a lower-cost line of underwear, she said, with prices between $15 and $19 a pair, compared with current options with prices between $32 and $39.

Thinx, which isn't seeking other investors, hopes to leverage Kimberly-Clark's relationships with retailers to get on store shelves. It is already sold in Nordstrom Inc. stores and a handful of other retailers.

Big consumer-products companies, long able to ignore smaller rivals, are finding they need to respond as shoppers get more comfortable with alternative products, said Svetlana Uduslivaia, head of home and tech research at Euromonitor International.

Tampon sales are falling, she said, as population growth stagnates and women increasingly seek natural products and sustainability. Reusable products present a quandary for consumer-products companies, she said, because they are a one-time buy rather than a repeat purchase.

Procter & Gamble Co., the industry's biggest player, last year launched a Tampax brand reusable silicone menstrual cup, which women insert like a tampon and empty. Edgewell Personal Care Co.'s o.b tampon brand this year launched an all-cotton line of tampons.

Mariana Espinal, a Yale University School of Medicine resident who is conducting a local study of women's menstrual needs, said lack of awareness, along with unease over learning to use a new product, are the main reasons women don't consider alternatives.

"There hasn't been a big break in the media or a culture shift," Dr. Espinal said, referring to menstrual cups. "We are still waiting for publicity or awareness."

Kimberly-Clark came out in 1919 with Kotex, the first disposable sanitary napkin, at a time when advertisements for the product were controversial because women's periods were taboo.

A Colorado doctor patented a design for the modern tampon in 1933, which became the Tampax brand and, eventually, Tambrands Inc. P&G acquired the company in 1997 for $1.85 billion.

Joanne Bailey, director of the nurse-midwifery service at the University of Michigan's Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital, said she doubts products such as Thinx and the menstrual cup, of which there are several brands that range from $6 to $40 on Amazon.com, will go mainstream.

"Women don't want contact with their menstrual blood," she said. "Anything that you have to touch the inside of your body in order to use isn't going to appeal to a larger portion of the population."

Write to Sharon Terlep at sharon.terlep@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 17, 2019 13:15 ET (17:15 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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