FORGOTTEN FRONTIERS?

Feminine hygiene products have gone the way of most consumers' health and beauty care dollars: mass merchandise-bound. With more attention and recognition of the category's potential, this area could well prove to be a good levy against that tide.While feminine hygiene products remain a steady category overall, retailers said it is not a dynamic aisle and that many female customers have strayed to

Feminine hygiene products have gone the way of most consumers' health and beauty care dollars: mass merchandise-bound. With more attention and recognition of the category's potential, this area could well prove to be a good levy against that tide.

While feminine hygiene products remain a steady category overall, retailers said it is not a dynamic aisle and that many female customers have strayed to other channels, wooed by price competition. However, other industry observers said this laissez-faire attitude may cost retailers a potential tool in the fight to keep HBC shoppers in the supermarket aisles.

According to the "Women's Well-Being Merchandising Strategies," a study released in 2001 by General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., 55% of women surveyed purchased feminine hygiene products at mass retailers, vs. 37% who purchased them at supermarkets. Drug stores have a substantial share of this category with 24% of purchases.

"It's a strong area, a competitive area, that like many other health and beauty care items and categories has had a huge chunk taken away by the mass market retailers," said one nonfood executive at a major wholesale distributor who wished to remain anonymous. "And they continue to do so. I don't see anybody doing anything to change that, or doing anything to cause the business to grow in the supermarkets."

For many years, this category has been merchandised, stocked and promoted the same way, sources told SN.

Data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago, indicates that while the top-selling brands are known category performers, many segments are declining for supermarkets. Douches declined 10.4% in dollar sales, and dropped 12.5% in unit sales, according to supermarket sales data from the 52-week period ended Dec. 28.

Sanitary napkins/liners for the same period declined 4.1% in dollars and 5.4% in unit sales. Tampons gained a scant 0.1% in dollar sales, but declined 1.1% in unit sales. The only segments of the feminine hygiene category to experience more than marginal growth were the adult incontinence category, which retailers said has slowly increased in recent years, and the personal lubricants category.

The category may be down in some product areas, but it's not out, said industry observers. The category has the potential characteristics of a power category, most significantly in terms of repeat purchasing, said Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Retail Marketing, Libertyville, Ill., and a former nonfoods retail executive. Additionally, the primary consumers of feminine hygiene products -- educated women of childbearing age -- represent a disproportionate number of households with a larger basket size, Wisner pointed out.

"Were I still a retailer, this is a category I would be looking at for how do I go to the head of the class," Wisner said. Because supermarkets don't pay attention to this category, there is a huge opportunity for retailers to distinguish themselves. Supermarkets currently serve customer needs quietly when it comes to feminine hygiene products, merchandising them in the HBC aisle with little or no promotional activity unless they come with a display. Linda Taylor, HBC buyer for Food 4 Less and Sherm's Thunderbird Supermarkets, Medford, Ore., said she finds that special merchandising efforts for such products aren't necessary.

"People come by, throw the products in their basket, and leave," she said.

Taylor and the nonfood wholesaler executive said they haven't changed their merchandising strategies for feminine hygiene products in recent years. Both said they take advantage of promotions and displays that manufacturers offer, but they can only do so much with what they are given.

"I think we promoted this category as well as we possibly can with what's available to us. We haven't backed away from it for any reason," said the anonymous wholesaler.

While there have been some new-product introductions in recent years, most notably from the No. 1 and No. 2 brands in the tampon category, Tampax and Playtex, most of the innovations have been product improvements versus brand new introductions, sources told SN.

Recent introductions have included Tampax's Pearl tampons and Playtex's soon-to-be-released Beyond into the rounded-tip, cardboard-applicator tampon field. The top performers in the category continue to be traditional Tampax, Playtex Gentle Glide and Kotex Security tampons.

Not all new products perform well at retail, either. Taylor said the best-performing product at Food 4 Less is still the traditional Tampax, which is a consistent best seller. New-product introductions like the Pearls don't do as well.

However, Taylor has seen growth in adult incontinence products. That segment overall grew 8.3% in dollar sales over the previous year, according to IRI. Wisner pointed out that pads and liners are experiencing multiple uses as both menstrual and incontinence products.

Product introductions or consumer need notwithstanding, feminine hygiene is still a category that receives less attention on average than most supermarket categories, Wisner said. GMDC will attempt to address the issue this fall. Feminine hygiene products will be one of the categories analyzed in its upcoming "Merchandising for Success" survey, set to be released over the next year, Wisner said. The study is looking at organization of products within the category and adjacencies, among other issues. The section pertaining to this feminine hygiene products will be presented at GMDC's HBC Marketing Conference, Sept. 10 to 13, in Scottsdale, Ariz.