Beyond the taboo: Sex toys, flavored lube and condoms light up the sexual wellness space

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Beyond the taboo: Sex toys, flavored lube and condoms light up the sexual wellness space

By Seth Mendelson - 07/27/2020

Sexual education in the retail aisles?

Yes, that is what it is coming down to as more retailers expand their sexual wellness category to include such high-margin products as lubricants and sex toys, in addition to mainstream items like condoms. 

Yet even with demand increasing and awareness skyrocketing, the new sexual wellness category is not a slam dunk for retailers and suppliers. More than most categories, consumers are using the Internet to make purchases and others still use mail order, though at a lower rate. 

Still, mass retail has an excellent shot at growing this category over the short and long terms. Most officials said that in order for the category to be most successful at retail, the industry must do all it can to make consumers more aware that these items are for sale in their store and explain to them what might be the best item for their needs. 

In other words, retailers and their suppliers must teach consumers about the evolving sexual wellness category and what works best for them, especially as industry data shows that nearly 80% of female consumers shop the feminine hygiene/sexual wellness aisle on each visit to a drug store or healthcare section of a supermarket. 

“Honestly, I had no idea how complex this category was becoming until one of our store managers mentioned the complexities of it a few months ago,” said an HBC buyer at a leading supermarket chain in the Northeast. “I now understand how important it is to give consumers as much information as possible at the point of purchase through signage and on package data.”

The bottom line is that this is not the sexual wellness category of just five or 10 years ago. Gone are the days of a section basically limited to a few SKUs of condoms, normally placed behind the pharmacy or tobacco category that may have eliminated most pilferage, but also killed impulse sales. Retailers have long told stories about embarrassed teenage boys awkwardly asking for condoms only to run out of the store without completing the purchase, or grown men afraid to ask for a product. 

Today, the category is moving to the forefront at many chains, though often still within the view of the pharmacist to guard against the ever-lurking concern of pilferage. Condom manufacturers — including major players like Trojan and LifeStyles, as well as other niche players like Okamoto — are stressing product size and pleasure right on the packaging. 

“During the height of the pandemic, a lot of retailers were out of stock in the condom category,” said Carol Carozza, marketing manager at Okamoto, which is pushing its Wink line of condoms. “Even as retailers did a great job on the essentials, there were some bumps in the road in other categories. Now we see it all coming back to normal levels and, with more store traffic, retailers are putting more products back on their shelves.”

Other suppliers, including companies like Satisyfer, Clio and Trigg Laboratories, are fighting battles on a number of fronts to build sales of sex toys and lubricants. They are pushing to get retailers to see the opportunity they have with sex toys and lubricants, and put a greater assortment on store shelves to get consumers to realize they can buy these items at mass retail, as well as get consumers to experiment with new items. 

“The sexual wellness category is booming,” said Jerome Bensimon, vice president of sales at Satisfyer. “In the last 90 days, it was one of the top performing retail categories. If retailers want to drive foot traffic, sexual wellness is the answer as more and more women are focused on a holistic approach to self-care. And, certainly, when it comes to quality and prices, we have proven success there. Now, we are working to build relationships with the food/drug/mass audience, so they have the opportunity to invite more consumers to their stores with our brand and grow sales with us.”

“The sexual wellness category has been expanding in retail. As society is changing, sexual health and wellness products are becoming more mainstream."
—Michael Trigg, founder and CEO of Trigg Labs

Bensimon said with the current environment, the category is seeing strong success online, but most importantly in food, drug and mass essential stores. “We launched our new segment at Rite Aid last month, and it’s had phenomenal success,” he said. “Truly, this is an underserved category for women, and women have more buying power then ever. The tipping point for sexual wellness is now, and now’s the time for FDM to get on board.”

Lubricants, in particular, have gained a lot of attention from retailers and consumers. With an aging population base and more awareness of the advantages of lubricants, many industry officials noted that sales of these products are booming at retail, as well as online.

“The sexual wellness category has been expanding in retail. As society is changing, sexual health and wellness products are becoming more mainstream,” said Michael Trigg, founder and CEO of Trigg Labs. “Consumers also love something new, fresh and fun. Added features like taste are a significant change with growing sales. We’ve also seen an increase in the more ingredient-
conscious consumer. People, especially women, are paying more attention to the ingredients in lube and thinking about how they will affect their bodies. Cruelty-free and organic products are also on the rise. Therefore, we focus on providing high-quality ingredients in all our products.”

Working with retailers to better understand the category and its growing number of products is vital to the success of the industry and something that merchants really need to focus on. “Retailers need to grow the range of the product mix,” said Jamie Leventhal, president and CEO of Clio. “We’re finding that retailers with five or more SKUs are performing better across the entire range than retailers with two or three SKUs. We now have several major retailers with assortments at or larger than five SKUs.”

Suppliers are eager to get products on to retail shelves. Clio, for example, has been pushing its plusOne brand since its launch about two years ago. “The company has been promoting the brand in a way that eliminates the earlier taboo’s surrounding the category, making the range emotionally accessible for curious consumers,” Leventhal said. “We also package the products in retail friendly, yet infinitely descriptive, peekaboo boxes with tasteful designs, descriptions and imagery. The plusOne products are positioned at retail to be wellness pleasure products, not simple pleasure products, further cementing the range uniquely in the marketplace. 

“The range is also priced significantly lower than peers in the space — making the range financially accessible to the largest group of potential consumers — supplying fabulous performance and quality, plus key retail price points that bring both high-volume, incremental business to retailers,” he said. 

The line is backed by traditional marketing and advertising, as well as digital, social media and online influencers, Leventhal said. The company also is working with retailers on ideal assortments, off-shelf features, FSI promotion and coupons.

Satisfyer emerged on the domestic market in 2017 with a blast, Bensimon said. 

“For anyone familiar with the sexual wellness category, Satisfyer is synonymous with innovation and premium quality at outstanding prices,” he said. “Beyond our constant efforts to innovate the category, our product range is inclusive and diverse, and represents the global nature of our brand. In 2018, it was the first brand to ever be advertised in a mainstream magazine. As we continue to grow, we look to bring new consumers to the category with a segment specifically developed for food/drug/mass.”

“The line is affordable, approachable and, while we do include products with our air pulse technology, we have items that are even more health focused, such as Kegel trainers and menstrual cups, he said. “The packaging is sophisticated and colorful, and has a flap covering the window box for an exciting reveal to see inside.”

Changing culture has had a role in the category’s growth, Bensimon said. 

 “While the subject of sexual pleasure has been a taboo for women for so long, we are continuing to change the lexicon and educate on the benefits of sexual wellness for all,” he said. “It’s important to note that our products are reasonably priced, but also have a playful design to make it more approachable and acceptable to anyone with reservations.”

At Trigg, the emphasis is on the unusual lubricants that may increase impulse purchases by consumers. Trigg said that the company is offering the Frosted Cupcake and Sultry Strawberry-flavored lubricants selling at mass retail. “Our Sultry Strawberry-flavored lubricant is presently the top selling flavored oil in the United States, according to Nielsen data,” he said. “We are seeing lubricant use expanding into more demographics. With more sexual education, consumers are more comfortable acknowledging that they want to use lube and voicing that desire.”

Trigg said that consumers may still be hesitant when asking for lubricants or seeking them out. Retailers need to have clear signage and any available information up and accessible. Some retailers and pharmacies also have found success in adding our products to their women’s hygiene section, he said.

Trigg recently introduced the Wet Gold Hybrid Luxury Water Silicone Blend Lubricant, which has been received well. It already has been picked up by one major pharmacy chain and will begin appearing on shelves this fall. “As always, we are working to retool current formulas to continue delivering an exceptional experience for our consumers,” Trigg said. “We are also working on some new products that we are very excited about and plan to announce later this year.”

Okamoto’s Carozza emphasized that consumers want condoms that speak to their specific needs, especially based on age. “The Generation Z consumer wants brands that they can identify with,” she said. “They want honest in the product they use and they want to know what those products work and, in our case, fit.”

Okamoto’s Wink brand has 12 SKUs in three counts: three, 10 and 24. The line includes the Closer, Slider, large and studded brands. “We educate the consumer on the front of the package so they know the difference between our products and others, and what our product does,” Carozza said. “Our job is to show the consumer how condoms fit and how comfortable they can be.” 

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