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Intimacy health products gain acceptance on OTC shelves


NEW YORK —As a category in mass, intimacy health continues to build as a destination center for consumers. That transformation started many years ago when condoms were moved out from under the pharmacy counter and in line with the rest of the over-the-counter health products. Earlier this decade, personal lubricants became a hot section within the category, a fact that many attribute to Johnson & Johnson’s tasteful promotion of one of the leading personal lubricant brands KY.

In the last few years, the category has continued its evolution as vibrating rings were folded into the mix. “Accounts have crawled in this category but have not taken off to run,” said Tim Cleary, VP sales Durex Consumer Products, noting that some of the drug channel leaders within this space have strengthened their intimacy health category with topical enhancement solutions and supplements.

The evolution within this category has been slow going, especially as many retail buyers expressed real concerns over how this category may be perceived by consumers. “[Mass merchants] don’t want to be referred to as a sex shop,” Cleary conceded.

“When we presented [vibrating rings], we got a lot of rejection in the beginning,” added Carol Carrozza, VP marketing, consumer products for Ansell Healthcare Products. “When the first smaller chains started to take some risks and put it on the shelf, it sold and it sold well.”

Additionally, there was no consumer backlash realized from including products like vibrating rings as part of the overall assortment.

Incremental sales plus not losing customers made a pretty strong commercial argument for more retailers to embrace the category.

“You’re going to see the acceleration of change [in this category],” Carrozza predicted. In the past, it may have taken as long as a year to gain approval for some of the products offered in this space, she said. “[Now] we can come in with a very intimate product that two years ago would have been sold in adults-only outlets, and [retailers] are saying, ‘You package it right, and we’ll put it on the shelf,’” Carrozza added.

The next step, Cleary suggested, is personal massagers, which possibly represent the largest opportunity out of all the products that have successfully made the transition from specialty outlets to mass merchants. “We estimate [the market] to be $500 million in sales,” he said. While the market share that mass merchants would realize out of that total pie may be relatively small, certainly in the early going, that represents 100% incremental opportunity for mass merchants, Cleary said.

To help allay those legitimate retailer concerns, the leaders in the category—all fielding trusted consumer brands like Johnson & Johnson’s KY, Church & Dwight and Trojan, Durex and Ansell with its Lifestyles line—have approached intimacy health with a degree of discretion and reserve. “You’re seeing classically trained consumer packaged goods marketers enter this category,” said Jim Daniels, VP marketing for Trojan at Church & Dwight. “And we do our research: listen to consumers on what their needs and wants are; look for opportunities to meet those needs and wants with high-quality products; and market [to those consumers] in a way that resonates best with them,” he said. “It’s all classic CPG tools being applied to sexual health.”

The intimacy health category has built-in consumer demand, Daniels noted. “We’ve been able to show a correlation between sexual health and overall health and well-being.”

“Everybody’s trying to take [this category] mainstream, no doubt about it,” Cleary said. In Europe, where the category is more mature as compared with that of the United States, Durex is helping to cross-merchandise the category on end-caps and in the cosmetics aisle. During peak periods—Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day weekend, July 4 weekend—there is an opportunity for tasteful off-shelf displays. “Because there is impulse purchase taking place during those peak periods,” Cleary said.

And it’s already a lucrative business in the mass channel; the whole category is up 13.8% for the 52 weeks ended April 19 across food, drug and mass (minus Walmart) outlets, reaching a dollar volume of $548.2 million. Within the category, condoms (which are still primarily purchased by men) are up relatively flat at $262.8 million. Personal lubricants sales have increased 22.7% to $146 million; while sales of intimacy-enhancing devices, the latest sub-category to be broken out within the overall set, are up 73.9% to $10.1 million.

If category sales are growing, that means consumers are buying. The buyer within the category, with the proliferation of lubricants and personal massagers, now skews decidedly female between the ages of 24 and 55 and tending to be older than younger, Cleary reported.

Church & Dwight recently conducted a survey of about 6,000 U.S. adults that found that half have used a vibrating ring at some point in their lives and 1-in-3 have used one within the past year. Of those, 80% have used it with a partner, Daniels said.

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