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Natural, transparency demands hit feminine care categories

Women no longer simply want better products from the feminine care category. They are demanding them.

As with so many other categories, the feminine and menstrual care segments find themselves in a situation where more consumer demand for better products is spurring a dramatic increase in research and development.

The result has been a torrent of new items hitting shelves, and resurgence in attention for the usually quiet, but steady, category.

And, often spurred on by upstart manufacturers seeking to find their own niche in the market, many of these new items are natural and organic.

Such products are becoming important enough to feminine hygiene shoppers that they see the purchase as worth paying a little more for the item if it delivers on what they want.

Washing Away Concerns
In response to consumer demand, category mainstays have focused on expanding their offerings to bring shoppers more that go beyond such utilitarian needs as odor control or bringing pH back to normal. For example, Vagisil, known for its namesake anti-itch cream, recently launched its Scentsitive Scents line to bring daily washes and wipes to consumers whose skin may not be able to tolerate daily us of such products as its Odor Block or pH balance washes.

Vagisil Scentsitive Scents“Our heritage with Vagisil has always been in a therapeutic OTC heritage,” said Keech Combe Shetty, co-CEO of Vagisil maker Combe International. “We started with our anti-itch cream and from that, we’ve been able to launch additional therapeutic products, including anti-itch wipes before.”

Combe Shetty said that consumers said they wanted a product that they could use every day, citing the experiential component of using daily care products.

“The feedback that we were getting from consumers, because all of our products have a therapeutic benefit, was ‘We trust and we love and know the therapeutic benefits, but we also really like the experience of using these daily care products,’” she said. “We kept hearing that, and we started seeing trends among some consumers who would love to experience fragrances, scents and more experiential products, but they might have sensitivities to fragrances. So, we wanted to take our heritage of therapy and apply it for these women.”

The Scentsitive Scents products include peach blossom and white jasmine washes, as well as white jasmine wipes. The products also are hypoallergenic and pH-
balanced, as well as free of parabens and MIT preservatives.

As consumers demand more products from feminine care companies, they also are more often than not asking for fewer ingredients they perceive to be harmful — as officials behind another category staple have noticed and addressed.

“With a growing trend toward minimalism and simplicity in everything from food to beauty care, we noticed that women were choosing products that feature fewer, simpler ingredients that still have proven effectiveness,” said Joseph Juliano, vice president of innovation, Canada and marketing services at Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Prestige Brands, which markets the Summer’s Eve and Monistat brands. While Monistat is focused on clinical uses — beyond yeast infection treatments, the brand offers itch-relief cream, stay fresh gel and cooling cloths — Summer’s Eve has been focused on the experiential aspect that Combe Shetty highlighted.

Summer’s Eve recently introduced Simply Summer’s Eve, a collection of botanical fragrances and formulas that strip out harmful ingredients, including alcohol, parabens and dyes. The line includes cleansing washes, gentle foaming washes and cloths in such scents as lavender chamomile, coconut water and mandarin blossom. Juliano said that delivering on simpler ingredients needs for consumers has led to the line bringing in $13.5 million in sales since it launched earlier this year.

A focus on ingredients is not new for Beatrice Feliu-Espada, founder of the Honey Pot, a brand of plant-based feminine care products, who got into the CPG business by paying attention to ingredients first.

The category upstart traces its origins to a dream that Feliu-Espada had in which an ancestor imparted a recipe for a wash that cleared up a lingering bacterial vaginosis infection. After sharing it with coworkers and friends, Feliu-Espada realized she had a potentially big product on her hands, so she tested it for two years and launched in 2014. Now the Honey Pot’s line of hygiene products includes washes and wipes in three varieties — sensitive, normal and mommy-to-be. It also has gained recognition from the New Voices Fund, Unilever’s and Sundial Brands’ $100 million investment fund that focuses on businesses run by women of color.

Because of how she came to formulate her products, Feliu-Espada said that using the best ingredients is paramount for the Honey Pot, and her development process begins with a focus on herbal ingredients.

“My approach to everything that I formulate is ‘What are the most beautiful ingredients we can use?’ and even bigger than that, ‘What’re the herbs that we can use that will scratch beyond the surface?’” she said. “Our products are not cheap products — but when you look at the ingredient deck, it’s understandable. I really won’t compromise our ingredient deck in order to be a cheaper product.”

Cost aside, Feliu-Espada highlighted consumer demand as what’s fueling growth among natural feminine hygiene products. “The consumer is demanding retailers put these products on the shelf,” she said. “In fact, now retailers are having to look at their feminine hygiene set and say ‘We have to allot a certain amount of business to natural,’ because the natural feminine hygiene business is what’s growing exponentially.”

Consumers Find a Voice
While demand around natural products might not be a new phenomenon in the larger retail landscape, suppliers in feminine hygiene agreed that women increasingly are candid about what they want from a category whose nature has led to it being talked about as little as possible, and largely euphemistically. Combe Shetty said that the category came up in a sense of shame about what the products were treating, as evidence by the response to Vagisil when her grandparents launched with a name her grandmother had insisted on.

“They were addressing a topic that nobody talked about or talks about enough today even,” Combe Shetty said. “In the 44 years since Vagisil launched, I still don’t think I’ve seen enough change within the category. In the last year or two we are starting to see the changes of the conversation.”

Juliano agreed, noting that “Women are more open to the conversation around feminine hygiene and care,” which he said “helps us as a brand to continue to make the category less taboo and speak with our consumers candidly about the importance of feminine hygiene.”

Though suppliers have borne the brunt of this — Juliano said Summer’s Eve has worked to combat “vagina shaming” that consumers might face, and Vagisil pushed a campaign in which it highlighted its stance as “Shameless about Vaginal Health” — retailers can play a role, too.

“There is absolutely an opportunity for retailers and suppliers to work together to more clearly communicate the benefits of using feminine care products to category nonusers,” Juliano said. “A second piece is developing and working collaboratively to launch and display new products and scents to attract new users and increase the b
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