Potential in incontinence products drives innovation

With strong sales predicted in both developed and emerging markets, hygiene product manufacturers are stepping up their activities in adult incontinence category.

The global incontinence products market currently stands at US$4 billion, according to Euromonitor International figures, growing by almost 14% in 2008, making it the strongest performer of all disposable paper product sectors, driven by changing demographics and innovation in terms of both products and marketing.

Demographics on the side of the sector

Due to improvements in medical care, diet and lifestyles, people are living much longer and are expecting to enjoy a good quality of life up to a much older age, driving demand for incontinence products around the globe.

Unlike in many other disposable paper product sectors, demographics are on the side of manufacturers, and this is an opportunity on which they are keen to capitalise. As well as continued product innovation, manufacturers are focusing firmly on repositioning the condition itself, emphasising that it is a natural part of the ageing process rather than an embarrassing medical problem. They are also aiming to minimise any embarrassment attached to buying the product, which has previously been an obstacle to growth.

US and Japan dominate global market

The US remains the world’s largest market for incontinence products, standing at US$1.2 billion in 2008, followed by Japan at US$975 million. While growth in the US was a healthy 5% in 2008, Japan, the world’s most developed incontinence products market, registered a 10% rise. Japan continues to record high growth rates, despite the size of the market, through constant manufacturer innovation, a large elderly population and its high levels of disposable income. Despite the US’ lower growth rate in 2008, a bright future is still predicted for the sector.

According to the US Census Bureau, by 2010 the population of the US aged over 60 is expected to increase by 30%, and for the foreseeable future this age group will remain the largest in US society, keeping sales in the sector strong.

While the world’s largest markets continue to register strong growth, meaning brands benefit from economies of scale in terms of both marketing and distribution, the sector is also making inroads in emerging markets. India, for example, registered 37% growth in 2008, driven mainly by manufacturers’ efforts to raise awareness of the products.

Kimberly-Clark and SCA vie for top spot

Kimberly-Clark leads the sector at a global level, commanding 24% of sales through its Depend, Plenitud and Poise brands. Kimberly-Clark’s share has, however, fallen by five percentage points since 2001. Second-placed SCA, meanwhile, increased its share from 15% in 2001 to 22% in 2008, based largely on its market-leading Tena brand, which will be available in China from June 2009, following on from Kimberly-Clark’s launch of Depend in the country in 2008. Competition between Kimberly-Clark and SCA in incontinence products is intense, and any innovation from one is generally followed by a similar move from the other, as the two battle it out for market share. Japanese players ranked third and fourth in 2008, Uni-Charm with 9%, followed by Daio Paper with 4% , both largely gaining their positions from strong sales in their home country.

Product innovations focus on gender and comfort

Recent innovations in the sector have focused on creating more specialised products, diversifying ranges to suit consumers’ specific needs, while also increasing comfort and protection through thinner yet more absorbent materials.

In the US, in particular, recent innovation has focused on gender. In March 2009 Kimberly-Clark announced its first range of gender-specific incontinence products under the Depend brand. The products resemble underwear rather than traditional pads and are tailored to specific gender needs, for example by varying the positioning of the opening and of the absorbent material. Packaging was also revamped to include colour coding and an absorbency scale graphic, enabling customers to make a quick but informed choice. In April 2009, rival SCA followed with its own gender-specific range in the US, with the men’s product featuring pin-stripe pants and supported by an awareness campaign.

In Japan recent innovations have focused largely on improving comfort, protection and discreetness, while marketing the products as allowing sufferers to enjoy life to the full despite their condition. In 2008 Daio Paper launched Attento Chou Shinshuku Rehabili Tape, which translates as “Super Elastic Tape”. These pants use more elastic rubber tape around the waist and legs than standard products and allow the wearer greater comfort and movement while at the same time minimising the risk of leakage. It is likely that this focus on allowing the wearer to retain an active and otherwise healthy lifestyle will come to further prominence in the West, linking the product with the general health and wellness trend.

Japanese manufacturers target carers as well as sufferers

Japanese manufacturers have also made inroads into products designed for use by carers opting to look after family members in their own home, a trend that may also shift to the West. Daio Paper, for example, launched a range called Take Care in 2008, which features instructions aimed at aiding carers to fit the product correctly. Meanwhile, Uni-Charm, in partnership with Hitachi, has taken innovation for carers one step further and developed a suction device that automatically removes urine from special adult disposable diapers, with the aim of easing the burden on caregivers.

According to the company, the Humany reduces the number of times the diaper must be changed during the day from four to one, while also increasing the sufferer’s comfort level. The Humany was launched in May 2009, with the product retailing at ¥100,000 (US$1,000), although nursing care insurance will reduce the cost for many consumers.

Educational campaigns and charity link-ups boost credibility

As well as product innovation, major manufacturers have been particularly active in launching campaigns aimed at educating consumers about the condition and lessening the stigma attached to it, while at the same time marketing their products. In a bid to add weight to these campaigns, manufacturers are teaming up with incontinence charities and organisations, launching co-branded websites that allow the consumer to seek advice on the condition without the embarrassment of face-to-face contact.

Most recently, in June 2009, the Tena brand announced in the US that it would be collaborating with two of the country’s leading men’s health organisations, Men’s Health Network and Us TOO International, a prostate cancer education and support organisation, to educate consumers on the causes, treatment and solutions to male incontinence. In the same month, the Depend brand introduced the Campaign to End Prostate Cancer, a 4-month prostate health awareness drive. As part of the campaign, the brand has sought the backing of sports personalities who have had experience of prostate cancer, and pledged to donate a proportion of revenue from each sale to a prostate cancer charity.

This tactic of linking up with charities was also used by Procter & Gamble in its UK and Ireland Always Envive Sense & Sensitivity campaign in March 2009, which recruited the backing of Wellbeing of Women, a UK charity dedicated to solving women’s health problems. Meanwhile in Japan, Uni-Charm has pioneered the concept of educational campaigns and benefits from close links with the Japanese Continence Action Society.

Light products will be the focus for innovation

Although moderate/heavy incontinence products currently account for 52% of the total sector, it was light products that posted the strongest growth in 2008 of 16%, compared to 12% for moderate/heavy products, and the trend is set to continue. Light incontinence products have historically suffered from consumers opting for sanitary protection products and pantyliners as an alternative as sufferers, which often include younger women suffering as a result of childbirth, look to avoid any potential embarrassment. As a result of the category’s potentially wider consumer base, light products are likely to see the strongest manufacturer focus and the greatest innovation as players seek to draw more consumers away from unsuitable substitute products.

A recent example is Procter & Gamble’s Always Envive Sense & Sensitivity campaign, as mentioned above. The campaign was targeted at younger women suffering from the condition, particularly those affected as a result of childbirth, and offered on-line advice from a specialist doctor. The Envive campaign particularly stood out as the brand recruited UK television presenter Ulrika Jonsson to front it. As a result of her involvement and her confession to suffering from the problem, much national media coverage was gained for the brand.

Furthermore, the fact that Envive is a subbrand of Procter & Gamble’s sanitary protection brand Always has helped to move the product away from the traditional space occupied by incontinence products and is likely to prove attractive to younger consumers, particularly those already familiar with the sanitary towel range. In light of the potential of the category, it is likely that other major players in sanitary protection may well be tempted to enter the sector.

With the backing of positive demographics and a predicted CAGR of 6% to 2013, higher than any other disposable paper product sector, it is also likely that more new players will be attracted to the incontinence products sector as a whole, which should serve to drive further innovation. It is, however, unlikely that any new players will pose a major threat to the dominance of Kimberly-Clark and SCA in the West over the foreseeable future as their strong brands, backed by educational campaigns, have gone a long way to gaining consumer loyalty.

For further insight, please contact Magdalena Kondej – Head of Global Household and Disposable Paper Products Research – on magdalena.kondej@euromonitor.com