Product Innovation in Sanitary Protection Across Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia (SEA) has a retail value of USD1.5 billion in sanitary protection in 2020 and is expected to grow by a CAGR of 5% over the next five years.

Sustainability is a rising trend for consumers and manufacturers alike. Consumers in SEA are increasingly aware of their consumption behaviour and its environmental impact, with more choosing eco-friendly products accordingly.

Companies are also taking an active stance on sustainability, through conscious efforts in manufacturing and brand building. This green movement by manufacturers not only benefits their value sales, but also strengthens their brand positioning and equity as an ethical and socially-responsible player in sanitary protection.

For example, In Malaysia, UUCare has launched washable disposable sanitary towels to appeal to the cultural practice of many in the Malay community who rinse off soiled towels before disposal. Hannah, one of the few brands in the Philippines offering reusable sanitary protection, has these made from certified 100% organic cotton that is unbleached and undyed. Meanwhile, ENYA, a local start-up in Malaysia, incorporates organic cotton into sanitary towels without the use of synthetic pesticides.

Innovation in functionality

Manufacturers have continued to innovate to introduce better protection for sanitary products, as well as to enhance ease of use and comfort of existing products. The top two consumer concerns in sanitary protection are odour and comfort. In addition to driving value growth through higher margins, product innovation also allows manufacturers to gain share and consolidate their existing consumer base.

New product features are focused on odour control, coolness, and all-night or longer usage. An example is Softex in Indonesia, which relaunched Daun Sirih in 2019, a product range that utilises Betel leaves for odour removal. This innovation is clinically tested for sensitive skin by dermatologists and has ten times more absorbency than the average towel. Unicharm also released Cooling Fresh in Indonesia in 2018, which uses mint extract for a cooling sensation. This is the first Unicharm sanitary product with Halal certification, verifying that product is in accordance with the Islamic Sharia laws and safe for Muslims to use. Meanwhile, Kao in Vietnam also launched Laurier Super Slimguard Cool in 2018, with the advertising message “Live freely, no boundaries”, encompassing core modern female concerns of odour and comfort in a single product.

Innovation in alternative formats

Menstrual cups and organic cotton tampons are sustainable innovations that benefit both consumers and the environment. These products are also gaining traction from a rising health awareness against chemical products for sanitary products which are constantly in touch with the consumer’s skin.

For example, menstrual cups are positioned as reusable rather than disposable, and can be used for up to two years, while tampons made of organic cotton are free of hormone-disrupting chemicals and other artificial materials used for absorbency, as well as the pesticides used in cotton production. Local businesses in Southeast Asia are notably active in the space occupied by these alternatives. Sinaya Cup, for example, is a Philippines menstrual cup brand that operates a “Buy One, Donate One” business model; for every cup sold at retail price, it donates one cup to an underprivileged girl in need.

However, an issue to address is the penetration of these products, as product awareness amongst consumers is low. There are other concerns as well, such as safety issues, that are holding back wider usage. In general, these markets are still in the early stages of adoption as societies are generally conservative and there are also little manufacturer-led marketing efforts.

There are overarching trends that affect all markets in SEA; however, consumers in different countries continue to have their unique set of local characteristics that differ, from culture to practices. Through adaptation and localisation, manufacturers continue to incorporate sustainable and functional elements into sanitary protection in a bid to capture further market share. These local characteristics, unique to individual countries, are useful in localising commercial efforts to suit consumers’ preferences.