One of the more curious consumer trends to have emerged from our
Biggest Brands survey (See page 20 for the second instalment) is the
rise of the towel sector of the sanitary protection market at the
expense of tampons, once thought to be the greatest innovation in the
The ACNielsen figures show that Tampax, which has been the largest
sanpro brand, has now been overtaken by Always, a towel. While Tampax
only attracted 2.2% extra sales over the past year, the value of the
Always brand shot up by 13.2%.
Both are owned by Procter & Gamble, so any effect on sales is cancelled
out on its balance sheet, but the switch throws up some interesting
changes in consumer demand.
A close look at ACNielsen’s data reflects the rise of towels versus
Unit sales of tampons actually fell over the period April 1997 to April
1998 by 2.1%. The sector fared a little better in value terms, up 1.7%
to pounds 143.6, but still lags well behind towels, up 4.1% to pounds
There are various reasons for this shift, but the principal one is
technology driven. As manufacturers find ways to make sanitary towels
thinner, but still as effective, the products become more appealing to
women put off by the thought of wearing bricks of cotton wool.
Younger women, who used to be the major market for tampons, are now more
likely to continue using the towels that their mothers give them.
The pattern used to be that they would start with towels then move on to
tampons once they have their own money, and are influenced by what
Women are also more likely to ’mix and match’ various types of sanitary
protection, according to Kristina Nordsten, senior brand manager on
Bodyform at SCA Hygiene Products. ’There is less solus use now; women
tend to pick and mix between towels and tampons depending on what they
There is also evidence that tampons have suffered from the growing
preoccupation with related health issues, most notably toxic shock
syndrome, a disease which can affect women who keep a tampon in for too
long. It is thought that women are also becoming increasingly concerned
about the general health issues of internal sanitary protection.
The other major boost to the towels sector has come from
American-sounding ’panty liner’ products, which women are choosing to
wear between periods.
As this effectively quadruples the potential sales for the products, it
is not surprising that this sector of the market has seen a 10% increase
over the past year.
These market changes bode well for the top three towel brands, Always,
Bodyform and Kotex (owned by P&G, SCA Hygiene Products and
SCA Hygiene, whose Bodyform brand ranks second or third in the towel
sector, depending on whose figures you use, has been pushing its brand
with renewed vigour recently. A press campaign in May broke new creative
ground for sanpro advertising by using male models rather than the usual
coy-looking woman, and featured the slogan ’Be particular about what you
put in your knickers’. A TV ad with a similar theme starts this week,
and the company is planning a large-scale door drop of its updated
Bodyform Invisible towel.
P&G has supported Always heavily in the past year, spending pounds 15.6m
through advertising agency DMB&B on TV and press ads, dwarfing the
adspend on its rivals. Although the notoriously tight-lipped P&G refused
to be interviewed for this article, it is believed that it is also
planning a door-drop campaign to support Always’ sub-brand Alldays, a
But what future for the two tampons makers, Tambrands (bought by P&G
last year) and Smith & Nephew?
Tampax’s 2.2% growth in sales is close to the 2.5% increase for Smith &
Nephew’s Lil-Lets brand, showing that both brands are under
Although P&G’s UK management can be secure in the knowledge that what
the market takes away from Tampax it adds to Always, it does make you
wonder why they judged it was worth parting with pounds 1.1bn for
It would be unfair to blame the fall in Tampax’s sale wholly on P&G;
Tambrands’ profits have dropped 12% since 1990. But the US household
goods giant has been accused of allowing Tambrands’ marketing to go off
the boil while it integrates the company into its own operation,
shifting much of it to Germany.
The company has also lost many of the key Tampax staff, including UK and
Ireland general manager Michele Jobling (now at London store Liberty)
and UK and Ireland marketing director Magdalena Teare.
P&G now has its work cut out on Tampax if it is to buck market trends
and re-convince women of the benefits of the brand.