How many of you remember ‘that’ conversation with your parent(s) when you hit puberty?
The curious kids might have thrown a couple of innocent queries at their mothers, but most would have been told to be quiet and not ask such ‘inappropriate’ questions. Others might have never had ‘the talk’ with their parents about the ’birds and the bees’ and were left to figure those things out themselves. That’s because 99% of us have grown up in traditional households where talking about menstruation or sexual hygiene or old age-related infirmities was frowned upon. So kids never really got educated on such critical life learnings, because talking about these things was considered indecent or shameful.
Consequently, usage numbers also reflect the dismal consumption pattern. Even though India has about 355 million menstruating women, reports suggest that nearly 71% of girls have no knowledge of menstruation before their first period. As a result, nearly 60 percent of women in India are diagnosed with vaginal and urinary tract diseases and infections every year due to poor menstrual hygiene.
- With exposure to global living practices, we have become a much more progressive nation now, and there’s more awareness amongst the youth and children about maintaining good hygiene.
- Government initiatives on female health have increased awareness amongst the masses.
- The rural population now understands the benefits of personal hygiene and consumes more hygiene products than before.
- India’s menstruation heroes (e.g. ‘Padman’ Arunachalam M, Anshu Gupta of Goonj, DP Singh and Ameet Mehta of Azadi) have added impetus to leading conversations around menstruation and female hygiene.
- New-age FMCG challenger brands in personal hygiene are helping to make sanitary pads and adult diapers and other ‘embarrassing’ products more mainstream.
Sahil Dharia, Founder & CEO, Soothe Healthcare (which retails the Paree brand), explains, “When Soothe was founded in 2012, only 12% of women used hygienic means of menstrual hygiene protection, and now it has grown close to almost 18%. Social media has brought a positive change – there are progressive conversations about periods, women’s hygiene products, that are prompting greater innovation and agility in the personal hygiene industry.”
NOTHING EMBARRASSING ABOUT ADULT DIAPERS!
Another ‘embarrassing’ phenomenon that has been getting well-deserved attention is adult incontinence, which affects both men and women equally.
I remember a time when my friend’s grandparents did not join them for a long road trip because her grandfather didn’t want to inconvenience them by stopping every half an hour for a loo break. At that time adult diapers were unheard of, and even if they had been around, the immense shame around using them would have prevented him from using them in the first place.
The inability to control the bowel or bladder can affect a person mentally and physically. People become depressed and socially withdraw as their quality life begins to suffer.
A primary study conducted by Nobel Hygiene (makers of Friends adult diapers, the biggest manufacturer of adult diapers in India), found that it takes anywhere between 9 months and 1.5 years for those facing incontinence to start using adult diapers. For several months, sufferers attempt to ‘manage’ concerns instead of choosing dry pants because of social stigma. Therefore, to remove that stigma, Nobel Hygiene produced some great TV commercials where they used consumer truth heroes as trendsetters, for e.g. the female protagonist in their TV commercial who urges her husband to join the dry pant league so that he doesn’t miss the critical moments of the cricket match!
As Kartik Johari, MD of Nobel Hygiene affirms, ‘Since we are 50% plus retail market shareholders in the adult diaper sector, I think the onus is very much on us to increase acceptance and awareness. Our Azadi Mubarak campaign has been our core communication towards raising awareness on incontinence among the elderly. It is important for this dialogue to continue as we encourage them to break taboos and live their lives with the Azadi they deserve.
So the first thing we do is to try and demonstrate the product. Our salespeople wear our diapers and go from shop to shop. The impact of SEEING a person wear a diaper helps not just to normalize it but also better demonstrate how the product has been engineered for comfort, and ease of use.” That’s literally walking the talk!
SHINING THE LIGHT ON ‘TABOO’ PRODUCTS
For the longest time, feminine hygiene was the domain of MNC FMCG companies like P&G and Johnson & Johnson. But in the last 6-7 years, we’ve seen a plethora of homegrown brands emerge as strong challengers, introducing new products and categories that enable better intimate health and hygiene.
Companies like Sanfe, Redcliffe Hygiene, Soothe, Niine, Carmesi, Lagom Labs, Sirona Hygiene etc have been lighting up this space with organic and biodegradable sanitary products, reusable menstrual cups, cramp relief patches, sprays and so much more.
All these companies have been creating a lot of noise around the issues of female and elderly hygiene care. They are utilizing social media and undertaking special initiatives to normalize these conversations. They are expanding their reach via Kirana retail and mom & pop stores, so they are able to offer their products on the remotest shelves possible, just so that everyone has access to these essential products.
They are using technology and sales force automation to make sure they have the right products in the right markets. They are educating their distributors and retailers on the features and benefits of their products. And they are making sure no girl child has to skip school anymore because she doesn’t know how to be stress-free during her monthly cycle.
And for that, a big hat tip from all of us.