Incontinence supplies: More than a commodity

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

There's a lot more to the incontinence category than meets the eye. While adult briefs and undergarments carry the image of being a bulk-load commodity that is purchased and distributed on huge pallets, manufacturers say the products have become more sophisticated and individually tailored for specific types of customers.

Driven by an aging baby boomer population that is more discriminating in its product demands, makers of incontinence supplies are taking heed and creating brands designed to appeal to this burgeoning demographic, says Paul Pritchard, vice president of marketing for Greenville, N.C.-based Attends North America.

"Aside from real differences in quality that belie the claims of commoditization in the adult incontinence category, Attends North America is listening to our customers and consumers to drive product advancements," he said. "For example, recent focus group testing has led to the development of our new line of overnight protective underwear that provides consumers the comfort and fit of an underwear-style product. We're also focused on solutions that can improve skin wellness and overall healthier outcomes, which we believe will be a huge differentiator."

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that roughly 13% of all Americans are age 65 and older and that number is expected to expand to 20% by 2030. Attends is using this trend to better understand this increasingly important customer base, Pritchard said.

"People are living longer and enjoying more active, healthy lifestyles," he said. "This has created a growing demand for adult incontinence products that allow a high degree of mobility and independence. Product development at Attends will continue to be driven by the promise to provide discreet protection for users who demand the freedom to live life with confidence."

Boomers are also acutely aware of the incontinence issue through the mainstream media, which is influencing their attitudes about it, said Greg Bosco, vice president of sales and marketing for Milford, Mass.-based Invacare Supply Group.

"With spokespeople like Whoopi Goldberg for Kimberly Clark and primetime television commercials for Tena, it can no longer be a taboo subject," he said. "The ratio of population affected by incontinence is now one in three. This is a multi-billion dollar industry. Manufacturers are using feedback on fit and materials and transforming these products to be more streamlined for the mainstream population. The products out now are a far cry from the bulky white products of yesteryear. Also, the terminology has evolved from 'diaper' to 'liner,' 'brief,' and 'protective underwear' to promote dignity and a sense of normalcy for needing such products."

Incontinence "program"

Further illustrating how the category has evolved beyond commoditization is how New York-based Unique Wellness has created a special incontinence management program.

"We're not just focusing on the product, but on managing incontinence altogether," said CEO Steve Goelman. "We wanted to simplify incontinence with a program that saves money and prevents wounds. Our garment concept--based on NASA's design for astronauts--employs a five-layer system that keeps skin dry. This program gives people the freedom of feeling dry and lacking odor, which improves quality of life."

The four-year-old company's design team is constantly modifying products based on feedback and ideas from users. Among the upgrades currently under review are stretchable waistbands, which Goelman says have been requested by customers.

Made in USA

Mundelein, Ill.-based Medline Industries is so bullish on the sales potential for its new line of incontinence products that it has just opened a new manufacturing plant in Lithia Springs, Ga., just outside Atlanta. Medline held a grand opening in March, featuring a list of state and local dignitaries.

The new facility will employ 150 people and its main product will be Medline's new FitRight adult brief.

"This new facility is one of our biggest investments ever, and we are very thankful to the state of Georgia, Douglas County and city of Douglasville for welcoming us with a terrific labor force and an inviting business environment in which we can succeed and, in turn, help the local community thrive," said Dan Love, president of Medline's personal care products division. "We are proud to produce products in the United States that will have a positive impact on millions of elderly people throughout the country."