The unstoppable rise of natural personal hygiene products
Slowly then suddenly, natural and organic personal care products have morphed from niche solutions for green-conscious consumers into a fast-spreading, almost viral phenomenon. From 2022 to 2028, the global market is expected to hit 19.26 billion US dollars, with a CAGR of 7.2%. Similarly, natural personal hygiene products, market-adjacent to the natural personal care trend, are coming to the fore and, depending on the segment, even rising at double digits. According to industry experts and brands, natural period care products are showing a stunning 40% year-over-year growth.
Among the main drivers, a big one is, undoubtedly, the steady pace of investments in the sector from established corporations, together with anti-plastic regulation and the rising environmental awareness in the general public.
More and more consumers of Disposable Hygiene solutions are switching to natural and organic products — and companies are not standing by. Indeed, disposable hygiene manufacturers are making natural personal hygiene a cornerstone of their sustainable agenda, cutting down on plastics from fossil fuels in favor of plant-based raw materials and waste reduction efforts.
Natural hygiene products: focus on plant-based materials
Recyclable, renewable, responsible are the watchwords of this new landscape. People increasingly favor natural ingredients, considered safer and gentler, which is driving companies of all sizes towards bioplastic, plant-based materials and biodegradable fibers such as cotton, rayon, corn, hemp and bamboo viscose.
This focus on materials is even greater in the context of organic period care products and sustainable diapers. According to Euromonitor, materials of plant origin also give industry players the opportunity to stand out and sharpen their brand positioning. Once companies have proven that the product is on par with the competition in terms of absorbency, breathability and skin-friendliness, value-added ingredients such as herb infusion or hemp may provide even stronger performance.
Another plant-based material that is making a splash in the market is bamboo viscose. Being a grass, bamboo is a biosource. It quickly regrows after the harvest, making it an ideal alternative to petroleum-based materials.
Natural baby diapers: a mass market in the making
The continued growth of options for environmentally friendly diapers is progressively redefining the disposable hygiene category. Despite the constant ebb and flow of brands entering and leaving the market, the problem remains the same: striking a balance between performance and sustainability. On the one hand, the demand for sustainable diapers is gaining traction. On the other, consumers are not ready to trade absorbency, skin friendliness and comfort for a lower carbon footprint.
Nevertheless, this trend has been shaping the Baby Diapers market for quite a while, with a few implications for the packaging sector. For one, more attention is being paid to product labels: established brands and startups alike are cutting down on petrochemicals and fragrances to focus on a new green-conscious brand positioning, based on plant-based materials and bioplastic. Bamboo viscose is coming to the fore thanks to a few, unique advantages — mainly, that it degrades faster than mainstream diapers' oil-derived ingredients, while also being soft skincare-wise. A large number of brands are also looking to cotton and bioplastic derived from corn and sugar cane in order to increase the percentage of natural materials in their products. Because of this, cardboard and, broadly speaking, sustainable packaging is more and more important nowadays.
Secondly, waste reduction is the new game in town — a "conditio sine qua non" that is inextricably linked to reusability and compostability. The latter is more and more important as of late, also because a single non-compostable ingredient may positively affect the compostability of the entire product, making it a low-hanging fruit. Many enterprises are investing heavily in this regard, sometimes together with institutions. The French government, for instance, is showing great interest in related R&D pilot projects.
Although fully compostable hygiene products are still a chimera, especially at scale, industry giants are embracing the challenge, with a few forecasting a launch of certified, fully compostable diapers by 2024. Compostability, though, comes with some tradeoffs, since natural hygiene products designed to be a hundred percent compostable are not recyclable and vice versa. To make the matter even more complex, recycling is not standardized: there are no universal guidelines. Market forces and regulation make the difference between what can and cannot be recycled, which varies from country to country. Recycling is not equal everywhere.
The golden opportunity of natural feminine hygiene products
The golden opportunity of the natural personal hygiene products market lies in femcare. In this segment, product availability is huge and always increasing. Sales volumes are higher than other segments, with femcare accounting for 304 billion units, i.e. 58% of the total disposable hygiene market volumes. The green wave is so powerful that, in order to stand out in the shelves, industry players are experimenting in many ways, such as organic period care, hemp tampons, reusable period products and organic hemp pads, often dipping into the supplements and beauty market. The areas of interest for natural feminine hygiene products are Europe and the US — mature markets, where innovation is at the heart of the growth's engine. The main consumers are Gen Zers and Millennials, which, according to several studies, tend to look for brands that take action towards social and environmental sustainability. Like Baby Diapers, though, organic female hygiene products tend to put comfort at the heart of their value proposition: sustainability cannot come at the cost of skin friendliness.
Another factor to consider is the product ecosystem that many companies are building around period lineups such as sexual health or beauty and skincare, enriching the brand identity around consumer lifestyles. More often than not, this branding-oriented repositioning comes along with a combination of modernized storytelling, industry certifications, celebrity endorsement and a renewed focus on educational digital campaigns. Packaging-wise, natural feminine hygiene products tend to come in clean, eye-catching packaging design, reinforced by a personalized shopping experience and value-added subscription services.
Natural hygiene products and inflation: what to expect
As inflation and recession fears become top of mind, affordability is a must. With the US consumer price index hitting, as of today, a 41-year high, the global supply chain still in disruption, gas prices climbing to record levels in Europe as well as the US, industry players are facing heavy stress, doing their best not to increase prices.
Many consumers are progressively abandoning the premium segment in favor of value for money. Because of this, natural personal care and hygiene products, often being more expensive, are now finding new competition from private labels and more affordable traditional products. This is especially true for mid- to low-income shoppers, who are reducing consumption altogether, while the wealthier population keeps looking for performance.
Most industry players, however, are not worried about the economic landscape. Inflation and supply chain disruption are not a structural problem of the Disposable Hygiene market. Most importantly, they are supposed to be transient and only affect the market in the short term. Notwithstanding the risk of a downturn, the demand is growing steadily year over year, suggesting that, most likely, it's more a matter of repositioning than a long-term issue.
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