CONDOMS JOIN MARCH TO VALUE

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Condom king Carter-Wallace is rolling out value-price Class Act, a sign that even the condom industry is subject to pricing pressures from consumers.

The marketer's commanding 60.7% share of the $272 million condom market-including the No. 1 brand, Trojan-was built partly because most shoppers have equated higher price with better quality.

"In the mid-'80s, when the AIDS crisis hit, people did not worry about price because they were concerned first of all with their safety. They knew they were putting their lives on the line," said Kim Leffler, marketing manager for competitor Safetex "Also, there was an impression that the more expensive, the better the condom."

Now, that could be changing. Market experts contend Class Act was introduced to thwart small but growing gains by a variety of cheaper foreign brands, particularly those from Japan, as well as gains by lower-price U.S. marketers.

Class Act retails for about 30% less than premium-price Trojan, though prices for brands fluctuate wildly from one part of the country to another.

Carter-Wallace is supporting the rollout with a $1 million print campaign from Backer Spielvogel Bates, New York, in magazines that include Details and Spin, indicating an interest in appealing to younger, hipper consumers. Ads tout the product as "great protection at a great price."

"The name Class Act is meant, in part, to appeal to younger shoppers-students," said a Northeastern supermarket retailer.

"The market is changing," said Burt Flickinger, management consultant at A.T. Kearney, New York. "Improved latex technology is making better low-price condoms."

Among the smaller rivals that have won significant gains are Ansell Americas, which markets value-price LifeStyles. As the No. 3 player in the market, Ansell had 10.5% of dollar sales in the food, drug and mass merchandiser market for the 12 months ended Jan. 31, according to Towne-Oller & Associates. That's a 1.5-percentage-point gain from a year earlier.

And No. 4 Safetex, which markets value-price Gold Circle and Saxon Gold, saw its share grow 0.4 of a point to 2.7%.

Meanwhile, Carter-Wallace's share fell a full percentage point from 61.7%. London International, the No. 2 player with the low-price Touch brand, had a 0.8-point drop to 25.1%.

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