Drypers calls it quits on germ-fighting line

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"Anti-bacterial" may be a magic word in growing numbers of categories, but diapers apparently isn't one of them.

Drypers Corp. is discontinuing its Drypers Supreme with Germ Guard diapers amid sluggish sales for the first diaper positioned as a germ killer.

"I still think it's a good idea," said David Olsen, VP-marketing at Drypers. "We've got some consumers who love it . . . But the movement just would not support the shelf space."

A smaller-count size of the product might still work ultimately in drugstores, he said, but movement wasn't strong enough for jumbo-size Drypers Supreme packages to hold its space on supermarket or mass-merchandise shelves.

Launched last October with TV and print support from Suissa Miller, Los Angeles, Drypers Supreme in silver mylar packaging was positioned as a way to prevent diaper odor. Drypers had added baking soda into its diapers a year earlier for the same reason.

STILL BOOMING

Drypers will continue to sell Drypers Supreme wipes with Germ Guard. And antibacterial wipes of all sorts remain a booming category-at least in terms of product introductions.

Johnson & Johnson plans a March rollout of Johnson's Antibacterial Towelettes in March, along with other new and improved baby care products. GoJo Industries earlier this year launched its own antibacterial hand-washing towelettes as an extension of its Purell waterless hand sanitizer brand.

Also in March, Procter & Gamble Co. and Clorox Co. plan dueling rollouts of antibacterial kitchen and bathroom cleaning towelettes under the Mr. Clean and Clorox brands, respectively.

Overall, Drypers has held its own in an increasingly competitive $4 billion diaper category. The brand had a 3.6% share in the third quarter, according to Information Resources Inc. figures from Salomon Smith Barney, its highest level in two years and up from 3.1% in the first half of 1999. Drypers has gained distribution in Kmart Corp. and Food Lion stores in the past year.

But an increasingly competitive promotional battleground between category leaders Kimberly-Clark Corp. and P&G didn't help Drypers Supreme, Mr. Olsen said.

"A couple of years ago, we were getting hammered by retailers for using FSI coupons," he said, noting that at the time couponing had fallen out of favor in the category. "Now, everybody's doing it. It seems everything old is new again."

Drypers Supreme took the value brand into pricing territory on par with Pampers and Huggies base products, a move that may also have been hard for consumers to support. Retailers also said Drypers Supreme's problems may owe more to consumer resistance to higher-priced niche diapers than waning interest in anti-bacterial products.

WHAT ABOUT RASH GUARD?

Sluggish sales could force P&G to drop its own Guard-in this case, Pampers Rash Guard, priced more than 50% per diaper higher than the base Pampers brand-said one retail buyer.

"Drypers is getting rid of theirs, and at the rate it's selling, I wouldn't be surprised to see P&G discontinue Rash Guard," he said.

Another retail buyer, noting the 2.5% to 3% market share attained by Rash Guard is less than half the 6% to 7% P&G projected, has threatened to drop the product. But he said P&G sales reps are urging patience, noting stronger promotional support and the onset of cold and flu season should help.

A P&G spokesman said Rash Guard is performing in line with expectations and continues to gain ground at a current dollar share of around 3%. He said that cold and flu season should bring more demand, because antibiotic use increases risk of diaper rash in infants.

NEW AD ASSAULT

With flu season coming, P&G also is expected to crank up its advertising for Rash Guard, via D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York. The product has been supported with TV, print and in-store advertising.

The P&G spokesman said consumer feedback for Rash Guard has been exceptionally good, with positive comments running at three to four times that of a new diaper rollout.

"It takes a rash incident for a parent to try Rash Guard, and when they do they see the power of the product," he said.

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