Pampers feel and learn: P&G challenges rival K-C in trainers battle

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Procter & Gamble Co. is making a new assault in the relatively small-but growing and profitable-training-pants market amid strong competition from Kimberly-Clark Corp.

The two sides are expected to spend more than $50 million combined behind initiatives launching this summer, as the training- and youth-pants segment becomes the focal point in a crucial struggle for shelf space between the rivals.

P&G next month launches Pampers Feel and Learn Advanced Trainers, aimed at aiding in toilet training by giving kids a momentary feeling of wetness when they have accidents. It's the second extension in nine months, following First Steps entry-level training pants launched late last year, for an Easy Ups lineup originally launched in February 2002.

steep price

Easy Ups is P&G's third and, to date, most successful attempt at breaking Kimberly-Clark's dominance of a training-pants category it created in the U.S. more than 15 years ago. But that success has come at a steep price. P&G spent almost as much on media behind Easy Ups last year-$32 million-as the $35 million it spent on the rest of the eight-times-larger Pampers diaper business, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Kimberly-Clark and retailers expect $20 million in marketing support behind Feel and Learn alone.

Kimberly-Clark is countering with recently shipped glow-in-the-dark graphics for Pull-Ups, new graphics for Huggies Little Swimmers swim pants and the first boy/girl versions of Goodnites overnight youth pants for kids with bedwetting problems. The company indicated it would spend in line with traditional support, which topped $30 million last year.

Training and other youth pants make up only about 22% of the $4 billion-$5 billion U.S. diaper category. But the stakes are much higher, because the training-pants segment is growing, with volume up 1% in the 52 weeks ended April 18, even as the diaper category is shrinking-volume is down 3.1%, according to Information Resources Inc.

Training pants are also more profitable than diapers-at least theoretically. P&G is a formidable competitor, said Bob Thibault, president-childcare for Kimberly-Clark. "We're winning the battle, and P&G is paying the price to keep their volume propped up," said Mr. Thibault. He believes Pampers needs to keep its training-pants share above 20% or risk retailers delisting at least part of the lineup.

In the most recent 12 weeks, Pull-Ups' share of training pants is up 4.8 points to 63.3% and its share of overall youth pants, including Goodnites and Little Swimmers, is up 3.7 points to 70.2%, while Easy Ups is down 0.2 point to 18.7%, he said, citing Kimberly-Clark data from VNU's ACNielsen.

doubled share

But a P&G spokeswoman said Easy Ups' share is up over the past 12 weeks if Wal-Mart and club-store data are included and continues to gain shelf space. The entire Baby Stages of Development line, of which Easy Ups is part, has doubled Pampers' share in the premium end of the diaper and pant business since its launch more than two years ago, she said. It's also helped Pampers grow share, volume, sales and profit simultaneously for the first time in more than a decade, she added.

The Feel and Learn concept, Mr. Thibault said, is one Kimberly-Clark rejected after concluding it raised concerns with parents about leaks and wouldn't sell enough to earn its shelf space.

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