Sanitary towel usage still low despite tax cuts

By Macharia Kamau

The Government zero-rated import duty for sanitary towels in 2004 to increase the use of the products, bringing down prices of most brands by almost 50 per cent.

But many women still use clothing, tissue and cotton wool to contain menstrual flow, exposing them to health hazards yet tax exemption pushed prices down leading to entry of more brands targeting specific market segments.

According to the Unicef, more than one in ten school girls in Sub-Saharan Africa skip school for more than a day when menstruating due to lack of awareness of affordable pads in the market.

"Lack of awareness about cheap brands in the market has contributed to low usage," says Procter and Gamble (P&G) Brand Manager Riccardo Cele.

"We have a long way to go in changing attitudes, about usage of pads," said Mr Cele.

Sanitary pads are exempted from tax but the uptake is still low, with only 35 per cent of Kenyan women using the products.

Statistics show that at 35 per cent penetration level, Kenyan women are better off than their counterparts in the East African Community.

Sanitary towels usage in the region stands at 22 per cent, with the level being significantly lower in Uganda and Tanzania. In the two countries, only 16 per cent of women aged between 12 and 49 use the products.

Though penetration level is low, Kenyan women are sophisticated consumers compared to their counterparts in developed markets, with 85 per cent preferring ultra (thin) pads to thick towels.

A thick pad market

"This trend shows that they are more liberal than those in developed markets. Kenya is ahead of South Africa, which is still largely a thick pad market," said Cele.

In the last decade, Always and Stay Free were the major brands in the market but today there are close to 20 brands.

P&G’s Always is still ahead of the pack, however, with a market share of 67 per cent.

The company is working on retaining its position as the market leader by introducing young girls to its brand while still in school through the point of market entry programmes.

The company has just concluded a two-year campaign, which saw it distribute 3.2 million pads to over 15,000 school going girls.

Though the programme which has elements of charity, the company hopes the girls will continue using its brands when they start earning.

"Those who have gone through the programme and are now mature and remember that they were introduced to sanitary pads through the Always school programme," said Cele.