5. Reclassifying Menstrual Products
5.2. Reclassifying on the organizational level: Changing market logics
5.1.4. Concluding remarks on reclassifying through education and
initiatives to listen to consumers, because it is unlikely that they will express themselves on their own.
Simultaneously, there are very few requirements placed on manufacturers, given the lack of standards and regulations on menstrual products. With a shift in consumer demand, and potential forthcoming standardization, market logics are shifting from classifying menstrual products as consumer products, or commodities, toward being considered public health goods. The former signals that consuming the products is a choice, where the supply and safety of the product can be guided by demand alone. The latter, in contrast, signifies products that meet the inherent and natural needs of the many people born with a certain biological function and that need to be regulated as such for the protection of consumers.
Another aspect that is emphasized by entrepreneurs in the menstrual product field is the lack of standards, which slows down the time to market significantly and contributes to reducing the number and quality of products on the market. This is something that is indicated as a problem with two main implications. Firstly, the lack of standards implies a risk that unserious actors that sell unsafe products might jeopardize consumer safety. Secondly, it means that there is such difficulty in identifying what measures need to be fulfilled in order to ensure products’ safety that companies starting up need to spend large amounts of time and money that could otherwise have been devoted to making even better products. Lisa Perby stated that,
“From idea to finished product, it took 1 year because it has to be done right. But it took that long, and we have spent two million SEK on testing. If you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t go into this business. We have gone the long way to learn this, which is why I think everyone needs to do it. I called around to a bunch of different agencies to figure out what we should follow, and how to ensure that our menstrual products are safe. It’s worrying how few people actually know what it takes. The large actors know but generally, it’s much too easy to enter the field.”
Without clear standards or regulations in place that pertain to product safety requirements, entrepreneurs need to reinvent the proverbial wheel each time a new product is to be released on the market. Although standards are often viewed as stifling innovation, in the case of menstrual products, the opposite is argued, for this reason.
5.2.1. Informed choice and shifting consumer demand
Consumer demand in the menstrual product field has remained stable and predictable for a long time, since focus has been placed largely on developed countries and disposable products, with little innovation and expansion into developing countries (Euromonitor, 2016). This, in combination with the fact that there is little regulation or standardization on menstrual products, has governed the supply and demand conditions, where demand has been high due to the products’ connection to a monthly recurring bodily process in a large portion of half of the world’s population.
However, the high demand has not necessarily been connected to users’
satisfaction with the existing products on the market. Users have not traditionally reflected on their menstruation and menstrual product use to the same extent as they are increasingly doing now. The former implies a habitual consumption of products, rather than making an active choice and assessment of products on the market and in connection, placing pressure on manufacturers to supply products that meet high demands. Gynecologist, Christina Lloyd, stated that,
“If they are seen as just any consumer product, supply and demand are what govern their development; menstrual products will always have a high demand, but that is not because they are good products; rather, because nature demands that women use them.”
The notion that just because there is a high demand for existing products, it does not necessarily imply that users are satisfied with them, which was also supported by entrepreneur, Ingrid Odlén, who stated that,
“I also think that there are very many women, which is also visible in my study, who are quite unsatisfied with their current menstrual products.”
Sometimes, consumers need to get creative because they do not have access to affordable products that meet their needs. Consumers are smart and tend to find solutions to problems that might be unmet either globally or in their local menstrual product market. Moscherosch argued that,
“Consumers are pretty smart, they figure this out. So, I know regions where women actually are using, for example, for their period, they figure out, because their period is probably not very strong. They double up on panty liners instead of
buying napkins, because two panty liners are cheaper than one napkin. So, there is always an economic factor that helps women, plays a role in their decision about what kind of product they are using.”
This can be seen as an example of the way the current menstrual product market lacks the ability to cater to every woman’s needs and ability to pay, but also as an indication that issues with current solutions on the market might not always be communicated by consumers to manufacturers.
The creativity described in the previous quote, and other consumption practices, is associated with an informed consumer who reflects on her purchases regarding, for instance, willingness to pay for a given benefit, purpose fulfillment, environmental impact, and so on. One way that informed choice can be increased is through standardization. This can lower the information asymmetry between manufacturers and users about products, including their functions, safety, and appropriate disposal. Puleng Letsie from the African Coalition for Menstrual Hygiene Management stated that,
“So, some of the things that standardization addresses is first of all, is that it shows that the product is identifiable by consumers according to a common definition.
So, whether it’s size or materials, it gives a common definition to the product, and that’s true for any consumer product and related standards. It also gives the consumer sufficient information on the packaging to make an informed choice that the product that they’re buying, or procuring, is safe for them, is appropriate for them. Then, the consumer should have information on appropriate disposal or pooling of used products, which essentially means disposal, collection, segregation, and the connection of the segregated waste.”
Furthermore, as a consequence of increased knowledge and education, including increased menstrual cycle literacy, menstruators gain more confidence and become more aware of their personal needs pertaining to menstruation and menstrual products. This further enables consumers to communicate their needs increasingly, both among users and with manufacturers, which implies that the demand conditions in the field change. Entrepreneur Louise Berg argued that at the beginning of her menstrual career, in 2015, people in the start-up world would tell her the market was full, or saturated. In a sense, this was true, according to some business analysts, and was due to the focus on disposable products distributed in the Global North (Euromonitor, 2016). This statement implies
some disregard for untapped markets such as in the Global South, however, as well as the potential for new types of menstrual products, including reusables, which indeed are proving to be lucrative markets, as they are growing as of late (Euromonitor International, 2019). This is an example of how the market is used as an excuse for neglecting this type of product. Louise Berg stated that,
“When I started this project, there was more than one person who told me that there was no market, that it was already full, and that there was no demand. If you only knew how many people told me that, and that was only the first six months.
Big investors, businesspeople, they told me that this market was full and that there was no need for this. I wonder how they were reasoning, when half of the world’s population menstruates – I would like to argue that there is a recurring need, but that’s just my opinion.”
Another way that the market is unsaturated is regarding segments such as consumers with heavy menstruation. These consumers often have to use several kinds of menstrual products at once, because there is no single product that satisfies their needs. This implies that existing products are both inefficient and must be changed very often, which can lead to difficulties leaving one’s house for too long. Moreover, these consumers must pay much more than those with little or moderate bleeding. Instead, this segment could be seen as potential for innovation of new kinds of materials that are more absorbent and specifically for those who bleed more. Lloyd stated that,
“Another parameter to remember is the amount of menstruation different women have. Women with very heavy menstruation have difficulty finding suitable menstrual products and often have to use both tampon and pad simultaneously.
So, that’s another aspect because these women not only suffer a lot from it, but it also costs them a lot of money.”
A further development in the area is that many users have realized that the sizes offered at the beginning of the menstrual cup boom, namely small, for those who have not given birth, and large, for those who have given birth, were not sufficient.
Instead, users and companies increasingly noticed that there was a need for further specificities, including shapes and sizes, to suit a broader range of users and vaginas. The notion that such variations are discussed is also in itself a step toward greater knowledge and literacy about previously silenced aspects of bodily
functions, which, again, furthers destigmatization of menstruation and menstrual products.