business

P&G Bets Natural Pampers Can Help Build Trust With Millennials

  • Largest diaper brand’s new line is free of fragrance, lotion
  • Nationwide product rollout is planned for next month

After Sara Giovanni’s twin girls were born prematurely in 2014 she began shifting toward more natural products -- with one exception.

She was disappointed by the absorbency in the green diapers she tried, so Giovanni pursued an option not available to most shoppers: She designed her own. For almost 15 years, she’s been a scientist for the Pampers brand at Procter & Gamble Co.

Pampers Pure Protection

Source: Procter & Gamble Co.

Now, P&G is preparing to roll out Pampers Pure Protection diapers and Aqua Pure wipes, a major venture into the natural category under the auspices of its largest brand.

P&G has been slower than some rivals to move into the so-called natural space, prompting criticism from activist investor Nelson Peltz. The billionaire, who successfully campaigned for a board seat last year, attacked the company for missing an important market that’s coveted by younger shoppers. When Unilever bought Seventh Generation in 2016, nine years after Clorox Co.’s purchase of Burt’s Bees, P&G had only one product in the category, its new Tide Purclean detergent.

“Health and wellness is beyond a trend; it’s a movement driving huge changes,” said David Garfield, a managing director at consulting firm AlixPartners. The category can drive “very meaningful growth” in an industry where it has been elusive, as consumers have shifted to private and upstart brands, he said.

While companies have long stretched the term “natural,” consumers can distinguish whether changes are meaningful and will embrace products even if the goods aren’t 100 percent organic, said Garfield, who heads his firm’s consumer-products practice

Natural Fibers

The new Pampers diapers are free of fragrance, lotion and chlorine, and only natural fibers make contact with babies’ skin. But they still have features like the absorbent gel and wetness indicator. For the wipes, the company cut the number of ingredients from 12 to seven, but retained some traditional additions like preservatives and pH buffers.

About 70 percent of consumers say that using baby products free of allergens and unpronounceable ingredients is very important to them, according to an AlixPartners survey. Most -- about 60 percent -- also say they’re willing to pay some premium for those products.

The Pure Protection diapers have a suggested retail cost of $12 for a pack of 35, within the $9-to-$13 range of online prices listed for a similar number of its Swaddlers line.

P&G had already begun to ramp up its offering of natural products, including the rollout last year of a version of its air freshener Febreze without aerosols, dyes and heavy perfumes. It also bought two upstarts in the past six months: the online deodorant brand Native and New Zealand skin-care company Snowberry.

P&G’s Pure Protection line is an example of its “lean innovation” process, developed by a team of about 10 in about 18 months -- roughly half the time and staffing of a typical rollout.

It no doubt helped that Giovanni, after years in the company’s practice of watching consumers test and use its products in their homes, had her own laboratory.

“This was my 10-month home visit,” she said.

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