Meeting women's expectations?

17th of March 2011
Meeting women's expectations?

What do female customers want from a feminine hygiene unit, and how are manufacturers delivering it? We look at research into this field and find out how manufacturers are meeting their customers’ needs.

Companies that manufacture feminine hygiene bins have their work cut out for them. They need to come up with products that are hygienic, user-friendly and easy to clean. The units should be sufficiently compact to fit into tiny toilet cubicles, yet large enough to hold a high capacity of waste.

The bins should also be easy to access and sufficiently discreet to fade away into the background. And since feminine hygiene is something of a taboo subject, any advertising or marketing of the product should be discreet and understated.

So how are manufacturers developing their products to meet customers’ expectations? Customer research is an important facet of the market according to Vectair marketing co-ordinator Matthew Wonnacott.The company recently carried out extensive research into what customers want from a feminine hygiene unit. Number one requirement, unsurprisingly, is that a bin should offer the very highest level of hygiene since blood waste is potentially hazardous.

“A good sanitary bin should also be discreet and quiet during operation since the sound of a bin crashing shut may cause embarrassment,” said Wonnacott. “And it should be highly functional with a simple hands-free operation.

“We are definitely seeing a rise in demand for no-touch systems. Although there are plenty of foot pedal bins on the market, customers are increasingly unwilling to go anywhere near the bin for fear of infections.”

However, automatic bins represent a high cost according to Wonnacott. “At the moment you only tend to see automatic bins in high-end facilities such as hotels, offices and upmarket nightclubs,” he said.

The company currently offers both manual and automatic versions of its Femcare bin. These can incorporate an odour control system such as Femcare sanitising powder which releases sanitising vapours throughout the unit in controlled doses for up to eight weeks.

A sanitary bin should also be highly practical, said Wonnacott. “For example, it should be durable since the bin will only be serviced every 12 months under normal service patterns,” he said. “It should also be sufficiently compact to fit within the toilet cubicle while also holding a high capacity of waste, since it will only be emptied once a month.”

Licensed service companies are usually employed to remove the waste on a regular basis, he said. When selling a bin to a customer the distributor will usually sell in a waste disposal contract alongside it.

According to Fumacare’s marketing manager Sara Zygis the key feature of a good sanitary disposal unit is that a woman should feel comfortable using it. The company carried out its own research into women’s requirements before designing its SaniPod in 2004.

“There was a common perception that standard sanitary bins were unclean and women would only use them reluctantly,” said Zygis.  “In fact we found that seven out of 10 women would choose not to use a sanitary unit if it were offensive to them.  

“Once sanitary units become marked or soiled, women refuse to touch them and are forced to either flush dressings down toilets, carry their waste with them or dispose of it in regular waste receptacles.”

She agreed with Wonnacott that hygiene was the key issue. ”With a standard manually-operated bin, the lid is lifted and the waste is deposited,” she said. “This is exceptionally offensive to most women as it can expose them to cross-contamination of blood-borne pathogens as well as to visible markings of blood or trapped dressings. A unit that successfully eliminates these occurrences will achieve a higher usage rate.”

A good sanitary unit should also be functional, easy to use, easy to access and discreet, said Zygis. “Feminine hygiene is a sensitive topic for some women and cultures so provision of a sanitary disposal unit in each cubicle is critical.  Similarly, using a unit that is quiet in operation is also important.”

And size is also an issue. “A sanitary unit should be sufficiently compact that it can remain out of the way when not required,” she said. “Washroom cubicles are becoming smaller all the time and a larger unit in a small cubicle can result in a woman being forced to touch or lean against the unit while using the toilet.”

Popular touch-free systems

Zygis claims that the company’s SaniPod unit answers all these needs. The wall-mounted unit offers silent operation and has a discreet locking mechanism and is available in both auto and manual options.

Like Wonnacott, Zygis has perceived that touch-free systems are becoming more popular – though not before time. “Over the years washrooms have been revolutionised with technology such as touch-free taps and soap dispensers; automatic flush timers and now even an automatic sleeve dispenser for door handles,” she said.  “However, the sanitary disposal bin has remained unchanged. Thankfully washroom dispenser manufacturers have started to recognise this gap and a range of touch-free units is now becoming available.”

While pedal-operated units are viewed as a 'touch-free' solution, she feels that in reality they are difficult for a woman to use while in a seated position - and impossible for those with disabilities.

“Touch-free sanitary disposal units utilising infra-red technology offer women a first-class experience whereby the user can place her hand above or activate the sensor and the lid opens automatically, preventing the spread of cross-contamination and disease in the washroom,” she said.

Another company that has been carrying out end-user research in the feminine hygiene market is Cannon Hygiene. According to divisional sales director Pat Gillingham: “Recent surveys have clearly shown that hygiene is of paramount importance for women, with over half of the respondents saying that they would rather not have to touch any part of the unit at all. They also find malodorous units extremely offensive.

“Another concern is that, as space becomes premium in toilet cubicles, clutter has become a problem. Compactness and ease of use - such as slim units that sit below the toilet bowl - are therefore important.”

She added that attractiveness of design had also become important for high-end environments such as leisure centres, restaurants and hotels. Other key requirements were durability, discretion, an efficient exchange service – and sustainability.

“Increasingly clients require the support of their suppliers to meet their sustainability targets,” she said. “Their capability in this area this should be a key factor for judging a feminine hygiene service provider.”

She claims the Cannon Compact combines all these features. This has a foot pedal and a butterfly-style modesty tray, and incorporates antibacterial technology to prevent cross-contamination. Activap germicide is used inside the unit while Polygiene silver ion technology in the lid is said to destroy bacteria on impact.

Gillingham has also perceived an increase in popularity of touch-free units. “Our Concept and Cannon Compact units meet this market demand and are either foot pedal or touch free operated,” she said.

Discretion should be a key feature of a good unit according to All Care sales manager Hans Overweg. “The bin should preferably have a closed ‘throw-in’ to hide the contents, which should be disposed of in a plastic hygiene bag that can be tied,” he said. “The disposal operation should also involve as little contact with the unit as possible.

Easy to clean and maintain

“The unit itself should also have the appearance of a standard waste bin and be made from a material that is easy to clean and maintain. And it should be positioned or wall-mounted close to the toilet.” The company’s feminine hygiene units include the MediQo-line, PlastiQline Exclusive, Qbic-line and Wings ranges.

One newcomer to the feminine hygiene market is SCA which launched its first sanitary bin in January this year. SCA clearly agrees with All Care’s view that a sanitary bin should have the appearance of a standard waste receptacle – in fact its own product actually doubles as a regular bin once the modesty tray has been removed.

The Tork Bin 5Litre has an inner bag that can be sealed using a strip of thread. “Other manufacturers use ‘zip-lock’-style bags – but as we know, these don’t always work,” said European product manager Hans Urena.

So innovation in the market is happening at last to make sanitary bins more functional, more user-friendly and more attractive. For example, Fumacare has recently launched the SaniPod wrap to enhance its bins with an attractive cover. The wrap is available in various designs and colours.

And during 2011 Vectair will be launching a new feminine hygiene disposal system, details of which are being kept under wraps. “All we can say is that it will be highly innovative and will not be available from other suppliers,” said Matt Wonnacott.

But the fact that customer research is being carried out and change is starting to occur can only spell good news because women are finally becoming more confident to talk about what they want - and manufacturers are tailoring their products to ensure that they get it.


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