Not Sold in Stores: Why Organic Tampons Aren’t Reaching Conventional Retail Shelves

Presidio Graduate School’s Macroeconomics course for Spring 2012, is authoring a series of articles. The articles on this “micro-blog” reflect reactions and thoughts on news items, economic theory, and other issues as they pertain to the concept of sustainability.  Follow along here. image

By Sunya Ojure

In May 2012, I searched for organic tampons on The search results told me that organic tampons are available for purchase online but “not sold in stores.” The same search on produced zero results. Walmart neither sells organic tampons online nor in its brick-and-mortar stores.

This is surprising considering recent market and consumer behavior. Today,women are driving sales of socially and environmentally responsible products and organic markets are growing faster than their conventional counterparts. Women are also purchasing enormous quantities of tampons. In fact, the large majority (70%) of American women between puberty and menopause buy tampons and use over 11,000 in a lifetime. Meanwhile, proponents believe that organic cotton tampons are preferable for female and environmental health because they rely on natural, renewable materials that are biodegradable while conventional feminine hygiene products use a mix of natural and synthetic fibers, petroleum-based materials, and bleaching agents.

Despite these trends, organic cotton tampons have yet to make it onto the shelves of large, conventional stores in the U.S such as Target and Walmart. Why does organic food make the cut, while organic tampons do not? What keeps these products relegated to natural food stores and the e-commerce space?

Strong rivalry within the U.S. tampon industry may be one factor blocking organic brands from reaching Walmart’s shelves. Advertising Age estimates that U.S. tampon sales total approximately $1 billion annually. Procter & Gamble’s Tampax brand routinely takes home about half of this pie. In fact, Tampax has dominated the American market for decades, controlling over 40% of total market share since 1980. Moreover, Tampax’s two main competitors, Kotex and Playtex, control all but the remaining 16% of the market.

All three major brands were well established by the time the first organic cotton product hit the scene in 1989. What’s more, industry leaders sell products at a lower price point than organic companies like Natracare and Organyc. According to prices listed on on April 10, 2012, Organyc cotton tampons are 1.6 times more expensive than Playtex conventional tampons. This price difference is likely linked to the higher cost of organic cotton, which was about twice as expensive per pound as conventional cotton in 2011.

Intense brand loyalty within the tampon industry also plays a large role in defining the competitive landscape. Women are reluctant to switch brands and will often rely on one brand for their entire lives. Teenagers are the most likely to try different products as they have not yet developed strong allegiances. Thus, tampon companies have only a few years to capture a consumer’s loyalty.

Although women are extremely brand loyal, you won’t hear them singing the praises of their favorite brand very loudly. Organic food is an easy conversation for many at this point, but organic tampons haven’t entered into most American’s everyday lexicon. Perhaps consumers aren’t voicing their demand for organic feminine hygiene products in the same way they encourage retailers to stock organic spinach.

Are Walmart and Target waiting for their female consumers to speak up? Or can organic tampon brands simply not compete on conventional shelves?

7 responses

  1. Great post! It is a shame more people aren’t familiar with organic options. Especially since they have not been linked to any cases of TSS. I look forward to hearing everyone’s comments.

  2. Great! and what do you think, tampons are made of??? They are made of 100 % biodegradable, renewable fibers of highest purity, with lower carbon footprint than any cotton can provide. Viscose is the best material for tampons since 50 years, made from wood, which is grown not on arable land like cotton. So what is your problem?

  3. Thanks for your comments. It was definitely interesting to research this sector. I am not advocating that women use a specific type of product. I simply wanted to explore what the barriers might be for organic tampons given that other organic products are being sold by conventional retailers. I look forward to hearing more from readers.

  4. In the UK we have organic tampons/pads in the high-street chain Boots – thankfully.

    I often visit the US, last year my flight was cancelled so when my period started a day later I found myself far from home without my menstrual cup – I didn’t want to buy a new cup, so went looking for organic pads, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. Between my medical studies telling me what commercial pads can do to women’s health and sensitive skin, I can’t use commercial pads. This trip I had no choice, I was in agony as a result – remember it’s not just about the environment, also health and comfort.

    Unfortunately people just don’t understand that they have options, and don’t understand why commercial sanitary products are such a risk to environment and health. Brand loyalty is so strong I’ve seen women with severe ulcerations due to chemicals in commercial tampons or pads, but who continue to sing the praises of the brands they use – when tampon/pad companies go to schools to give the ‘girl talks’ it isn’t surprising this brand loyalty is so deep. There are then cultural factors, in a country where people commonly use products full of chemicals, toilet seat covers, applicator tampons, scented tampons, and even cut babies genitals in the name of perceived hygiene…if the brands you know represent hygiene then that’s all that matters, it’s tricky to fight against those ideas to re-educate women that commercial tampons/pads are less hygienic than organic options.

  5. It isn’t just a sustainability issue- 94% of the world’s cotton is produced with GMOs. The skin is the body’s largest organ- let alone the fact that you are applying this internally. Tampons are bleached to give them that white, pristine color we all associate with cleanliness. There is NO approved amount of bleach that is allowed for human consumption. Why don’t you know about this? Because in the US tampons are a “medical device” so therefore listing the ingredients isn’t necessary. However studies have linked the chemicals in these products to hormonal imbalances, infertility and cancer. Do your research, ladies! Buy organic or use a reusable menstrual cup like the Keeper or Diva Cup.

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