Tampon manufacturers say they’re working to address reported shortages

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Tampon manufacturers say they’re working to replenish the supply of their products after shortages were reported on shelves across the country.

On Monday, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan sent a letter to Procter & Gamble, Edgewell Personal Care, Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly-Clark asking what they plan to do to address reports of diminished supply and price gouging by third-party sellers. The Democrat from New Hampshire cited several news reports chronicling a shortage. It comes on the heels of a baby-formula shortage and rising prices on everything from food to clothes to gas—to menstrual products.

The companies should “take immediate action to increase the tampon supply and end unnecessary price increases,” Hassan said in the letter. “Access to menstrual products should be treated like every other essential good.”

In-stock levels for feminine products hovered around 92% for the week ended May 29, according to IRI data, around normal levels. The data doesn’t isolate for tampons alone.

J&J does not make or sell tampons in the U.S., it said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday.

P&G, which makes brands including Tampax and Always, has a near-50% market share in menstrual-care supplies in the U.S.. The company is “working hard to ramp up production to meet the increased demand for our products,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement on Friday.

Edgewell, the company behind brands like Playtex and o.b., cited surges of the COVID-19 omicron variant as a cause for any diminished inventory.

“We have been operating our manufacturing facilities around the clock to build back inventory and anticipate returning to normal levels in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson for Edgewell said in an email.

The reported shortages are the latest blow for consumers for whom the products are essential: The average cost of a box of tampons rose 9.8% in the year through May 28, according to NielsenIQ, and 8.3% for a box of pads. Such increases can be especially difficult for poor or low-income consumers, many of whom already struggled to afford such products. Federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program do not cover menstrual products, and 26 states charge sales taxes on menstrual products.

An April 2021 survey by Kimberly-Clark found that two in five people in the U.S. struggled to afford menstrual products every month, a condition known as period poverty. As a result, 38% of low-income women said they missed days of work, school or another event because they didn’t have the products they needed.

Elise Joy, co-founder and executive director of Girls Helping Girls Period, said she saw the first hints of the shortage in early spring, when multiple agencies began asking whether her group could supply them with menstrual products. By April, she was being peppered with calls and emails from organizations that also donate tampons and pads to those who cannot afford them, asking her to fill supply gaps.

Joy hasn’t turned anyone away, but she’s not sure how long she’ll be able to keep up. Even her corporate partners are struggling to keep up with demand.

“I can see the supplies dwindling in the warehouse,” Joy told The Washington Post. “We’re OK for the moment, for the next couple months given the supplies I have, but I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen in the fall.”

Meanwhile, product recalls have hit a 10-year high, according to a recent report from Sedgwick Claims Management Services, with more than 900 million units of inventory recalled in the first quarter of 2022.

A CVS Health spokesman acknowledged there have been times in recent weeks when suppliers have been unable to “fulfill the full quantities of orders placed” for feminine-care products in recent weeks. Walgreens told The Post it is experiencing “some temporary brand-specific shortages in certain geographies.”

If manufacturers are struggling now to keep product on shelves, it’s only going to worsen as the year progresses and peak season approaches for shippers and retailers, according to Vaughn Moore, chief executive of AIT Worldwide Logistics.

“Capacity is only going to get tighter as we move toward the end of the year,” Moore said. “It’s a really challenging time.”

Consumers have had to contend with product shortages throughout the coronavirus pandemic, be it toilet paper and hand sanitizer or cleaning wipes and baby formula. It’s become “a new normal,” but one that consumers in the United States aren’t accustomed to.

“We’re not used to delayed gratification and not getting instant response for the things we need,” Moore said.

Some of the inventory issues stem from the rising cost of cotton, rayon and plastic, according to Nirav Patel, president and chief executive of Bristlecone, a supply chain logistics company. Demand for such raw materials had been squeezed in recent years by the rush to produce medical essentials in the pandemic, Patel noted, and now supply challenges are heaping problems on producers.

The cost of transportation for consumer goods, for example, has nearly tripled, he noted, whether it’s the fee for bringing a shipping container overseas or for last-mile delivery. China’s zero-tolerance COVID policies have contributed to port congestion and shipping delays for many major retailers, as have widespread labor shortages.

The shortages could lead to hoarding as retailers slowly restock their shelves, but that will only worsen and prolong the shortage, Patel warned.

Tampons are meant to be used a single time and then thrown away, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Experts also caution against attempting to extend their use because it can leave the user vulnerable to infection. Health officials and manufacturers recommend changing them every four to eight hours.

The feminine hygiene industry is projected to be worth more than $54 billion by 2028, and the average user will pay roughly $1,800 over the course of their life if using tampons, or more than $4,750 if they use pads, according to research from 2021 by Pandia Health. Applicators and other waste from menstrual products contribute greatly to the plastic pollution choking the oceans.

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