At the beginning of the pandemic, it was hand sanitizer and toilet paper. In recent weeks, baby formula has been hard to come by thanks to supply chain disruptions. Now, women are finding empty shelves when they go to the store to buy tampons.
Inflation on necessities and supply chain disruptions are hitting women hard. Approximately 70% of menstruating women use tampons every month. When women can find them, the feminine hygiene products have risen in price.
Bloomberg reported that average prices for a package of tampons rose 9.8% in the year through May 28, and the price for pads rose 8.3%.
Why is there a shortage of tampons?
Procter & Gamble is a major producer of tampons in the U.S. The company produces 9 million to 11 million Tampax tampons daily at its Tambrands plant in Auburn, Maine, according to the Portland Press Herald.
The Tambrands facility is P&G’s only plant that produces tampons in the U.S. It also supplies feminine products to Canada, Europe and Asia.
Cotton is a major input for tampons, and the Russia-Ukraine war has put stress on the global cotton market, in addition to other commodities.
In P&G’s most recent earnings call, the company said it was “still having trouble sourcing raw materials for feminine care products, getting them to the places that need them, and getting products on trucks to retailers.”
The facility is working around the clock to address the tampon shortage. P&G said it expects inventory to improve in the next three to six months. But pricing will depend on inputs, transportation and labor.
The company said it is facing cost pressures for feminine products, yet it reported sales from its feminine care division were up 10% last quarter. The growth in sales was “driven by premiumization and pricing.”
Asked for clarity about future pricing for feminine hygiene products, P&G said “there is no formula-based approach to pricing in any of these categories.”
While P&G and other feminine product providers are raising prices, many women continue to struggle with period poverty. Period poverty occurs when women cannot afford essential menstrual products, partly due to the way they are taxed.
An estimated 16.9 million women were already experiencing period poverty before the recent hike in prices, according to a 2020 study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Tampon use and alternatives
It’s not safe to wear tampons for more than eight hours, and The Huffington Post estimated that women use four tampons each day while on their period. Since periods last an average of five days, that’s about 20 tampons per period and 240 per year.
While pads may work as an alternative for some, they can prevent women from engaging in activities such as swimming or other sports. Pads can also cause serious discomfort for women with certain conditions.
Some have suggested that women consider more environmentally friendly alternatives to single-use tampons and pads, such as menstrual cups and discs, reusable pads and panty liners, and period underwear. However, these options are not comfortable, convenient or available for everyone.
Many women are using social media to call for companies and governments to address the shortage of essential feminine hygiene products.
Yvette Clarke, New York Democratic representative and member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Washington Times that Congress needs to act on the tampon shortage.
“It’s a public health issue at this point. It’s crazy. Who could’ve ever envisioned it, but we’ve got to do everything we can,” she said. “If we have to get the Defense Production Act to move into that space, we’ll have to do it, because we just can’t have a significant part of our population — it’s beyond inconvenience. It’s a health crisis,” Clarke said.