Kiwi product cracks $2.7b US sanitary market

Anne Gibson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 10 April 2019, 3:26PM
Organic Initiative sells bio-degradable sanitary products for women. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Organic Initiative sells bio-degradable sanitary products for women. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Giant multinational Walmart has just begun to stock a newly-invented kiwi organic sanitary product, resulting in the Albany-based inventor cracking the US$2.7 billion feminine hygiene market.

Helen Robinson, chief executive of Organic Initiative which makes feminine hygiene products, said from Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles that 3500 Walmarts in the US had started stocking the products from March 12.

The business sells biodegradable products. Photo/Organic Initiative

The business sells biodegradable products. Photo/Organic Initiative

"This was always our aim," said the director and the largest shareholder with just over 31 per cent of the New Zealand-registered business.

"Walmart has around 20 per cent of the famine hygiene market. That market has total annual sales in the US of around US$2.7b.

"Our mission is to take plastic out of hygiene products and to do that at a scale we have to go into the US market because this is a huge market and it gives us scale," she said.

Cracking Walmart was a coup for a new Kiwi-invented product, she said.

"This gives us credibility because many markets look to the US for what they do and that then is a Trojan horse into other markets," Robinson said.

To be able to sell in the US, Organic Initiatives had to win US Food and Drug Administration approval, granted in 2017 after investing in considerable expertise.

"Yes, we needed FDA approval but when you have good products, certification and governance, then you can achieve what you set out to," she said.

NZ Trade and Enterprise had been "incredibly supportive. They pointed us in the right direction for business incorporation and the access to great resources we would not have otherwise had."

"We're going really hard, really fast. In our second year, 2016, we did five times the revenue and profit of our first year. In our third year, 2017, we more than doubled that. Last year, we were 50 per cent up," Robinson said.

Walmart had around 4600 stores in the US and asked why around 1000 outlets had not stocked the product, she said: "Watch this space!"

Heather Ware, Organic Initiative global marketing manager said: "Walmart has agreed to stock our products because they are fully certified organic cotton, whereas other products are cotton but with synthetics."

The catch cry of the business is 'change your world this month'.

Tampons, pads and liners are sold by the business. Photo/Organic Initiatives

Tampons, pads and liners are sold by the business. Photo/Organic Initiatives

The business issued a statement about the Walmart deal: "Organic Initiative (Oi) is delighted to announce that its 100% certified organic cotton feminine hygiene products will now be available in most Walmart stores from March 12, 2019.

"A wholly owned subsidiary of New Zealand company Organic Initiative Limited, Oi has seen unrivalled growth in the US market. Oi is a social enterprise focused on improving women's health and the world's sustainability," the statement said.

Robinson said fellow directors were:
• Sussan Turner, former Mediaworks executive; 

• Susan Peterson, former ANZ general counsel and ASB director;

• Dr Emma Parry, a leading gynaecologist.

Shareholders include Danny Chan, who co-founded New Zealand's largest education company ACG, and Norah Barlow, a former head of the Retirement Villages Association in New Zealand.

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