2009 Challenges

Baby Wipes Downsizing: Lessons Learned

A Letter from one of our customers

We’ve been loyal customers for the past five years, using your products for both of our children. We recently went to order more diapers and wipes and noticed the quantity had gone down substantially but the price remained the same. We assumed when we found out that you were a green company that you were about the environment, but it turns out you’re about the money. Your product is good but not good enough to continue our business, mostly on principle. It’s flat out greed that is contributing to the demise of this country…greed.

Each year, we are excited to report on the advancements our designers have made in improving the sustainability of our products and packaging. Sustainability is an ongoing process and we want to follow the most direct path forward. But with many journeys, there are detours and obstacles that can impede our way. Our decision to downsize our baby wipes is an example of the kind of bump in the road that all companies must confront. We are not proud of how we handled this situation.

Beginning in 2008, our industry was hit with an increase in the cost of materials. Our competitors reacted by reducing the number of baby wipes per container, a price hike in disguise. Responding to such opaque strategies is difficult. If we don’t downsize, our product appears to be more expensive, albeit with a higher wipes count. If we follow suit, the reduced count per package increases the environmental impact of our products, something we strive to avoid. Our analysis showed this move by our competitors would significantly reduce our market share if we did not respond in kind.

We made the decision to follow our competitors’ lead to keep our product competitive. A tub or film package that used to hold 80 wipes now contains 70. A case of 960 wipes that used to contain 12 packs of 80 now contains 840 in 12 packs of 70. Smaller film packages that used to contain 40 wipes now only hold 36. While making this change, we didn’t downsize the packaging (which is quite expensive to do), so this increased the packaging-to-wipes ratio by more than 12%, clearly at odds with our desire for more sustainable packaging.

Even worse, and inexcusably, we failed to properly notify our consumers. People buying our baby wipes on the internet, particularly through subscription services, were surprised to see the foil packs they had signed up for suddenly had a lower count. It was an oversight that won’t happen again. We betrayed our own commitment to authenticity. We betrayed our consumers’ trust in us as a company that is transparent and that can be held to a higher standard. Our consumers were disappointed in us, and they let us (and the world) know about it. We learned that disgruntled internet consumers are a very powerful group, indeed. It was very difficult to excuse our behavior after the fact. Authenticity is one of our core company values and you can be sure we have taken this lesson to heart.

Similar issues will certainly confront us in the future. There will always be circumstances where we must weigh environmental and sales considerations in light of external pressures. We cannot promise that we will always choose the most sustainable option. But our new product scorecard gives us an invaluable tool for evaluating competing considerations and ensuring that factors relating to the sustainability of our products will always weigh heavily in every decision. And we will strive to more effectively communicate to our consumers when changes are made, and to explain the trade-off between economic and environmental sustainability.

Learn more about our new product scorecard here.

Read Jeffrey Hollender’s blog on downsizing here.

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