Thrifty parenting leads to sagging diaper sales

For Kimberly-Clark Corp. (KMB) and Procter & Gamble Co. (PG), the business of potty training is getting messier.

Not only do these companies sell diapers, such as Huggies and Pampers, but they try to push parents of toddlers -- like myself -- to buy "training pants," underwear-like diapers that a child can easily remove when going to the bathroom. Commercials for these products -- also called pull-ups -- seem to be ubiquitous on television shows aimed at very young children. Interestingly, the message is not getting through.

According to an excellent feature by the Associated Press, cash-strapped parents are increasingly taking a pass on the training pants, which cost more than diapers, when teaching their sons and daughters how to use the toilet. A generation earlier, the product was embraced with great gusto by moms and dads and sales shot up. Parents shelled out $90 a month for the product, sometimes for a full year.

"Industrywide, sales of disposable training pants declined 3.2 percent to $731.2 million for the 52 weeks ending June 13 and the number of training pants sold is down 10 percent, according to data from The Nielsen Co," AP said. "That's despite the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, U.S. births rose 3 percent in 2006 and 1 percent in 2007."

Kimberly Clark already is seeing softness in the baby business. During the second-quarter, sales volumes of Huggies fell about 7 percent compared to double-digit growth in the year-ago period, and volumes for the company's child care brands were down about 6 percent. The AP notes that Kimberly-Clark's pull-ups are the number one brand with 65 percent market share. Rival P&G has seen a slight uptick in sales, though overall sales remain flat, the AP said. Neither company could be reached for comment.

According to Mothers of Supertwins (MOST), a support and advocacy group for parents of twins, triplets and other multiple births, the cost of diapering one baby ranges from $45 to $65 a month. Twins go through more than 4,500 diapers and 5,000 wipes in their first year. That's why many multiple birth parents are skipping training pants when it comes to potty training.

"The kids can't tell the difference," said Loretta Shokler, the group's technical director, in an interview with DailyFinance. "Why pay more for training pants?"

The American way of potty training with training pants and potty seats to aid toddlers in using the toilet is not how things are done in other parts of the world. Indeed, as Alison Schonwald, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, points out little children in China have slits in their pants before they learn how to use the potty.

Using training pants and other potty training aides may help but are not necessary for a child to be successfully potty trained, Schonwald said.

"Those details don't end up being crucial in toilet training children," she told DailyFinance.

Cost-conscious parents also are increasingly turning to craigslist and other sources to purchase items like strollers, room decorations and play sets. American Baby encourages parents to buy new cribs and car seats, however, because many have been recalled over the past few years. Many parents are also finding that they can do without gimmicky gadgets like baby wipe warmers.

"I always assumed there was a book, or a gadget, or one of Angelina Jolie's nannies, who knew how to do everything better than I could," wrote Francesca Castagnoli on Parenting.com who has gotten over her insecurities.

Thanks to the shaky economy, parents are learning to trust their own instincts more.


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