Welcome to the world of high-tech disposable diapers. They've come a long way from those bulky little padded sheets that new parents pinned on babies in the 1960s. The disposables of the '80s are what their manufacturers call "state of the art."
The latest is this fall's offering of a gender-specific Luvs disposable diaper, a blue one with extra padding in front for boys; pink, with additional padding in the middle, for girls--due in Southern California stores in October.
And just this year Huggies Supertrim disposable diapers began featuring a new "dry touch" system consisting of an extra layer of nonwoven material "to quickly draw wetness away from the baby's skin and to prevent the moisture from flowing back."
A product that has certainly changed the lives of consumers since it was introduced in Peoria, Ill., 27 years ago, disposable diapers are probably the fastest-evolving convenience product of this decade.
There have been vast improvements. Today's diapers are form-fitting, with elastic waists and legs, and thinner but highly absorbent due to gelling materials, or padded with extra nonwoven materials to reduce wetness. They are equipped with refastenable tapes and some feature little figures, bears and Sesame Street characters, that you match on either side of the diaper to get it on straight.
Most of rapid change in the industry is due to the ongoing "diaper wars" between the two major manufacturing companies, Procter & Gamble of Cincinnati, Ohio, which markets the Pampers and Luvs brands, and Kimberly-Clark of Dallas, which makes Huggies. The two firms sell 80% of disposable diapers, a $3 billion industry in the U.S.; an additional $2 billion abroad.
But, like Macys doesn't tell Gimbels, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark try to keep each other, or anyone else, for that matter, from knowing what to expect in the way of upcoming innovations. Disposable diaper research is quite secret.
As for price, the "premium" disposable brands, Pampers, Luvs and Huggies, are in a comparable range, but cost anywhere from $1.50 to $3 more a box than the generic brands--of which there are about 100 sold regionally and nationally in large grocery chains, drug stores and mass merchandising stores, such as K mart and Target.
But "lots of mothers have always been suspicious of generic labels," said Scott Nokleby, product manager of private label disposable diapers for Weyerhaeuser Co. of Tacoma, Wash., which manufactures 60% of the private label, generic disposable diapers in the U.S. "Four or five years ago, they weren't very good.
'Good Quality, Good Label'
"They were cheaper, but you gave up something in quality," he added. "But now the private label is very active in the diaper industry. You get good quality and good label. It's a high-tech industry now."
Disposable diapers of any kind, however, are more expensive than cloth ones.
Industry representatives calculate that babies use an average of 10 diapers a day. The top-of-the-line "premiums," which include Ultra Pampers Plus, Luvs Deluxe and Huggies Supertrim, sell for about $18-$20 for a box of 96 medium-size, which would last 9 days or so. (The new Luvs Deluxe boy and girl disposables will retail for about the same price as the other "premiums," and will replace the old Deluxe model.)
On the other hand, cloth diapers delivered by a diaper service run parents of newborns about $40 per month for 90 diapers sent to their home each week.
Cloth diapers, of course, would be much more economical if parents laundered their own, a practice followed by fewer and fewer of today's working American parents.
Even though the use of cloth diapers provided by diaper services is said to be regaining some momentum, disposable diapers still make up between 75% and 90% "of the number of diaper changes" of U.S. babies, according to industry analysts.
'Seal of Acceptance'
As for effectiveness, pediatric organizations and societies do not "rate" disposable diapers, but in 1986 when the new Ultra Pampers product was introduced, the National Assn. of Pediatric Nurse Associates & Practitioners awarded its "seal of acceptance" to the Ultra, noting it "has been proven effective in keeping skin dry and controlling pH--important for maintaining healthy baby skin."
According to Mavis McGuire, the association's executive director, the 3,000-member group headquartered in Maple Shade, N.J. had a panel of in-house experts and another panel of outside experts evaluate Procter & Gamble's research on its product before giving it a statement of acceptance.
McGuire said other disposable diaper companies approached the association about an acceptance seal, but "when I told them our minimum requirement was solid, unrefutable research on their product, they didn't apply."