Dettol and Durex owner sees more cleaning and less sex

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Sales of air fresheners and cleaning products are soaring as workers focus on improving their new home offices, according to global consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser (RB).

But social distancing has reduced sales of condoms and sexual health products, with bosses suggesting this could have a knock-on effect on its baby formula business next year with an expected fall in the global birth rate.

Disinfectants remain in high demand and RB said its Dettol and Lysol products are winning new business, entering 19 new countries since February.

The company, which owns brands including Airwick, Veet, Durex and Strepsils, said sales in the three months to the end of September jumped 6.9 per cent to £3.51 billion (€3.9 billion) – or 13.3 per cent when currency fluctuations are removed.

RB’s Durex division has seen a fall in sales due to social distancing rules (Stefan Rousseau / PA)

Its hygiene division rose 12.4 per cent to £1.49 billion, health was up 6.9 per cent to £1.22 billion and nutrition fell 1.8 per cent to £806 million.

In the first nine months of the year sales are now up 9.4 per cent to £10.4 billion.

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The company said: “The pandemic has heightened the societal importance of hygiene, seen increasingly as the foundation for health.

“Demand for our category-leading disinfectant products has been exceptional in recent months, with increased penetration and new consumers demonstrating a preference for trusted heritage brands driving growth.

“As a result, we expect structurally higher levels of demand to persist longer term as new consumer cleaning and sanitation habits become engrained.”

It added: “In addition, as consumers have sought to embrace self-care for themselves and their families, we have seen growth in preventative treatments, such as vitamins, minerals and supplements (‘VMS’).

“‘Stay at home’ dynamics and social distancing have had significant effects on some of our brands. For example, Finish and Air Wick have benefited from consumers spending more time at home.”

But it warned: “There is also evidence that birth rates will be further lowered in coming quarters as a result of behaviour changes related to the pandemic. This is expected to have an impact on market growth for our infant nutrition business in 2021.

“Sexual wellbeing products also saw temporarily reduced demand, due to reduced social interactions, although, where markets have started to open up, there have already been good signs of recovery.”

The nutrition business, which includes supplements and vitamins, saw strong growth in sales of RB’s Airborne dietary supplement, although pills for joint pain – Move Free and MegaRed – took a hit with consumers becoming less active during the pandemic.

Bosses remain confident for the division and said the fall in sales was due to currency fluctuations, although concerns remain over the closed border between Hong Kong and China, which is affecting sales.

Chief executive Laxman Narasimhan added that, despite the boost in sales from the pandemic, he remains mindful of the responsibilities the business has to avoid accusations of profiteering.

“If you take a look at our announcements over the last year, we have announced that the company is guided by a purpose to protect, health and nurture,” he said.

“We set aside one per cent of our operating profit into ensuring we can deliver to our consumers and society at large.”

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