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Yuhan-Kimberly faces fire over sanitary pad prices

Yuhan-Kimberly, Korea's leading manufacturer of diapers, tissues and feminine hygiene products, is stirring controversy with the release of a new, more expensive premium line of sanitary pads, seemingly contrary to its previous decision to freeze prices on the products.

Last month, the firm announced plans to raise prices on its sanitary pads by up to 20 percent, starting from June 1. The notice immediately sparked backlash from local consumers and advocacy groups against the company, which accounts for roughly 55 percent of the local sanitary pads market.

A public discussion erupted over the rising price of sanitary pads in Korea, including stories of low-income teenagers using shoe insoles and toilet paper as cheap alternatives for actual sanitary pads.

Yuhan-Kimberly’s newly launched premium sanitary pad product “Good Feel Magic Cushion” (Yuhan-Kimberly)
Yuhan-Kimberly’s newly launched premium sanitary pad product “Good Feel Magic Cushion” (Yuhan-Kimberly)

Faced with mounting criticism, Yuhan-Kimberly canceled its general price hike agenda last week. Yet days later, it released a more expensive, premium version of its flagship sanitary pad brand Good Feel.

The newly launched Good Feel Magic Cushion, which is priced 7.5 percent higher than the original product, is specially designed to be more absorbent and comfortable for the wearer, the firm said, explaining the price hike.

To mitigate the resulting public fury, Yuhan-Kimberly further pledged last Friday to “develop and release a lower-priced sanitary pad product by the end of this year” and to “immediately start distributing 1.5 million pads to students from low-income families.”

“We believe it is very unfortunate that some teenagers cannot easily afford sanitary pads. Therefore, we decided to establish a practical plan to help them,” Yuhan-Kimberly said in a statement.

“The new lower-priced pads will offer wider purchase options to teens in financially difficult situations,” it said.

However, controversy over sanitary pad prices continues to linger. According to the Korea National Council of Consumer Organizations, the local price of sanitary pads does not reflect the falling price of the source materials.

While the average price of sanitary pads rose by around 25.6 percent from 2010 to April 2016, the import price of pulp and felt dropped by 29.6 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively, during the same period, according to the consumer organization.

“It is wrong for women to have to bear the cost burden of sanitary pads, while manufacturers hide the production costs,” Chung Seul-ah, director of health at women’s advocacy group Korean Womenlink, was quoted as telling local newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun.

“The Korean government needs to actively devise a solution for the continually rising price of sanitary pads,” Chung said.

By Sohn Ji-young (jys@heraldcorp.com)
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