Updated: 2011-04-15 11:11
By Zhong Nan (China Daily European Weekly)
Medics hand out condoms to migrant workers during a campaign to promote the use of condoms in Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui province. Ge Chuanhong / for China Daily
Condom makers are stepping up their presence in smaller cities to boost sales
Size does matter when it comes to selling condoms in China. Retailers and makers are now targeting China's smaller cities and towns, rather than the larger cities in developed regions such as Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou, to boost their sales.
Take retailer Shao Yufei for example. "A smaller city is the place to be," says the 32-year-old who has opened a store in Yantai, regarded as a second-tier city, in East China's Shandong province.
Shao ran a shop in Beijing in 2007 and pulled the shutters down a year later, due to sluggish business. He then opened another in Guangzhou and ran it for only six months.
"I thought people in South China, where China's opening-up started, should have a large demand for condoms. But I was wrong. The business was just bad," he says.
He now has found that Yantai, a city considered small when compared with Shanghai or Guangzhou, as the ideal place.
Its population is about
7 million, compared with Shanghai's more than 20 million and Guangzhou's 10 million.
Shao sells about 300 yuan (32.25 euros) worth of condoms a day in Yantai, most of them the more expensive foreign brands such as Durex and Jissbon.
In Beijing, his daily sales were worth about 100 yuan.
For Duan Tao, deputy director from the medical committee of China Sexology Association, this trend is not something new.
"It's a myth that people in developed areas are more sexually active and use more condoms," he says.
Condom use is related to a combination of factors including people's awareness of contraception and personal incomes.
"Smaller cities have all the making. The life there is less rushed and more enjoyable, so people are having more sex," Duan says.
"People's awareness of contraception there is no less than that in big cities. And these years, they earn more and are willing to spend more on condoms."
A Ministry of Health survey backs Duan's assertion, saying that Beijing ranked the last among 19 Chinese cities in terms of per capita use of condoms a month - just 5.5.
Haikou, capital of South China's Hainan province, and Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Chengdu province, ranked the first and the second with 7.8 and 7.7.
Shanghai and Guangzhou also failed to reach the average of 6.5.
And the appetite of people in smaller cities for foreign condoms has increased, with European and US makers promoting their products with agents and retailers in second- and third-tier cities.
Durex, from Britain's Reckitt Benckiser Group that produces condoms in China, wants to increase its share in lower-tier cities, especially in China's western regions, over the next three years.
Jorge Arias, marketing director of Reckitt Benckiser Household Products (China) Co Ltd, says Durex has more than half of the market share in top-tier cities such as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hangzhou.
Now, his company is keen on the purchasing power of people in second- and third-tier cities.
"Consumer demand for condom quality and variety will rise along with the economic development, infrastructure improvement and income increase in second-tier western cities and third-tier cities," he says.
The latex branch of the China Rubber Industry Association reported that 1.63 billion foreign brand condoms were used in China's first-and second-tier cities in 2010, up 18 percent from a year earlier.
Sales figures in lower-tier markets are not available.
Among them, 230 million came from the UK, Sweden, Japan, Malaysia and the US, with many foreign companies such as Durex and Jissbon having factories in China.
Arias says while Westerners always emphasize the safety of condoms, Chinese users are more inclined to buy condoms with thinner materials.
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