couple in bed

As condoms’ decline slows, the resurgence of lube appears to have already begun

The pandemic put paid to going out on the pull last year. And with pubs and clubs closed, condom volume sales were hit by a double-digit decline.

Now, nights out are back on the cards for the UK’s singletons. So, are contraceptive sales back in the black? Not quite – but their decline has slowed.

Condoms’ unit sales are down by 7.3%, and Durex – which accounts for 81.8% of volumes – saw more than 300k fewer packs sold. However, it kept value losses to 1.4% thanks to a 5% bump in average price per pack.

Smaller brands were not so fortunate, notes Luke Sisley, NielsenIQ senior client analytics executive. “Broad decline across condoms has impacted the smaller challenger brands the most,” he says. 

Indeed, the likes of Unit, Lelo and Pasante showed the highest percentage declines in value: 70%, 48% and 44% respectively.


As a result, “the category is still underperforming versus pre-Covid, which is impacting the brand landscape” Sisley says. “Larger brands have been able to consolidate and weather the impact more than smaller brands, potentially due to brand salience and awareness,” he suggests.

But there’s change in the air. Brits are getting braver about mingling with potential partners, suggests Melissa Quick, marketing executive at So Divine.

“It’s a great time to be going out and embracing new sexual partners again after being restricted for so long,” she says. “While some people are still staying cautious, I think for a lot of people it’s a very exciting time to be regaining freedom again.”

Her view echoes that of Laxman Narasimhan, CEO of Durex owner Reckitt Benckiser, who in October said: “We feel very good about what is to come.”

While there’s optimism for condoms’ recovery, lube’s resurgence appears to have already begun. After Top Products 2020 reported a 6.6% fall in value on volumes down by 9%, the sector has grown value this year by 3.8%. Unit sales have declined by just 2.3%.

“In comparison to condoms, lubes are more versatile, which may be why sales were not impacted as much,” says Quick. “They’re great as all-round pleasure products and can be used with or without a partner.

“Many people were stuck at home during this period and the lack of sexual interaction meant many people were turning to self-pleasure instead,” she adds.


Nevertheless, the two biggest names in lube, Durex and Kynect (née KY Jelly), both saw volumes decline – by 13% in the latter’s case. Wellbeing and health-related lines saw the brightest growth, with likes of Vagisan and Vagisil enjoying double-digit increases.

“Significant growth is coming from treatment or health-type products,” Sisley notes.

Little wonder, then, that Reckitt Benckiser now refers to sex care as “intimate wellness”.

As Narasimhan said this summer: “Durex has a right to play in a much broader space such as female intimate wellness, hygiene, treatment and libido, as well as toys, devices and broader sexual health.”

Top Launch 2021

Finger Vibrator | So Divine

So Divine finger vibrator

Source: So Divine

On-the-go in grocery isn’t confined to food and drink. That’s proven by So Divine’s Finger Vibrator (rsp: £10) – a petite, single-speed device that is designed to be discreet. Having rolled into 600 Tesco stores in September, it promises “pin point stimulation” and “powerful vibrations”. It followed the Christmas 2020 launch of So Divine’s equally portable Amour Lipstick Vibrator. Disguised as an item of make-up, it’s rechargeable with three speeds and seven functions (rsp: £30).

The Grocer’s Top Products Survey 2021: who’s up, who’s down – and our overview of the key trends