In Spring of 2020, many of us experienced something we’d never seen in our lifetime – empty shelves.  

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic put us in direct competition with our neighbours. New challenges emerged, like who could hold the most rolls of toilet paper when visiting local grocery stores. I triumphantly remember coming across a fresh delivery of quilted 8 packs in our neighbourhood pharmacy and promptly calling everyone I knew as if they were concert tickets. “Mom! They’ve got two left.  

Statistics Canada reported a 250% increase on toilet paper sales for the week ending March 14th 2020. For those who menstruate, it was an equally challenging time trying to obtain period care products.  

Panic Buying and Menstrual Products 

In those early days of the pandemic, panic buying led to shortages in tampons and pads all over the world.  

Amazon US and were out of stock on major tampon brands, and PG staff were working overtime to keep up with demands.

In an interview with the New York Times, Dana Marlowe, the founder and executive director of I Support the Girls, noted how panic buying (and hoarding) of menstrual products limited access for those whose cycles may not line up with their wallets: “Periods don’t stop for pandemics. And in times of disasters, like global pandemics, it’s easy to overlook the basic essentials folks need for their dignity.”

With period product shortages due to panic buying and price hikes throughout the pandemic, consumers began to expand their search for menstrual care items, looking at alternative brands and product options. Diva International Inc. (Diva) has always stood for revolutionizing periods. As a collective who believes anyone who menstruates has the right to do so comfortably, safely and with choice, we knew our role in this pandemic was to support our consumers and trade partners in what we know best: menstrual care. 

COVID-19, Period Poverty and Menstrual Equity 

menstrual care during covid-19 DivaCares provides donations

Diva offers consumers a portfolio of affordable, high-quality, menstrual care items. The DivaCup® is the top-selling menstrual cup in the world. Eco-friendly, reusable and providing 12 hours of leak-free protection, we were uniquely able to support those facing lifestyle changes or challenges during the pandemic. 

At home in Canada, the availability of affordable period products was already an issue prior to COVID. A 2018 report from Plan International Canada reported that one-third of Canadian (cis) women struggled to afford products.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve witnessed increased amounts of people struggling with product access due product shortages, cost, and job losses. The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 provided many of us with the very real experience of how it feels to be a person in need of a personal care item and simply can’t get it. Our response to this is our DivaCares social impact program which donates thousands of cups annually to help alleviate period poverty, a longstanding program that feels all the more important this year. 

Changes in the Menstrual Care Industry 

In the turbulent retail landscape of 2020, tools for traditional shopper marketing went through their own transformations. Restrictions were placed on instore signage & promos to limit staff’s time on the shop floor and to encourage social distance regulations. Plexiglass barriers and masks went into effect. Yet shoppers still craved the instore tactile experience of Brick & Mortar. One-stop-shopping destinations gained share, and the rise of home-delivery prescriptions challenged the drugstore channel to consider new ways of driving growth.  

Being responsive to the changes, we adapted to the needs of our consumers, online sellers and Brick & Mortar retailers. A greater emphasis was placed on eComm and digital initiatives to support instore staff and consumers, and Diva’s Consumer Support team tirelessly worked to respond to consumer questions before they visited stores. Our strong education tools optimized the user experience and leaned into consumer desire to “label read”, providing vignettes and blog posts to help pick the right product for them. We welcomed a wave of new consumers who decided to take the plunge and try the DivaCup menstrual cup through the pandemic, sharing with our Consumer Support team that stay-at-home regulations provided a great opportunity to try it. 

Beyond Periods. Beyond the Cup 

Trade isn’t the only area where cycles have been disrupted. The stress of the pandemic has caused menstrual cycle irregularities for many. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, gynecologist Mary Jane Minkin notes: “Most people think the control of the menstrual cycle resides in the uterus, but it doesn’t. It resides in your brain.”  

As we begin this new year, not knowing how it will evolve, the stress of an ever-changing landscape (and lockdowns) can take its toll. Here at Diva, we remain committed to keeping our eyes on the people we serve. Despite the pandemic, we are filled with hope as stories of period poverty progress and change trickle in from around the world. We celebrate Scotland becoming the first country in the world to provide free access to menstrual products, stocking school and university bathrooms. We lift our cups to New Zealand who will be implementing free sanitary products in all state schools in 2021. We applaud the UK who on January 1st, 2021, abolished tampon tax on menstrual care products.

As we assess access and stress, we need also recognize that although the pandemic has isolated us socially, it has brought to light areas of period poverty that required change and most extraordinarily, has unified us in action.