The maker of condom brand Durex has reported a recovery in sales after coronavirus restrictions were relaxed following the first wave of the pandemic.
Sales of air fresheners and cleaning products have also soared as people work from home, according to global consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser (RB), which also owns brands including Dettol and Cillit Bang.
Social distancing has, in general, reduced sales of condoms and sexual health products in the financial year to date, with the company also predicting a knock-on effect on its baby formula business next year as a result of an expected fall in the global birth rate.
In April RB’s chief executive noted people in the UK were having “significantly” less sex during lockdown and opportunities for ““intimate occasions” had “gone down a lot” in Italy.
But in its third quarter financial results, RB said: “ Following a more challenging first half of the year, relaxations of social distancing regulations resulted in improved demand for our sexual well-being products, including Durex, which saw double-digit growth in revenue.”
It added this had been “particularly pronounced in markets where the rate of pandemic infection has materially improved”, such as China.
The company, whose portfolio also includes Airwick, Veet and Strepsils, said overall sales in the three months to the end of September jumped 6.9 per cent to £3.5bn – or 13.3 per cent when currency fluctuations were removed.
Sales in its hygiene division rose 12.4 per cent to nearly £1.5bn, with disinfectant brand such as Dettol and Lysol in high demand.
Health product sales were up 6.9 per cent to £1.2bn but nutrition fell 1.8 per cent to £806m.
Company-wide sales in the first nine months of 2020 are now up 9.4 per cent to £10.4bn.
“The pandemic has heightened the societal importance of hygiene, seen increasingly as the foundation for health,” the company said in a statement.
“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.
“‘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.”
RB’s chief executive Laxman Narasimhan said the boost in sales from the pandemic meant the company must remain mindful 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 1 per cent of our operating profit into ensuring we can deliver to our consumers and society at large.”