Sales of disposable potty-training pants suffer

Disposable training pants, long viewed as a staple in potty training children, are becoming dispensable as some parents choose value over convenience in the recession.

Recession curbing purchase of product aimed at aiding toilet training

Heather Krupa and her 19-month-old daughter, Madeline, shop for reusable cloth diapers in Lincoln, Neb., in February 2009. With the economy in a downward spiral, some parents are jettisoning disposable diapers and potty-training pants. ((Nati Harnik/Associated Press))
The recession is making life a little messier for some toddlers and their parents.

Disposable training pants, long viewed as a staple in potty training children, are becoming dispensable as some parents choose value over convenience in the recession.  

These days, an accident here and there has become an acceptable trade-off for saving some $30 US to $100 US a month. And many parents say that doing away with the crutch has had an added benefit: surprisingly quick toilet training.

Parents embraced disposable training pants when they hit the market 20 years ago because they made life easier, preventing messy accidents as children transitioned from diapers to underwear. The training pants contain absorbent material just like diapers but are elasticized and can be pulled up and down like underwear.

Now rising unemployment, stagnant wages and sharp drops in both housing and stock markets have caused consumers to redefine what's essential. As they've pored over their expenses, sales data suggest more parents are finding it's one product they're willing to try doing without.

Darcy Forsell had spent so much on diapers in her daughter's early years — at least $1,500 by her estimate — that when the time came for three-year-old Liz to potty-train, Forsell decided to skip the training pants.

"It didn't seem like a good investment in terms of time and money," Forsell said.

Forsell trained Liz in a weekend by letting her mostly run around the house naked, an approach she learned from other moms. Similar to just putting kids in underwear, the thinking is that if children wet themselves, they tend to learn quickly that the way to avoid that is by going in the toilet.

Sales rising since pants appeared in 1989

Industry-wide, sales of disposable training pants declined 3.2 per cent to $731.2 million for the 52 weeks ending June 13, and the number of training pants sold is down 10 per cent, according to data from the Nielsen Co.

That's despite the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, U.S. births rose 3 per cent in 2006 and one per cent in 2007.   

The decline in an industry that had grown steadily for 20 years raises questions about whether the trend will continue when the economy recovers.   

Kimberly-Clark's Pull-Ups brand is the industry leader, with a 65 per cent market share. Sales of disposable training pants rose every year after the company introduced them to the mass market in 1989, even as competition grew.   

The company would not break out sales for its own products but said sales in the category softened in the third and fourth quarters. So far this year, revenue has declined 1.1 per cent from a year ago, but the company expects growth later this year.   

At Procter&Gamble, which rivals Pull-Ups with its Pampers Easy Ups brand, sales of disposable training pants have flattened over the past year.