Bunhill: If the hat fits ..

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THE TRADE magazine Super Marketing has been looking at how supermarkets promote condoms. The conclusion: stores would capture greater market share if they weren't so embarrassed about the things. Tesco is by far the bravest. Asda more modest. Safeway seems reticent. But Sainbury is the shyest boy on the high street.

Supermarkets have been selling condoms for six years, but despite all the Aids publicity, stores still tend to hide contraceptives on the top shelf, says the magazine's Keely Harrison. Not surprisingly, things are different in the US: condoms are signposted just like any other product and are often available at the checkout along with chewing gum and magazines. In the US grocery sector, condom sales are worth pounds 40m and are up 2.3 per cent this year, says the research company Information Resources. Instead of one or two brands on show, as in the UK, a typical US supermarket will carry around 15 brands. Meanwhile, in South Africa's Pick 'n' Pay stores, condom adverts measure six feet high and three feet wide. And in Scandinavia, sales through supermarkets are higher than those at petrol stations and convenience stores.

The magazine says supermarkets could easily boost their 15 per cent share of the pounds 50m- plus UK condom sector by given the product a bit more prominence. A survey by Mates of people aged between 15 and 45 found one in five had bought condoms from the supermarket in the past three months, and one in four thought it the most convenient outlet.

Trouble is, say condom makers, supermarkets don't think contraceptives fit their profile. It has taken pressure from suppliers to get condoms moved out of men's toiletries and into the medicine sector. When Safeway made the switch, sales rose by 10 per cent, even without additional signposting. But Woon-Chay Tan, national sales manager for the Jiffi, says attitudes are not changing fast enough. And Penny Venters of Durex adds: 'What we now know to be true is that condoms are not so much a male purchase in the supermarkets; it's more about people who shop together, who are in steady relationships and, in fact, the female purchase is very important. It's right that condoms are on the aisle with the medicines. Now I would like to see them on an eye-level shelf which says family planning. It is embarrassing for shoppers if they have to ask where to find them.'