Sex wellness: how retail is leading the way

Like quinoa and quark before it, there’s a surprising new addition at Waitrose that’s about to go mainstream… Lovehoney lube.

The most middle class supermarket of them all is now selling two exclusive varieties of Lovehoney lube online. While Waitrose already sells a few basic Durex lubes, partnering with a pioneering, female-centred brand feels more of a considered choice.

Super (sexy) markets

For Lovehoney, the Waitrose website is just its first step into supermarkets. The brand’s CEO, Sarah Warby, wants to see more Lovehoney products on supermarket shelves.

“There is a liberal wave in society… and Lovehoney is riding that wave because of the immense quality of (its) products,” she told The Drum at the start of lockdown.

Interestingly, Sarah Warby is the ex-marketing director of Sainsbury’s. Does her appointment suggest that the sexual wellness industry is gearing up to be as big as grocery?

Although Sainsbury’s introduced a range of low-price toys in 2018, we’re yet to see supermarkets offer as wide a range of sex toys as they do other non-food categories, like beauty, pharmacy or home. 

Lovehoney getting their lube into Waitrose seems like a positive first step to new, sex positive supermarkets. It’s indicative of a wider shift in the retail industry: sexual wellness is becoming more mainstream to reflect today’s increasingly sex-positive consumers. 

New attitudes

You only have to look at the recent Durex campaign to see that sex is no longer the taboo it once was. Durex’s ‘Let’s not go back to normal’ campaign feels like a manifesto: pro safe sex, anti shame and ignorance. The brand has also partnered with same-sex dating apps, and runs free sex therapy sessions on Zoom, cementing its new position as a sex positive retailer.

Across the industry, brands known for provocative (bordering on offensive) marketing are targeting a more mainstream audience. Trojan, for example, released a book for World Baking Day this year, with cheeky recipes like Rye’d That D and Pump Her Nickel.

Meanwhile, contemporary sex toy brands, like Naked Grapefruit and Smile Makers, are filling their Instagram feeds with women lounging at home in everyday underwear and no make-up, infographics about sexual health and memes about sexual empowerment. They’re curated by women, for women.

In 2020, sex product brands are leading the conversation on sex rather than just making jokes about it.

Lockdown surge

It’s not just middle class supermarkets entering the market. This summer Poundland introduced a vibrator priced at – you guessed it – £1. The reason behind the launch? 

“People have been making their own entertainment during lockdown,” said Shauna Falconer, buyer at Poundland.

While this seems like a tongue-in-cheek PR move, the stats back it up. Cult Beauty, best known for must-have make-up and skincare products, said that ‘sexual wellness’ was searched 850% more at the start of lockdown, while Smile Makers has doubled sales. 

With stats like these, and with the global sex wellness industry expected to grow to $40 billion by 2025, we expect to see more grocery and beauty retailers getting in on the action.

Partnering with quality, contemporary brands is a great way for retailers to appeal to a new kind of customer, one who thinks buying sex toys in the supermarket is as everyday as picking up a nice bottle of wine.

Vogue - Smile Makers products
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