January 2007
Good (Local) Governance

The new ‘forbidden fruit’

SAGADA, Mountain Province — A tourist here points to red cheeks of a healthy Sagada baby, and the mother quips, “strawberry cheeks,” prompting the tourist to laugh out loud.

Strawberry is selling cheap in the Baguio market right now, and so are the other products that come from it, like wines, jams, preserves, and even champoy. That should be good news to strawberry lovers, and there seems to be a lot of them.

Even in condoms, strawberry is the most preferred flavor, says Victor C. Bruan, Northern and Central Luzon franchise coordinator of DKT Philippines, the biggest condom producer in the country. He says the flavor of the sweet-and-sour berry is popular not only among condom users in the Cordillera, but also across the entire nation.

“Strawberry has a sweet scent and evokes good things,” says Bruan.

But in this very Catholic country, there are those who believe condoms are not good things. And so DKT is following the tact of most reproductive health nongovernmental organizations by going for niche marketing instead of tackling the whole population.

So far, the strategy has been successful, with DKT’s Trust and Frenzy brands controlling 70 percent of the national market. Ads for Frenzy, which targets the younger crowd can be found in men’s magazines, while its commercials run in cable channels that are aimed primarily at adult males, like Jack TV, AXN, and MTV. Frenzy also has ad spots in the major free channels during the late hours.

In addition, DKT has a novel marketing scheme that caters to remote barangays, where there is what demographers call “unmet need” for family management services. In 2003, the Philippines had such an unmet need of 17 percent, down from 20 percent in 1997. But that was still a high figure because it meant that 17 percent of women had no access to family-planning services.

In 2005, DKT started the “POP Shop” scheme, which gives franchises to barangay health units or even individuals so they can sell DKT’s other products like contraceptive pills, injectables, and lubricating jelly. Bruan says that in his area, he already has 89 POP Shops. He says that prospective business partners need no initial cash outlay and pay only P25,000 to P50,000 for the seed stock. In return, the franchisee gets product modules and brochures and an outlet signage. There are also promotional materials, as well as uniforms and flyers for the franchisee.

Interestingly, all the franchisees in Bruan’s area are local government units. That only makes sense, since the national government has decided on promoting only natural family planning methods. International aid organizations have also phased out their programs of donating contraceptives to local governments, leaving these to fend for themselves.

Bruan says that the more remote municipalities are more successful in handling their POP Shops. He cites the municipality of Paracelis, which has already re-stocked its supplies.

“Other towns like Sagada and Bontoc have stores and pharmacies where they can buy their condoms,” he says. “For Paracelis and other remote towns, we are the only source.”

DKT also sells condoms at selected supermarkets and gasoline stations. According to Bruan, unscented comes second to strawberry in terms of popularity among condom variants. Third is chocolate. Trust condoms come in strawberry, chocolate, and unscented varieties, while Frenzy has orange, banana, and mint. Other condom brands like Okamoto, Sensation, and Durex have either strawberry or unscented flavors.

“Actually, there’s no flavor, it’s just the scent,” says Julius Matabia, who works at the Social Hygiene Clinic in Baguio City. He explains the popularity of the number one condom flavor — okay, scent — this way: “People feel more comfortable with strawberry.”

Well, at least some people. For the national powers that be, apparently no scent or flavor can make any contraceptive palatable.