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Now That People Are Back in the Office Deodorant Is Making a Comeback

woman holding her nose, stinky

So Fortune says that deodorant is making a big comeback now that companies are pushing return-to-office, at least according to what they were told on a Unilever media call last week. Unilever owns Dove, Rexona (or as we know it here in the US, Degree), and douchebag favorite Axe, all of which took a sales hit in 2020 and 2021 when everyone went feral and stopped showering as much as they used to. Things started turning around for personal care in 2022, just when workers began returning to office in earnest:

“People didn’t use deodorant as much when they were in lockdown or working from home, et cetera. I think we’re seeing some of the recovery of that coming through,” Unilever CFO Graeme Pitkethly said during a media call on Thursday, referring to the impact COVID-19 had on deodorant use.

In 2022, Unilever’s deodorants were “the main driver of underlying sales” in the segment, the company said in its annual report.

“If you step up to the level of our Personal Care Business Group, it delivered a really good growth result with good balance between volume and pricing. And a big driver of that was strong volume growth in deodorants,” Pitkethly said of Unilever’s Q3 results.

Note: Unilever is frequently featured on r/shrinkflation, a sub where Reddit users post comparison photos of products that have decreased in size (or quantity) but not price. Like this:

Dove deodorant shrinkflation

And this:

Dove body wash shrinkflation

So with that said, Unilever had underlying sales growth of 5.2% in Q3 with 5.8% price growth and a 0.6% decline in the volume of products sold [PDF of Unilever Trading Statement – Third Quarter 2023, unaudited]. Guardian financial editor Nils Pratley called them out for their “share the pain” approach to increased production costs in July:

What Unilever et al are really doing is managing the fine trade-off between price increases and the volume of products to ensure a 17% margin doesn’t become 15%. “Sharing the pain” is gloss. This is a straightforward commercial exercise in passing on, or “recovering” in the jargon, as much of the input inflation as consumers will bear. The shareholders would expect nothing else.

But let’s put aside shrink and talk stink. While a decrease in the popularity and purchase of deodorant may seem like a strictly lockdown thing, I vaguely recall some gripes about millennials shunning deodorant going back a decade. Oh look at that, my memory isn’t so bad after all.

From a 2014 CNBC article on why millennials were having trouble getting hired:

Millennials are famously unemployed and underemployed, but the reason may not entirely be the so-so job market. Or gaps in their college education.

It could be their body odor.

In the Bank of America Trends in Consumer Mobility report, released Monday, surveyors asked 1,000 adults about the importance of various items in their daily lives. Among millennials, 93 percent said a smartphone was “very” or “somewhat” important, making it the most important item for that age group. Fewer—87 percent—said deodorant was of daily importance, and 91 percent, a toothbrush.

91 percent of all adults surveyed for that report ranked deodorant and smartphones equally important in daily life, 95 percent said they consider a toothbrush a daily must.

Another survey in 2019 by global research and opinion company YouGov showed that many millennials and Zoomers weren’t using deodorant at all. 37 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds surveyed said they hadn’t purchased deodorant or antiperspirant in the past year, that number climbed to 48 percent for 18 to 24-year-olds.

Deodorant use by age, 2019 survey

Of course some people were using less deodorant during lockdown but was that because they weren’t going into the office and didn’t care if their dog thinks they’re stinky? Or have we millennials and our younger Gen Z counterparts always been less enthusiastic about it than the generations before us? Here’s another survey, this one from a 2021 survey of Brits:

[A]lmost three in 10 (28%) deodorant/antiperspirant users have applied them less frequently since the COVID-19 outbreak. Frequency of usage has fallen most dramatically among Gen Z (aged 23 and under) and Millennial (aged 24-39) consumers. Just under half (45%) of Gen Zs and 40% of Millennials are using deodorant/antiperspirant less frequently, as the trend towards casualization extends from clothing to personal hygiene.

Already in decline, the outbreak of COVID-19 has exacerbated the downward trajectory of the market, with deodorant sales falling an estimated 7% in 2020 to £369 million ($448 million), down from £394 million in 2019. Sales are forecast to decline a further 5% in 2021 to £352 million.

“Savvy shopping among Brits meant the deodorants market was already suffering even before the pandemic; however, lockdowns and social distancing exacerbated the value decline in 2020,” said Emilia Greenslade, OTC and Personal Care Analyst at Mintel, of that report.

Maybe deodorant isn’t making a comeback at all. Stay stinky, my friends.