Chinese condom maker wants to go global

File photo of a group of Chinese men gather to collect the free condoms distributed to mark the World's AIDS day in Fujian province on December 1, 2010.

Story highlights

  • China condom maker Safedom is looking to go global, aiming at industry giant Durex
  • The company, majority-owned by its founder, has grown rapidly in its short life
While most consumer goods companies are seeking opportunities in China, domestic condom maker Safedom is going in the opposite direction -- seeking European partners or acquisitions as part of a bid to go global.
The company, majority-owned by its founder, has grown rapidly in its short life. It will sell 200m condoms this year, all within China, and is targeting sales of 1bn next year; the same number that Durex, the world's biggest player, was producing in the country within three years.
Brian Fu, chief executive, was in the UK last week "meeting potential partners and acquisitions". Funding for any deal will either come from existing shareholders, bank loans or possibly through an overseas stock market listing, he said.
Despite the size of the market on its own doorstep -- and added attraction of a government-mandated one-child policy -- Safedom sees its future on the international stage. It reckons its virus-proof latex condoms will enable it to compete alongside the global players such as Durex, now part of Reckitt Benckiser, and Ansell of Australia.
However, Mr Fu said that the strength of his company -- whose range includes Beautiful Girl, Take Me and Green Lemon -- was in manufacturing and technology, and going global required bringing in branding and marketing expertise.
Sales outlets and channels are also likely to vary from China, where half of all condoms are bought by women.
"We think we have good leading edge technology and a good management team. What we lack is the branding part: we are not well known," Mr Fu said.
According to Global Industry Analysts, the data publishers, the global condom market is set to hit 27bn units, worth $6bn, by 2015, driven by demand from emerging economies including China and Africa. Safedom plans to start selling in Bangladesh and countries in Africa shortly.
But in China, as with other consumer goods ranging from cars to handbags, the stress is on bling. At the opulent Venetian casino in Macao, Safedom sells single condoms for HK$50 (US$6) a throw and, according to Mr Fu, designer condoms (presumably fake) are available online at US$65 apiece.
So far, roughly one-quarter of the group's sales have been to the government, which distributes them free of charge, but that proportion is expected to shrink.
"In the old days free condoms were welcomed by the people," said Shuyu Xu, director of international sales. "But now people can afford to pay and will go to the pharmacy to buy the best, most fancy ones."