Procter & Gamble has acquired This is L, a San Francisco-based company that markets organic cotton tampons and pads and natural latex condoms. No purchase price was announced.
This is an extreme example of a big company acquiring a smaller one. P&G has 95,000 employees, while This is L has seven.
But L tampons, available via CVS, Target and 5,000 other stores, successfully capitalizes on the trend toward cause marketing and natural materials, like the fragrance-, chemical- and pesticide-free organic cotton the company uses, according to P&G.
After returning home from "documenting humanitarian crises around the world," (according to the company's website) former photojournalist Talia Frenkel, the CEO, decided to market environmentally sensitive products to help the developing world. The first, in 2011, was a condom.
Now, for every condom, tampon or pad that the company sells, it distributes one in a developing country through its network of thousands of female entrepreneurs, according to the company website. The donation program is headed toward distributing 250 million products worldwide.
“Basically, it's a tampon you can really feel good about,” wrote Teen Vogue, which featured L in its March issue marking Women’s History Month.
“Our strong growth has enabled us to stand in solidarity with women in more than 20 countries,” said Frenkel in a press release, sounding a little like the impassioned text of the Our Movement section of the This is L website.
“Our support has ranged from partnering with organizations to send period products to native communities in South Dakota, to supplying pad-making machines to a women-led business in Tamil Nadu," she added. "Pairing our purpose with P&G's expertise, scale and resources provides an extraordinary opportunity to contribute to a more equitable world.”
The company got a big push in 2015 from Y Combinator, which famously invests $150,000 in couple of start-ups a couple of times a year and then helps them grow. (Dropbox, Twitch, Reddit and Airbnb are among others benefiting from that investment over the years.)
The company's ethos seems to mesh well with cause marketing efforts by P&G’s Always brand. Last August, Always launched its #EndPeriodPoverty campaign to distribute 15 million period products to school children. P&G says Always has given away 80 million such products around the world in the last ten years.
“This acquisition is a perfect complement to our Always and Tampax portfolio, with its commitment to a shared mission to advocate for girls’ confidence and serve more women,” said Jennifer Davis, president, P&G global feminine care division, in a statement.
Marrying L to P&G will probably cause some initial weirdness, with an international mega-giant firm coupled with a tiny manufacturer licensed as a public-benefit corporation. Frenkel told the Y Combinator blog she remembers an initial This is L business meeting in which she asked, “OK, how do you get a UPC code?”
A P&G spokeswoman said, “We're focusing now on ensuring a smooth transition so that L is set up for success moving forward.”
She added, “The products will continue to have their own equity, product offering and stay true to their purpose, including social responsibility programs. We’re pleased that the founder of the business, Talia Frenkel, will partner with us as a consultant and brand ambassador for L. We look forward to working closely together to scale L.’s deep sense of purpose and advance its socially responsible business.”
Yet it would seem L tampons exist, to some extent, because the product is what some perceive as a healthier alternative to major brands. “From our deep consumer research and understanding, we know that different consumers are seeking different propositions,” the spokeswoman said. “Some we are currently meeting today with our Always and Tampax portfolio, [while other consumers] are looking for products like L.”