On The Leak this week we are interviewing Kiri Hannifin, General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Quality, Safety and Sustainability at Countdown Supermarkets in New Zealand. Countdown have achieved what they think is a world-first by renaming fem hygiene or intimate hygiene or sanitary items which assume women’s bodies are dirty and don’t speak to (for example) non-binary people to period products, genital wash and continence products, just calling them what they are, no shame, no stigma. This announcement has come at a great time since we published, The Myth of ‘Feminine Hygiene’ which speaks to this exact issue, only a few weeks ago!

Q: Hi Kiri, first of all congratulations on being a world leader in this space! How did the conversations on these changes come about? Was it public feedback or an internal process? Or did it spring from something else entirely?

A: Thanks! We’re really, really excited about this work!

I think inherently we’re a business filled with people who want to do the right thing. People who aren’t just focussed on our core work, which is providing food and other essentials to Kiwis, but also looking at how we can best meet the changing needs of our communities. 

Some awesome wāhine within our business had talked about changing the language we use around period products to help remove some of the stigma often attached to what is a natural part of life for women and girls and we made that happen! It was the right call and one we’re really proud to have made. 

Q: What was the process at Countdown Supermarkets when deciding on the change? I understand there were a few of you involved in the process. 

A: We’ve got a team of 20,000 Kiwis (around half of which are women) and we serve over 3 million customers a week, so it’s important to us to be a period positive business where periods are called exactly what they are. 

We were going through a process of reviewing our categories for online shopping and a couple of women (Liz Horne and Jennie Leng) on the team ran a project to look specifically at the language we were using for period and continence care and how Countdown could support changing attitudes in this space. It was their work that led us to make this decisions and with the support of the wider business, we rolled these changes out. 

We did some work back in 2018 to address period poverty by reducing the price of all our own brand period products and we’ve also been working closely with charities such as The Salvation Army, KidsCan and brands like U by Kotex to help provide period products for women and girls who are struggling to access them. This latest move feels like a natural evolution of that. A big part of why young women and girls were staying home from school when they had their periods was due to not being able to afford tampons and pads but also because of the stigma surrounding periods. We felt that if we could change the language (and a few minds in the process) then that would be a pretty great thing. 

Q: My understanding is that the changes will be reflected online initially before appearing in physical stores? What is the timeline for physical changes in stores?

A: We’ve already rolled the changes out on our online shopping site, so customers searching for items like tampons, pads and menstrual cups will find them under Period and Continence Care. We’ve also made a couple of other adjustments – calling products previously described as ‘intimate hygiene’ will also now be categorised online as ‘genital washes and wipes’.

We don’t have a finalised timeline for the instore changes, but it’s something we’re working on at the moment. The part of the supermarket where period care items sit is home to a number of different products, so we just need to consider where everything will sit on the shelf so it makes sense for our customers and ensures things are still easy to find. But, rest assured that this work is well underway! 

Q: What are you hoping to achieve more broadly through these changes? 

A: More than anything, we want this change to help start an important conversation about the language we can and should be using to help reduce the stigma around what are natural parts of life. We’re really proud to be leading the way, but will be even prouder when other retailers make the change in their own operations too. 

I think if we use language that helps make people feel positively about things like periods and continence care then that’s a bit of a win for all of us – especially our younger generations. 

Kiri Hannifin

General Manager of Corporate Affairs, Safety and Sustainability, Countdown supermarkets NZ

Throughout her career, Kiri Hannifin has worked in government relations, human rights, policy and public relations on a wide range of projects and issues. Her experience has now led her to the world of fast-moving consumer goods.

As Countdown's General Manager of Corporate Affairs, Safety and Sustainability, she is tasked with ensuring 3 million customers each week have trust in the supermarket brand's ability to deliver better outcomes for Aotearoa's environment and communities, as well as Countdown's team of 20,000 Kiwis.