Australian start-up HERO CONDOMS is taking a bite out of the billion dollar condom market – holding its own against global giants Ansell and Durex.
The Sydney-based business started by 28-year-old Dustin Leonard as part of a university assignment has just secured a distribution deal with major supermarket chain Woolworths to stock the product in over 900 of its stores nationwide – with more commercial deals to be announced shortly.
This Aussie brand is a poster child of the growing trend of “conscious consumerism” with its noble cause of stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. For every condom sold in Australia, HERO is donating one condom to developing countries, including Botswana.
HERO has already donated 75,000 condoms to Botswana and Dustin says since about 75 per cent of all condoms are sold in supermarkets, this deal with Woolworths is a massive coup for the local condom company, enabling it to significantly ramp up its donation drive and organise for 500,000 condoms to be sent to Botswana in the coming months.
How was a condom brand born of a uni assignment?
Dustin grew up in Austin, Texas and came to Australia to study at the University of Sydney, where he completed a Masters in International Business and a Masters in Logistics Management.
He came up with the concept for HERO in his post grad studies at USYD. It started as a marketing project where they had to come up with a new product and create a marketing plan for it.
“It was kind of a fun pipe-dream type idea; we thought ‘what if we could create a business that would help make the world a better place’,” Dustin told Anthill.
However, the more he researched and discovered the true severity and devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS endemic, the more passionate he became about the assignment.
Dustin pointed out that for example, in Botswana, the HIV prevalence rate is increasing every year and women from ages 30-34 have a HIV prevalence rate of an extremely worrying 43.7 per cent.
He decided that he wanted to turn this project into a real business and went on to create a business plan to go with the marketing project, realized that all of the numbers worked out on paper and headed out to seek investment. The initial investment came from his university logistics professor and there have since been two additional financing rounds.
It hasn’t been easy getting on the shelves though
However, Dustin soon discovered his initial university business plan was a bit naïve and assumed that he could get HERO straight on the shelves in the major grocery chains. “We completely underestimated the difficulty and financing needed to launch a new product in the FMCG industry.”
“We’re competing against billion dollar publicly traded companies and they ferociously defend shelf space,” he shared with Anthill. “It truly has been a David and Goliath battle.”
“The companies we’re competing against spend millions launching a new product, so we’ve had to be extremely frugal and turn a penny into a dollar in almost every situation.”
Woolworths now joins a fast-growing network of HERO condom outlets in Australia, including IGA, City Convenience stores and pharmacy groups.