“Compared to a pint of beer, a box of 12 condoms gives you a more pleasurable time”.
That’s the philosophy of Goh Miah Kiat (CEO of Karex Industries), which claims to be the world’s biggest condom maker by volume, producing three billion annually, more than any other manufacturer. The array of cheeky condoms on his desk – textured, flavoured, multi-coloured – would make most people blush. They come in grape and strawberry flavoured, with pleasure-boosting textures, barber pole-like striping, baggy-sized and the opposite model, as well as missile-shaped.
Condoms hardly seem the stock and trade of a rural-based family business in Malaysia, but Karex has big plans. It plans an IPO to fund a doubling of output, part of a push to further its growing presence in a market that’s expanding due to the AIDS battle and increasing condom use in huge Asian economies like China.
“We are enjoying an acceleration in demand for condoms”, said 35-year-old Goh in an interview at Karex’s factory in the drowsy Johor town of Pontian, a former fishing village.
At Karex’s factory, which operates 24 hours, workers pull each and every condom down onto an electric-charged tube that can detect micro-flaws. Samples are plucked from among thousands of packaged condoms drifting by on conveyor belts and filled with water for leak tests.
Karex also does custom orders, citing one “adventurous” European client who requested condoms that glow in the dark to resemble a Star Wars light sabre.
Industry estimates project a global condom market worth US$6 billion (RM18bil) in 2015 – or some 27 billion condoms compared to 20 billion in 2012. Carex, the brand name of Karex condoms, holds about 15% of the global condom market, according to sector analysts.
Other leading brands like Durex, marketed by Britain’s Reckitt Benckiser group, and Trojan, owned by the US firm Church & Dwight, make up a combined 25%. “It is a recession-proof industry. With growth rates of about 8% annually, it is here to stay”, said Goh, who has a quick smile and gives off a boyish enthusiasm.
About half of Karex’s output goes to bulk purchases by governments or international agencies’ safe sex drives, mainly the UN Population Fund and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
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