New spin cycle

More scents, formulations and a renewed emphasis on sustainability are transforming the detergent and household cleaner aisle.

By Richard Turcsik

Want to keep your laundry detergent and household cleaner sales smelling April fresh? Then maintain a delicate balance of the latest scents and formulations and environmentally friendly products, and be sure to add the beloved brands consumers grew up with and trust. Plus, to prevent runs of recession-pinched consumers heading over to dollar stores, throw in some smaller sizes of full-priced name brands, laundry care category experts say.

“It continues to be a tough, competitive marketplace up and down the channel for premium brands, value brands and private label, but frankly, consumers are still benefiting from a lot of great choices out there,” says Brian Sansoni, vice president, communications, at the American Cleaning Institute, the Washington-based trade association representing detergent, soap and household cleaner manufacturers.

Sustainability attributes, including environmentally friendly packaging and more concentrated products, are also gaining favor. “We’ve seen it in liquid and now we are going to see even more concentrated powdered detergent throughout 2012 and beyond,” Sansoni says. “You are going to get more value to your scoop.”

Industry leader Procter & Gamble is spearheading the eco-friendly movement by compacting powder cartons across its stable of brands: Tide, Gain, Cheer, Dreft, Bold and Ivory Snow. “We deliver a better experience for consumers as the products are easier to carry, handle and store vs. today’s non-compacted items,” says Christina Saunders, external relations manager, North America Fabric Care at Cincinnati-based P&G. The company made other improvements as well. “Tide powder now has improved stain fighting power, helping to address the No.1 consumer unmet need of stain removal, and the Gain formula was upgraded to deliver a longer lasting scent,” Saunders says.

Detergent manufacturers maintain hotlines to keep track of what consumers think of their products, says Rich Owen, the president and CEO of CR Brands, the West Chester, Ohio-based manufacturer of Oxydol and Biz detergents. Originally owned by P&G, Oxydol is among the oldest detergents and is credited with creating the term “soap opera” by sponsoring radio and then television dramas.

“For Oxydol, every year the number one complaint from consumers is ‘I can’t find it at the store’ which is because we don’t have real wide distribution,” Owen says. “It is still kind of a niche product, but when people see it they start using it because they remember it and they like the product. Some brands command a certain loyalty that goes on for people’s entire lives.”

And those customers can be an opinionated group. “We made a small change to the Oxydol package and we immediately heard from a bunch of consumers about the changes,” Owen says. He is hoping an upcoming one will be positively received.
“For the first time we are rolling out an Oxydol that contains Biz,” he says. Introduced in the ‘60s, Biz is a detergent booster with color safe bleach that uses “a proprietary cocktail of different enzymes” to fight stains and has managed to stay on the shelf with no advertising since the ‘90s, Owen says.

However, the category’s leading players find advertising is necessary to tout all of their innovations. “Consumer relevant innovation is critical to driving sales growth for the category,” says Saunders.

One example is Downy Unstopables. “With new Downy Unstopables in-wash scent booster, consumers can now satisfy their cravings for an amped-up scent experience,” she says. “The distinctive bead form, added directly to the wash, contains four times more scent enhancing ingredients than Downy liquid fabric softeners and provides a sensational level of freshness.”

For years nuSoft fabric softener has been using a proprietary hypoallergenic formula containing coconut and no dyes or colors to keep clothes soft. “We have very loyal consumers,” says Keith Bailey, national sales manger, consumer, for Barberton, Ohio-based Malco Products, which also manufactures Bluette bluing [see sidebar], Zud cleanser, Twinkle polish, Linit liquid starch and Mr. Coffee Coffeemaker Cleaner. “They are more heritage type brands that have a very strong following and loyal consumer base and that is what makes it successful for us,” he says.

Shooting Comet

Irvington, N.Y.-based Prestige Brands is also an amalgamation of smaller brands spun off from larger manufacturers. On the household cleaner front, the company’s brands are Spic and Span, Cinch all-purpose cleaner, Chore Boy sponges and Comet cleanser.

“Comet is an American icon and it’s got several line extensions or ‘flavors,’” says Dean Siegal, director, corporate communications. “There’s Regular Comet, Comet Lemon and Comet Lavendar/Fresca, which is tailored to ethnic markets, mostly Hispanics who like heavily fragranced cleaning products.”

Older Americans can still recall TV commercials featuring Josephine the Plumber. “Market research tells us Comet has a high degree of consumer trust and we sell 80 million units a year,” Siegal says.

One of Comet’s chief competitors is Bon Ami, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. “‘Hasn’t scratched yet’ is one of the oldest trademarks in America, and so is the little chick,” says Carolyn Beaham West, vice president, brand development, at Kansas City, Mo.-based Faultless Starch/Bon Ami Co.  “To celebrate our anniversary we came out with a limited edition of our original Cleaning Cake and gave our Original Formula powder a new red dress to tie into our brand new liquid line.”

Bon Ami’s liquid line consists of a liquid cleanser, dish soap and an all-purpose spray cleaner. “Our entire line is ‘free and clear’ because a number of our customers are very chemically sensitive,” Beaham West says

Huntersville, N.C.-based Innovasource offers the Proxi line of cleaners which use hydrogen peroxide as their key ingredient. “The benefit of hydrogen peroxide is that it is environmentally friendly and breaks down into water and oxygen,” says Barbara Benton, vice president of marketing. “It is a powerful cleaning ingredient that also works as a disinfectant, killing germs, salmonella, E. coli, staph and viruses.” Proxi products include bathroom and kitchen disinfectants, a multi-purpose cleaner, daily shower spray and concentrated dishwashing liquid.

In an effort to kill all those microbes consumers have been turning to cleaning wipes. Sani Professional Products is revolutionizing the category with a new product under its Sani Surface brand. “Sani Surface is a completely alcohol free disinfectant with efficacy against 30-plus known organisms,” says Matt Schiering, vice president/general manager of the Sani Professional Products Division of Nice-Pak/PDII, based in Orangeburg, N.Y. In fact, it is a 2011 WOW (World of Wipes) Innovation winner. Adding to the innovation, the wipes are not packaged in canisters but soft plastic packaging, similar to baby wipes.

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