Clean sweep

Cleaning product manufacturers say consumers are always on the lookout for items that will make their lives easier.

It turns out spring cleaning is not just an expression—now suppliers are trying to get consumers to think that way year-round.

According to the Washington-based American Cleaning Institute, most people do a major spring cleaning. The trade association’s 2012 Spring Cleaning Survey found that 62% of those surveyed say spring cleaning is an annual ritual in their home. Also, 73% of those who spring clean strongly or somewhat agree that it is a tradition worth keeping.

But spring cleaning is not enough to sustain the household cleaning category throughout the year. Overall, the category is struggling as shoppers turn to less expensive alternatives and private label products to get the job done. According to New York-based Nielsen Co., for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 18, sales of household cleaners in food, drug and mass merchandise stores, including Walmart, totaled $2.744 billion, a decrease of 3.3% compared to the same period the previous year.

The drop in volume has some retailers concerned, primarily because they dedicate a great deal of shelf space to the category. But suppliers remain optimistic that a wide range of new and innovative products will help spur additional interest in the household cleaning category in coming months and reverse the long slide in dollar and unit volume.

The bottom line is that consumers want cleaning products that work and make it easier for them to accomplish their goal. In its 2011 Household Cleaning Report, Chicago-based research firm Mintel found that 42% of respondents would be willing to pay extra for any product that makes cleaning faster.

Faster cleaning means no unwieldy tools and liquids. That is especially true for younger consumers, says Kerrie Kiernan, national sales manager for Congers, N.Y.-based Casabella. “Millennials don’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning. They are not going to use the traditional mop and bucket like their grandmothers.”

Kiernan adds that many consumers do not like the dated look of some cleaning products. Utilitarian designs are out and retailers are adding products that appeal to the female shopper, say industry observers. As with many other trends, this one points to the food-related TV shows. If consumers are eager to buy something new that helps them prepare a creative meal in the kitchen, they also want the newest product to help clean the place.

Casabella’s new products include the Quick Clean line, which company officials say will debut in Bed Bath and Beyond in May. The line includes Quick Sweep, which has seven ridges that sweep the floor, instead of a flat surface. There is also the Quick Scrub Double Sided Spray Mop, which features a bottle that the user can fill with cleaner.

Mops that clean quickly and include an attached bottle for cleaning solution are gaining in popularity, say observers. These mops, which also feature microfiber pads, are finding their way onto the shelves at most grocery chains, says Michael Silverman, senior vice president of marketing for Butler Home Products, based in Marlborough, Mass. “These are a more reusable way to quick clean rather than using disposable pads each time you mop,” he says. “Consumers want a product with the right features to ease the chore of cleaning.”

Earlier this year, Butler Home Products launched the Mr. Clean Breeze Mop, which features a wide microfiber pad and an attached spray bottle. Silverman says the product gives consumers the choice of cleaning chemical, such as vinegar and water for hardwoods and Mr. Clean for tile.

If consumers want to save time cleaning the floors, they probably want to quickly accomplish other tasks such as dish washing. One timesaving step is to skip measuring the dishwashing detergent. Innovasource, based in Huntersville, N.C., launched PROXI Automatic Dish Detergent Pods. “There is strong growth in grocery retailers for easy-to-use, pre-measured doses of automatic dish detergent,” says Miranda Reynolds, product manager for the PROXI line.

Speed is not the only factor that consumers seek in new products. “Household cleaning trends that we are focused on include convenience, value and healthier ingredients,” Reynolds says. “Shoppers are busier than ever and are seeking out products that simplify their lives through multiple benefits such as one-step cleaning and disinfecting, while at the right price-point.”

PROXI also offers Daily Shower Cleaner and Kitchen Disinfectant Cleaner, which Reynolds says offers a value proposition by combining hydrogen peroxide and biodegradable cleaning agents with light fragrances. PROXI is designed to appeal to consumers looking for a green, healthier cleaner at a mainstream price.

Consumers are not looking for the least expensive cleaners, but for the ones that will clean well and quickly at a reasonable price, say cleaning products manufacturers. “People don’t mind paying more for a quality product. They don’t want to have to continue to buy cheap products at a cheap price if they have to replace a product too often,” Butler’s Silverman says.

Steve Throssel, president of Whink Products Co., agrees. Among the newest products from the Eldora, Iowa-based company are the 32-ounce squeezable containers of Cooktop Cleaner and Countertop Cleaner. “They are priced for the value-conscious shoppers,” he says. Countertop Cleaner cleans all surfaces except slate.

Value means different things to different shoppers. Throssel says in addition to the consumers who buy large containers that will last a long time and offer a bargain price per ounce, there are also consumers on a budget who buy small containers of cleaner. So Whink also offers 24-ounce bottles of Cooktop Cleaner and Countertop Cleaner. For more specific cleaning needs, there is the 6-ounce container of Rust Guard, which cleans rust stains. “You don’t get a better price per ounce, but you get a lower price so you can take care of a rust stain problem with the money you have in your pocket,” he says.

Consumers seeking convenience and price are apt to buy one cleaner for all surfaces. The traditional clean-everything product has long been the dilutable, pourable cleaners, a segment that is price-sensitive. “The consumer wants innovation but is willing to pay only so much,” says John Wagner, director of sales for AlEn USA.

The company, which has U.S. headquarters in Houston, manufactures cleaners in Mexico that are tailored toward Hispanic consumers. AlEn’s flagship brand is Pinalen, a dilutable cleaner that comes in a variety of fragrances, including pine, lavender and citrus. Wagner says Hispanics favor strong fragrances.

“Cleaning products from AlEn USA provide the Hispanic consumer with what they desire when it comes to product performance,” Wagner says. The AromaMax line is scheduled to launch in June.

Fresh scent
Other companies are also looking at fragrance as a selling point. “We have seen a surge of excitement around our grapefruit scent,” says J.R. Rigley, vice president of sales and marketing for Winona, Minn.-based J.R. Watkins. “We launched a Grapefruit All-Purpose Cleaner, Dish Soap and Hand Soap in 2011 and due to its success we also extended the grapefruit scent into our personal care category.”

Rigley adds that consumers are savvy and are evaluating ingredients more than ever. “We’ve been working for years to educate consumers on the benefits of a natural, plant-based cleaner, through our own channels and we work with our retail partners to produce in-store signage and educational materials.”

J.R. Watkins sold products through independent sales associates for years and now offers the brand in the mass channel. Supermarkets are well-suited for cleaning product sales, Rigley says. “From our perspective, these channels have an advantage that the shopper is already there.”

Not only are shoppers in the supermarket, says Whink’s Throssel, but they are there often. “The advantage the supermarket has is that the consumer is there two and half times a week,” he says. Whink works with supermarkets to include Countertop Cleaner and others in mailings to loyalty card customers. To help with merchandising, Whink offers mini pallet displays and sidekicks.

Retailers can really benefit with the right displays, says Candace Story, director of marketing for . The Rome, Ga.-based company recently launched Soft Scrub gloves. Gloves, are an impulse purchase, second only to batteries, says Story.

“Gloves must be placed at the register and on clip strips down the aisles,” she says.
Story adds that consumers want to buy cleaning products that have a familiar brand name. She notes that Soft Scrub has 97% brand awareness and is carried by more than 90% of all retailers. Consumers also want other details such as gloves that are sized correctly, so Big Time is offering sizing based on consumer research.

Products change, but one thing remains constant and that is that no wants to waste money. “It really boils down to efficacy,” says Rigley, from J.R. Watkins. “The marketplace is seeing a spike in natural offerings, but if the product doesn’t work, then consumers aren’t going to be repeat buyers.”

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