By Barrie Dawson
Cleaning product manufacturers are continually trying to reinvent the category to generate sales.
It seems that the cleaning products category is always being pulled in two very different directions. In some ways, cleaning products never change. Buckets, sponges, mops, water, detergent and a little elbow grease are the tools of the trade for anyone looking to maintain a clean home, just as they have been for centuries.
Yet, in other ways, the category never stays the same. Manufacturers are forever coming up with new formulas, new packages, new display ideas, new fragrances, new colors, new anything and everything that will make their products distinct, if not superior.
While this tug of war has always been part of the industry, it also means that retailers must keep a close eye on trends in the category and make sure that they have the right items shoppers are looking for.
“If you’re talking about all-purpose cleaners—products such as our Pinalen, or Pine-Sol and Lysol for American brands—you’ll find that there has been very little to no innovation or excitement in that category for a substantial number of years,” says John Wagner, director of sales for Houston-based AlEn USA, a subsidiary of Mexico’s Industrias AlEn. “We recently launched a very innovative product called Pinalen Max Aromas, and it combines the powerful cleaning properties of a cleaner with a timed-release scent formula. Sometimes you’ll hear it called scent release, microcapsules, which is a new, innovative formulation for our products for 2013.”
Timed, scent-release products are not new, but as Wagner says, they have been found mostly only in the laundry and fabric-softener categories until now. “With Swiffers and all the other innovative disinfectant wipes, there aren’t a lot of manufacturers focusing on all-purpose cleaners like AlEn USA,” he says.
Maybe not, but most manufacturers have not abandoned the basics. “I think that we’re seeing kind of a return to traditional cleaning,” says Michael Silverman, senior vice president of marketing for Marlborough, Mass.-based Butler Home Products, which holds the licensing for Cincinnati-based Proctor & Gamble’s Mr. Clean and Dawn product lines. “I think with the economic times as they are, we’re seeing a transition from disposable cleaning back to traditional cleaning. I also see that people are looking at lower price points for products across the board because they’re being stretched paycheck to paycheck.”
That may be true, but one of Butler’s new products is disposable. “We’re focused a lot this year on bathroom cleaning,” Silverman says. “We’re launching a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser toilet scrubber, which will do the job faster and better than current products on the market. It falls into the category of a disposable cleaning product, but when dealing with the toilet, disposable is not necessarily a bad thing.”
They are using the Magic Eraser technology; which Silverman says is a scrubbing material that is mildly abrasive but highly effective. He adds that the product can be used on multiple toilets before the cleaning puck that does the cleaning needs to be disposed of and replaced.
Butler is also launching a product with a timed scent-release component, a co-branded product with Proctor & Gamble that pairs Mr. Clean with Febreze. “The Febreze brand from Proctor & Gamble has launched two new products over the last year. One is called Set & Refresh and the other one is called Stick & Refresh. It’s an oil-based cartridge that will impart a scent over 30 days,” Silverman says.
Under the Mr. Clean brand, Butler is also unveiling a household glove, which company officials call Loving Hands. It is a long-cuffed, orange glove that comes in three sizes and is made from a triblend—latex, nitrile and neoprene—that is designed to provide extra durability and be useable for those with latex allergies.
Hand protection is the business of Big Time Products. The 10-year-old Rome, Ga.-based company markets gloves of all kinds under such labels as Firm Grip, True Grip, Caring Hands, Grease Monkey, Medic’s Choice and others among its more than 300 hand-protection products. It is also the licensee for Soft Scrub and Wrangler gloves, and, according to Russ Householder, the company’s chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales and marketing, Big Time Products merchandise is in more than 30,000 retail outlets across the U.S.
“The nitrile product is the trend, away from latex and vinyl, as far as the upper end line,” Householder says. “It’s a little bit stronger than the latex—it won’t rip or tear as easily. On our nitrile gloves, you have the textured finger and the palm grip, so if you have a cleaning tool in your hand, you’ve got a better grip.”
Another emerging trend is the comfort factor with cleaning gloves. “Consumers put the cleaning gloves on to protect their skin from chemicals, bacteria, etc., but our customers also want to be comfortable, so we came out with our premium comfort line. It’s got the extra soft cotton lining on the inside, and it’s easy on, easy off,” says Householder.
Big Time Products officials add that they are more than eager to make selling its products easy for the retailer, too. “It’s as important for us to drive sales as it is for our customer,” Householder. “We have systems in place where we can track point-of-sale purchases. We know where the locations of the gloves should be. We know what the size range in each of the locations should be, whether it be the food and grocery channel, the hardware channel, the automotive channel. We’ve done the research.”
AlEn USA’s Wagner says they are also ready, willing and able to help retailers. He says that as one of the leading manufacturers in its categories, with regard to ready-to-display pallet mods, AlEn was the first in the industry to come out with a ready-to-display pallet for bagged, powdered laundry detergents.
“If anyone has ever purchased dog food—you see how it’s displayed in the store; it’s stacked up, the bags are stacked on milk crates—that’s the same way other companies display powdered detergent,” he says. “It’s very labor-intensive, very prone to damage when they cut those boxes open. Ours come in a ready to display—full-colored pallet, the cases are already precut. We have over 35 different ready-to-display pallets across all the brands and categories we participate in. There’s a labor savings there. They’re full-color, they get the product to the floor, and they’re an excellent merchandising tool.”
Half of Whink Products sales come from its rust remover, which changes the molecular structure of rust. A myriad of other products, including its cook-top cleaner, represents the other half. New from the Eldora, Iowa-based company is a prewash that blends old-fashioned borax with modern-day enzymes that is institutional strength and geared primarily for the health-care industry.
Whink is also introducing a Power of the Pyramid marketing scheme. “It’s a very stable pyramid-shaped bottle, 22-ounces, that’s very difficult to knock over, which we feel is important—especially in the laundry room,” says Steve Throssel, the president and CEO of the company. Whink plans to introduce a carpet-cleaning product in a similar package later this year.
One of the primary trends in the industry that Throssel notices is the increasingly pronounced divide among customers—those who have plenty of money and do not care how much products cost, and those with $25 in their pockets and are uncertain when they will have their next $25. With that in mind, Whink’s products are packaged accordingly.
“The 22-ounce bottle fits in with our family, so you’ve got a 6-, 10-, 16- and now a 22-ounce, all in a family of squeezables. So we have that range—the 6-ounce for the consumer who’s only got $25 in his pocket and the 22-ounce on the upper end for the consumer who wants the best value per ounce.”
Throssel is also very aware of color in packaging and tries to use it to his company’s advantage. “Each one of our labels tells a story,” he says. “It’s an easy-to-read story. The label says what it does. If you look at the label, there’s a lot of color, a lot of action going on. We’re sort of the opposite of the IKEA generation. We’re not a turn-the-lights-on-low-and-open-a-bottle-of-wine. We’re a roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-out-a-bucket and get the job done.”
Zero Odor has built a national customer base through direct-to-consumer marketing. The Litchfield, Conn.-based company has since made its products available via several specialty retailers and is now trying to make its odor-removing products available in grocery stores.
Jim Huffstetler, founding partner and chief operating officer, says that there are three basic approaches consumers look for in air-freshening products: A masking approach, which relies on fragrances to cover up odors; encapsulators, which attach themselves to odor molecules and absorbs them; and an enzyme-based approach, which microorganisms eat bacteria.
A new “source”
In a category that sports some very well established companies it could be said that Innovasource is way behind its competitors. Formed in 2007, the Huntersville, N.C.-based company’s PROXI line of home-, personal- and oral-care cleaning products has only been available to consumers in the eastern U.S. for about a year and has yet to go national.
Yet in some ways Innovasource is way ahead of the curve. As demand grows for environmentally sensitive products and full-disclosure labeling, the company is at the forefront of the category. Meanwhile, some of its bigger, better-known competitors are scrambling to comply.
“We’re filling a niche that is probably going to be the main category within five years,” Innovasource President Kenn Vest says. “Some information suggests that the green household category is growing at 25% to 30% a year. What will probably happen will suit us just fine, and that is that the major brands will improve their chemistry to be environmentally sensitive, and we’ll have already been in that niche.”
Innovasource’s mission is to provide environmentally friendly products that combine category-leading performance with innovative packaging, say company officials. The common ingredient in all its products is hydrogen peroxide, which Vest says plays a different role in each one.
“From the manufacturing side, there are two things that we’re all looking at,” Vest says. “The first one is performance. The days of ‘be all-natural and that’s good enough’ are long gone. The other subject in the industry that’s coming fast is a focus on the ingredients, whether it’s the EPA design for the environment or the rising pressure on manufacturers to list all of the ingredients on the back panel, like they do in personal care.”
According to Barbara Benton, Innovasource’s vice president of marketing, the household-cleaning industry has been moving toward full ingredient disclosure, but it is not there yet. “We were at the forefront of that from the time we started our products,” she says.
The question remains while consumers are becoming increasingly aware of ingredients, how many base a purchasing decision on which ones are in a product and which ones aren’t?
“It’s not everyone, but I think it’s a surprisingly large number, particularly if we’re talking about moms and women more so than men,” Vest says. “But it’s a rapidly growing audience that’s paying more attention to the subject, and it’s not in the 5% to 10%. Some signs indicate that it’s upwards of 75% of consumers who are reading labels. This is a trend that’s growing.”