Efficacy is key for home care products, but increasingly so is health and safety as consumers continue to look for natural alternatives to toxic household items.
It seems consumers are always looking to detoxify their body through diet. But what about the home? The average consumer has dozens of harmful toxins and chemicals within arm’s reach whether it is under the kitchen sink or in the linen closet.
Last year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization focused on environment and public health, published its Cleaners Hall of Shame List. According to the EWG’s study into home care, 53% of cleaning products under review contained lung-harming ingredients. Several contained asthma instigators, poisons and carcinogens like formaldehyde and chloroform.
As awareness regarding the dangerous effects of these products increases, so does demand for healthy alternatives. Consumers are seeking natural home care products more than ever before, and many manufacturers are answering the call to action.
“For us, natural is not a trend,” says J.R. Rigley, president and chief marketing officer for J.R. Watkins. The Winona, Minn.-based company has been manufacturing natural home care products since 1868. Today’s retail marketplace is beginning to reflect that statement as natural permeates every category and aisle in the store, in addition to the home.
“Today’s consumer is internet savvy, informed and looking for transparency. They are reading labels and making their choices according to what is truly green, safe, affordable and effective,” says Vivian Panou, market specialist for Addison, Ill.-based Earth Friendly Products.
For many years, making these healthy choices was primarily kept within food and beverage products. Now industry observers say that emphasis has spread into home products. To meet the need many retailers are driving assortment and merchandising, bringing in new users and driving profitability.
“Our distribution is giving us the opportunity to be in front of new customers and our value is what is enticing them to actually try our green products. What keeps them hooked is the fact that our green chemistry actually works,” Panou adds.
A core challenge with natural products is that consumers have a hard time believing that they can really work, observers say. Efficacy is priority number one for any consumer, regardless of their personal preference for natural.
“The natural home care category is thriving. We’ve seen continued growth in dishwashing, laundry and household cleaners as more consumers realize they don’t need to compromise on efficacy or value to get products that are good for their families and the environment,” says Brendan Taylor, senior brand manger for Seventh Generation, based in Burlington, Vt. “The reality is, some green products, like those from Seventh Generation, work really well and don’t cost much more than conventional options. It’s a win-win for consumers and it is resulting in steady growth in home care categories that are generally flat.”
Consumers are also more focused on the correlation between the cleanliness of the home and the health of their families. Asthma and allergies are some of the top health issues today, and both can be heavily affected by environment.
According to Mintel’s June 2013 report, Cleaning the House—US, 23% of women ages 35-54 and 25% of women ages 18-34 believe the household products they buy should be as environmentally friendly as possible. Twenty-five percent to 30% of women in those age groups also believe natural cleaning products are healthier than conventional products.
“Housecleaning is a time-consuming but emotionally satisfying task that consumers view as important not only in making their homes presentable but also in keeping their families healthy,” says John Owen, senior household analyst at Mintel, a Chicago-based market research firm. “While housecleaners express interest in products that make cleaning faster and more efficient, they are more likely to prioritize cleaning effectiveness,” he said.
Observers say that in order to create a successful green home care category, these products must be placed next to the conventional variety.
“We’ve seen that when merchandised both with conventional products and in a dedicated natural set, retailers maximize the sales and profit potential of natural home care products. Education and signage are also critical components,” says Taylor.
The natural consumer is seeking home care products that are formulated to avoid questionable ingredients like ammonia, chlorine bleach, parabens, phthalates and phosphates, while remaining effective. Transparency of ingredients is critical to their purchase behavior, observers say. “Consumers are more and more aware of toxins in their lives and don’t want their cleaning products to contribute to the problem with questionable ingredients like VOCs [Volatile Organic Compounds] and synthetic dyes,” Taylor adds.
“As we see more and more consumers who realize the benefit of having products that are safe for their home, their children and the environment we are confident that sales will only continue to rise. Research shows that Millennials are more concerned about buying green, safe products for their home and families,” Panou says.
When shopping the home care aisle, natural consumers are looking for a wide range of products to use throughout the house, preferably in a variety of dynamic scents to differentiate their living quarters and to allow each member of the household the opportunity for personalization. A little aromatherapy never hurts either, especially during the daily chores.
Over the summer, J.R. Watkins introduced its three most popular home care products in a new White Tea & Bamboo scent. Available in an All Purpose Cleaner, Hand Soap and Dish soap, the new scent blends bright citrus and bold florals, ending with a deep woods note for a fresh, crisp and clean fragrance. The brand also manufactures products in Lemon, Grapefruit, Lavender and Aloe & Green Tea scents to match consumers’ personal preferences.
Home care manufacturers are also proficient in capitalizing on consumers’ seasonal preferences. Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day recently introduced its 2013 Holiday Collection. Available in Liquid Dish Soap, Liquid Hand Soap, Countertop Spray and a 4.9-ounce Scented Soy Candle, the collection comes in an Iowa Pine, Orange Clove or Cranberry scent to satisfy shoppers throughout the winter season.
The Minneapolis, Minn.-based company manufactures a complete line of home care and laundry products in aroma-therapeutic, garden-inspired scents including Basil, Lemon Verbena, Geranium, Radish and Sunflower, its newest scent launched in August. Company officials say all Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day cleaners are made from plant-derived ingredients and essential oils, are earth-friendly and phosphate-free. The products are cruelty-free, biodegradable, packaged in recyclable bottles and are free of ammonia, chlorine bleach, parabens and phthalates, they add.
The green consumer also seeks products that harness the multiple uses of natural ingredients, say observers. Biokleen Sport Laundry Liquid features specialized enzymes that target and neutralize perspiration odors plus lavender and eucalyptus extracts to lift off consumer’s toughest stains, while providing a refreshing scent. Manufactured by Vancouver, Wash.-based Bi-O-Kleen Industries, the company prides itself on 100% full ingredient disclosure for all its products, which contain no artificial fragrance, colors or preservatives.
Cracking down on clean
The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning reviews and rates more than 2,000 popular household cleaning products with grades A through F, based on the safety of their ingredients and the information they disclose about their contents. In the making of the guide, the Washington, D.C.-based EWG found that hazardous industrial chemicals lurk in far more bottles and boxes under consumers’ sinks and on laundry room shelves then they may be aware.
“Cleaning your home can come at a high price—cancer-causing chemicals in the air, an asthma attack from fumes or serious skin burns from an accidental spill,” says Jane Houlihan, EWG senior vice president for research and co-author of the EWG Cleaners Hall of Shame. “Almost any ingredient is legal and almost none of them are labeled, leaving families at risk. Our Hall of Shame products don’t belong in the home.”
According to the EWG, just 7% of cleaning products adequately disclosed their contents. Ingredient labels are mandatory for food, cosmetics and drugs—but not for cleaning products.
EWG’s key scientific findings include:
Some 53% of cleaning products assessed by EWG contain ingredients known to harm the lungs. About 22% contain chemicals reported to cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy individuals.
Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, is sometimes used as a preservative or may be released by other preservatives in cleaning products. It may form when terpenes, found in citrus and pine oil cleaners and in some essential oils used as scents, react with ozone in the air.
The chemical 1,4-dioxane, a suspected human carcinogen, is a common contaminant of widely-used detergent chemicals.
Chloroform, a suspected human carcinogen, sometimes escapes in fumes released by products containing chlorine bleach.
Quaternary ammonium compounds (“quats”) like benzalkonium chloride, found in antibacterial spray cleaners and fabric softeners, can cause asthma.
Sodium borate, also known as borax, and boric acid are added to many products as cleaning agents, enzyme stabilizers or for other functions. They can disrupt the hormone system.