The Seventh World Conference on Detergents (see p. 94 in this issue) was a huge success—every presentation was insightful and entertaining. I’ve been attending conferences, seminars and congresses around the world for more than 20 years and this was the first and only one that didn’t have at least one session that nearly put me to sleep. The no-doze factor is probably due to the fact that the World Conference on Detergents (WCD) is only held every four years, which gives the speakers plenty of fodder to review what’s truly new and important. Too often, when conferences and congresses are held every year, there’s not a whole lot new to report.
The WCD benefited from having the three chief executive officers of the leading detergent companies as keynote speakers. When P&G, Unilever and Henkel leaders are willing to take the time to travel to Switzerland and share their thoughts, it’s a good idea to sit up, listen and take a few notes!
All three of them, Bob McDonald of P&G, Paul Polman of Unilever and Kasper Rorsted of Henkel, touched on the importance of emerging markets. But only Polman suggested moving the 8th WCD to a major city in an emerging market like Mumbai. Polman’s suggestion will probably fall on deaf ears. After all, Montreux is beautiful and fantastic…and familiar. I’ve told more than a few people that I’ve become so familiar with the city that the only direction I need from my home in Ramsey, NJ to my Montreux hotel is, do I make a left or right at the Freddy Mercury statue on the Lake Geneva shoreline?
Unfortunately, familiarity usually leads to complacency. There are too many issues facing the global household and personal products industry it take it all in stride—issues such as water usage, energy consumption and personal hygiene in developing worlds. A change in venue might shake everyone up and be a real sign about the industry’s commitment to emerging markets.
I asked one of the WCD speakers if he thought that the industry would make strides on these and other issues by the time the next conference is held in 2014. “Not a chance,” he replied, observing that the industry will have to be on a state of collapse before it makes real changes.
Too bad. The WCD might just be the perfect springboard to real change in the laundry detergent business, but somebody has to be willing to make that leap. Getting the industry out of its comfort zone is a start. I wonder what the weather’s like in Mumbai in October?