With consumer concern spreading over germs, marketers are rolling out new disinfectant household products.
by Tom Branna, Editor
C oncern over germs continues to build. And that's good news for disinfectant manufacturers and, to a lesser extent, other household cleaner marketers. Antibacterial properties can now be found in a host of hard surface cleaners, dish detergents and, most recently, Brillo soap pads! On the regulatory front, FIFRA reform became a reality in the past year. But just as that battle was won, the chemical specialties industry may grapple with proposed new ambient air quality regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But even as Washington bureaucrats devise new regulations for industry, consumers are speaking with their pocketbooks and their demand is clear-bring on the disinfectants! Last year, several household cleaning product segments reported little or no growth, but sales of disinfectants surged 5.3%, according to ACNielsen.
That increase, say industry executives, is due to increased media coverage of germs lurking around the kitchen sink or bathtub. "Killing germs has become a cost-of-entry into the spray cleaning categories," asserted Mike McLain, CEO of DowBrands. "There will be more innovation around killing germs." He predicted that the industry will find new ways to clean and protect surfaces longer, noting that the insecticide industry has already moved from instant kill to more sophisticated microencapsulated products that provide long-lasting kill.
"This whole science of microencapsulation will, perhaps, lend itself to look at ways to add future germ-killing antibacterial claims," suggested Mr. McLain. But for now, DowBrands is busy with the launch of Dow Antibacterial multi-purpose cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner and concentrated cleaner. The three-item line debuted in stores in February. According to DowBrands' research, the introduction of Dow Antibacterial multi-purpose cleaner will fuel category growth by 12% with new users, while Dow Antibacterial toilet bowl cleaner will increase the category by 15% with new users.
Mr. McLain noted that the terms "disinfectant" and "antibacterial" mean different things to different consumers. As a result, there is some confusion on the part of the consumer, who may be eager to kill germs but isn't quite sure what product to use. But with its bold graphics, the new DowBrands products will end any confusion on the part of the consumer. "Our product is clearly positioned as an antibacterial cleaner and that positioning is carried very strongly on the shelf," said Mr. McLain. "It will give us an edge."
Fear of bacteria and germs have propelled sales of traditional disinfectants, but that fear has also led to the development of new products such as dishwashing detergents with antibacterial properties. Now the anti-bac angle has been added to another category: cleaning pads. Earlier this year Dial introduced an improved Brillo all-purpose cleaning pad that has antibacterial properties.
The pads contain the patented Aegis Microbe Shield, a colorless, odorless substance that is infused into the cleaning pad during manufacturing and maintains its effectiveness for the life of the pad. The Aegis Microbe Shield, according to Dial, is used in other consumer and medical products, such as disposable diapers, surgical drapes and air conditioning filters. Dial maintains that kitchen towels and sponges frequently serve as a breeding ground for germs that can cause illnesses. Ordinary sponges, for example, have 450 times more germs than antibacterial ones, according to the company.
But not all pads are created equal. The Environmental Protection Agency last month ordered 3M, St. Paul, MN to alter the sale and distribution of several unregistered kitchen products with pesticide-type claims. Instead 3M must provide placards to all sales representatives and retail outlets stating that the products do not kill germs on surfaces and advising consumers to use standard precautions to prevent transmission of food-borne illnesses. 3M must also withdraw all advertising making the pesticide-type claims. The company was granted a 90-day sell-though period following the March 20 ruling. The EPA ruling affects O-Cel-O sponge, O-Cel-O Sponge Scrubber Kitchen, O-Cel-O Sponge Scrubber Cookware and other 3M products making the following claims on their labels: "Kills Germs!, Like Salmonella & E. coli in the Sponge," "Kills germs that cause food-borne illnesses" and "Kills Salmonella, E. coli and Staph bacteria in the sponge."
Cleaner Restrooms Just a Spray Away
Disease-riddled sponges? Have consumers become too paranoid? Not at all, insisted David Morgan, president of EDM Technologies, Vandalia, OH. It's just that consumers, after being bombarded every day with reports in the media about hepatitis, e. coli and HIV, have become wary about germs.
To help consumers make their world a cleaner place, EDM manufactures SaniGuard, a pocket disinfectant spray that can be used to disinfect toilet seats, telephone receivers or any other place where germs breed. "I'm a clean freak," admitted Mr. Morgan. "People are more concerned about germs and they like the idea of being able to control their environment." Each container of SaniGuard holds 35 applications and retails for $4.95. "That's a lot cheaper than going to the docter to keep yourself healthy," said Mr. Morgan.
After testing the product in Dayton, OH, EDM now sells SaniGuard in several other Ohio cities including Toledo, Cincinnati, Columbus, Youngstown and Akron. Mr. Morgan said he would like to expand distribution of SaniGuard and he's looking for a national distributor. At the same time, he has his sights set on a larger audience. "This is a global product," he said, noting that the Japanese "are really germ conscious."
While he's trying to build a bigger audience for SaniGuard, Mr. Morgan said he is also developing institutional-size versions of his disinfectant spray and he told happi that EDM may introduce a pet care product later in the year. Despite the progress, Mr. Morgan admitted it hasn't been easy. "I thought inventing the product and getting it through the EPA registration was tough. I expected marketing to be a little easier, but I've discovered that marketing is not a science-it's an art." He said EDM is currently looking for a marketing professional to join the firm.
But no matter who Mr. Morgan recruits, the new employee will be up against some tough competition. After all, the household cleaning segment is dominated by marketing heavyweights such as Clorox, DowBrands, S.C. Johnson and others. And many of these multinationals are launching new products backed by big budgets.
This month Clorox is introducing new Formula 409 carpet cleaner, backed by a $10 million marketing campaign. Clorox will try to breathe new life into a category that fell 6% in dollar sales last year, according to Information Resources . The product performed well in test markets in Kansas City, MO and Nashville, TN, according to a company spokesperson. According to IRI, Reckitt & Colman's Resolve is the category leader with sales of $101.4 million, but its sales slipped 4.6% last year.
Clorox may be concentrating on carpet cleaners now, but later this year it will turn its attention to insecticides with the launch of new Combat and Black Flag products. If past performance is any indication of future growth, Clorox expects big things for its new product launches. The company credited its record sales volume in the second quarter of fiscal 1997 to several new products launched last year including S.O.S. scrubber sponges, Fresh Scent Clorox Clean-Up cleaner, Professional Strength Tilex instant mildew stain remover and Clorox Automatic Toilet Bowl Cleaner Blue plus bleach.
Those antibacterial cleaners are just the latest in a wave of new items from DowBrands. Last summer the company launched Dow Soap Scum Plus Mildew stain remover. Spray N Wash for White Laundry debuted last fall and in January, DowBrands introduced Fantastik with Bleach. These launches, along with a restructuring effort that refocused the company's efforts on its core businesses has helped DowBrands record six consecutive profitable quarters. "We made substantial profits last year but I tell our organization that it's only halftime," said Mr. McLain. "I'd like to be there in the premier packaged goods earnings category and that means 18-19% return on capital. That's our target."
A New Spin on Air Fresheners
S.C. Johnson & Son pioneered many of the technologies that are used to freshen indoor air. Its Glade brand has been in homes for more than 40 years and the Racine, WI-based company has used all those decades of knowledge to develop Glade Spin-Fresh, a fragrance cartridge that's hidden inside a bathroom tissue spindle.
"It's based on the same gel technology that we used in Glade Plug-Ins," explained Marilyn Blood, a company spokesperson. "It was a logical extension."
Spin-Fresh has two components: a replaceable fragrance cartridge and a bathroom tissue spindle. A light, fresh scent is continuously emitted from the spindle and the scent intensifies each time the spindle is spun. Each cartridge freshens a typical bathroom for up to 30 days, according to S.C. Johnson. A package containing one Spin-Fresh spindle and one fragrance cartridge costs about $2.29. Two-pack refill fragrance cartridges cost the same. Spin-Fresh is available in two scents: natural springs and spring orchard potpourri.
"Spin-Fresh fits nicely with the environmental philosophy of not using any more resources than necessary," noted Ms. Blood. "People like it and they've bought into the idea."
The introduction is the latest in the $1.2 billion environmental fragrance market-a segment that rose 4.7% in 1995, according to S.C. Johnson. The company maintains that Americans are spending more time at home but devoting less time to cleaning. As a result, they expect air fresheners and other cleaning products to work harder and longer.
While S.C. Johnson is doing its best to clear the air in the bathroom it's also improving the smell of closets throughout the country with the launch of Off! Moth Proofer. Each packet protects clothes just as well as old-fashioned mothballs, but without the unpleasant odor. The active ingredient is lavandin oil, an essential oil. Off! Moth Proofer protects clothes for three months in a closet. The product has another advantage, according to Ms. Blood. "There are 6000 poisonings in the U.S. each year that are related to mothballs," she said. Unlike mothballs, small children could never mistake the new Off! Moth Proofer for candy.
In January, S.C. Johnson introduced Shout Wipes, handy towelettes that enable consumers to start removing stains before they get home. Also in January the company launched Vanish Hang-ins. The in-tank toilet bowl cleaner is a restage of the Vanish Power System.
Will Particulates Get Regulated?
Although consumers are eager for new products, getting them to market as well as getting ingredients registered is often the hardest part in getting products on store shelves. The situation didn't get easier following the November 1996 proposal by EPA which called for new regulations on fine particulates (soot) and smog. However, some of the leading legislators in Washington oppose the EPA plan and one of them spoke at a recent industry meeting.
"We must improve how we measure air quality," said Senator John Chafee (R-RI). "The standard should not be susceptible to one day of bad weather." The senator said he supports forming regional groups to tackle areas that have difficulty attaining mandatory levels. After all, the Senator noted, pollutants have no boundaries. They can freely move from one state to another.
Senator Chafee is chairman of the senate environment and public works committee. He spoke at the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association's Government Affairs Conference, which was held March 4 in Washington, D.C.
He said the new smog standards would require an additional 25% reduction in emissions even though many areas are unable to reach current standards. Furthermore, the proposal would triple the number of counties for which pollution plans must be written. Senator Chafee warned that the proposed soot standards might ultimately require even more activity. "But no one knows the extent of controls that might be necessary because there is no systematic monitoring for this type of pollution," he asserted.
Senator Chafee played a leading role in developing the Clean Air Act of 1990 and told the audience he feared further tinkering with that legislation would hurt its long-term credibility. "It was a good Act, and we've seen tremendous achievements." Senator Chafee said that the U.S. has been "tremendously successful" in cleaning the air. During the past 25 years, $450 billion has been spent to clean the air and the money, he said, has been well spent. For example, the most recent report card issued by EPA indicated that pollution levels have been reduced by nearly 30% in that time and lead levels in the air have been reduced 98%.
"Let's move ahead if the scientific evidence fits," said Senator Chafee. "But right now there are gaps." According to the Senator, the EPA study showed a weak link between health problems and elevated soot levels. "It is not a solid foundation on which to build a regulatory platform," he charged.