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Plenty of Opportunities In Household Cleaning



New cleaning ideas hold promise



Published November 9, 2005
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Plenty of Opportunities In Household Cleaning


Suddenly, dirt isn't quite so dirty. Not with the threat of anthrax contamination spreading throughout the U.S. Although many industry observers are quick to point out that traditional household cleaners may not be effective against the potentially lethal bacteria, the widespread media at- tention has helped spread the message about cleanliness.

Several manufacturers of household cleaning products noted that they have received a number of calls from panicky consumers who want to know if common household cleaners are effective against biological weapons such as anthrax and smallpox. In every case, marketers are telling callers to contact local authorities to report suspicious substances. In the near term, consumers may be obsessed with the anthrax issue, but in the long term, they'll still demand household cleaning products that work quickly, easily and with minimal effort.

Alticor, the parent of Amway, is focusing on three core household categories: laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent and hard surface cleaning.
"We know consumers want quick and easy solutions," noted Monica Collins, a spokesperson for Procter & Gamble. "Overall cleaning performance and convenience are the primary drivers in the market."

Added Marvin Matises, a principal of the Galileo Idea Group, a new product development company based in Naperville, IL, "Manufacturers are trying to eliminate any style of cleaning that involves elbow grease."

The Impact of Anthrax

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it will prioritize the review and registration of products that can be used against anthrax. The Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA) has noted that the industry is constantly developing new products to provide additional protection in homes and institutions.

But before consumers started stockpiling an assortment of cleaners in an effort to combat the threat of anthrax, the Consumer Specialty Products Association warned that household and institutional disinfectants and disinfectant cleaners should not be viewed as a defense from anthrax.

"Household disinfectants provide important protection under normal circumstances, but their usefulness would be limited in an anthrax exposure," noted Christopher Cathcart, CSPA's president and chief operating officer.

"If anyone feels they have been exposed to anthrax, they should immediately move away from suspicious material, notify health and law enforcement authorities and take common sense hygiene measures, such as washing hands and changing clothes."

CSPA said the recent anthrax attacks have resulted in a rash of inquiries about the effectiveness of over-the-counter disinfecting products. Because of the risk of infection from highly refined anthrax spores and the difficulty of complete decontamination, disinfection in suspected exposures should always be the responsibility of public health professionals.

Still, with anthrax in the news, household cleaning product manufacturers have noticed a renewed interest in cleaning. "The terrorist activity has created a heightened awareness among consumers about the need to disinfect," noted Alan Cohen, vice president, marketing and product development, Zep Manufacturing.

By the Numbers

Procter & Gamble thinks Swiffer WetJet may be the first in a whole new category of household cleaners.
According to Information Resources, Inc., (IRI) Chicago, sales of traditional household cleaning products in supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandisers fell 4.8% to nearly $2.4 billion for the year ended Aug. 12 (see chart below). What's worse, nearly every product category tracked by IRI recorded a decline in sales. The only category to buck the downward move was chimney cleaners/soot removers, a tiny segment in the household cleaning category.

But it's not all gloom and doom when it comes to household cleaners. That's because demand for wipe products continues to heat up. IRI tracks these products separately under a household cleaner cloth banner. According to IRI data, sales of cleaner cloths jumped more than 104% to $168 million. By cloth type, all-purpose cloths account for nearly 79% of sales, followed by furniture polish cloths (15.1%), glass cleaner (3.8%), metal cleaner (1.9%) and scouring cleaner (0.3%) (see chart next page).

Wipes are Still Winners
Like many other consumer product categories, convenience continues to propel demand for cleaning cloths. One of the newest products on the market is Armor All Leather Wipes, designed specifically for a car's leather interior. The wipes are specially formulated to safely clean and protect car leather upholstery, according to Clorox. The pre-moistened wipes effectively remove dirt and soil while also protecting leather against spills and stains. They provide a one-step solution to help protect the appearance and feel of leather to keep it looking like new. Armor All Leather Wipes debuted in October in mass merchandisers, auto supply retailers and select grocery and drug stores. The wipes retail for approximately $3.99.

With the introduction of Armor All Leather Wipes, Clorox is combining fast-growing consumer demand for wipe-type products with a growing consumer preference for leather interiors. According to a Ward's Automotive report, between 1997 and 1999, the number of new vehicles with leather upholstery increased 56%. In addition, the number of vans and SUV vehicles installed with leather increased 64% over the same time period. Based on this information, it has been projected that new vehicles with leather now account for 26% of total new vehicles.

"With the rising popularity of leather in vehicles, we have found that many consumers want an easy way to take care of their leather upholstery," said Suzanne Thompson, research and development director, Armor All.

Leather Wipes are just the latest line of wipes introduced under the Armor All brand. Earlier this year, it launched three new wipe products: Armor All cleaning wipes, Armor All protectant wipes and Armor All glass wipes. Each one is designed to address a specific car care need.

Procter's Gamble
Nearly every player in the household cleaning product category has introduced some sort of nonwoven cleaning cloth during the past two years. But in September, Procter & Gamble upped the ante considerably with the introduction of Swiffer WetJet, an all-in-one floor cleaning appliance. The WetJet comes with a high flying price tag too—at $50 it's much more than P&G traditionally charges for its cleaning products.

"We're pleased with the success of Swiffer WetJet," insisted Ms. Collins. "In panel studies, consumers offered to pay double for Swiffer WetJet. They see the benefit of having an all-in-one cleaning appliance."

Swiffer WetJet combines a super-absorbent cleaning pad, a pre-mixed ready-to-use cleaning solution and a battery-operated cleaning appliance within a single cleaning system. The consumer just presses a button on the handle and the cleaning solution is dispensed to dissolve soil. The super-absorbent pad draws in the dirty solution to help prevent it from being redeposited onto the floor.

"Consumers love the product; one woman even told us she enjoys cleaning floors now," insisted Ms. Collins of P&G. "Many people have told us they can't believe how easy it is to use."

One of the reasons consumers enjoy using the product is the time they save. According to Ms. Collins, Swiffer WetJet works twice as fast as the traditional mop and bucket method and it's easy to use.

"Global studies found a common desire to eliminate the strain and fatigue of floor cleaning, which was rated as one of the most tiring and unpleasant tasks," said Maurice Coffey, Swiffer WetJet brand manager.

The WetJet starter kit includes the device, six pads, solution and batteries. A 1-liter refill solution costs $3.49, 12 pack refill pads cost $5.99, Club Pak starter kit (including implement, 30 pads, five cartridges/solution and batteries) costs $56.57 and Club Pak refill (24 pads, four cartridges of solution) costs $17.09.

Getting a Handle on Soap Pads
P&G isn't the only marketer trying to get a handle on household chores. In October, Church & Dwight introduced the Brillo Gripper. The handle-type device attaches to the pad. It's included in every 18-count or larger package of Brillo soap pads.

"Steel wool is uncomfortable to hold and there's always the Ôyuck' factor when it comes to touching food particles that get trapped in the pad," explained Lillie Brown-McNeill, director of marketing, household cleaners. "Consumers can clean faster and easier and when they're done, they just squeeze the handle and the pad drops off. They never have to touch the pad again."

According to Ms. Brown-McNeill, retailers have been very enthusiastic about the Brillo Gripper. She called the patent-pending gripper the first innovation in steel wool in 15 years. Church & Dwight executives expect the Brillo Gripper will provide a boost to scouring pad sales. According to IRI, sales of scouring pads fell 3.5% to just under $149 million for the year ended Aug. 12. At the same time, unit sales dropped 8.1% to 87 million units.

Clorox, the leading manufacturer in the steel wool category, announced last month that it will has entered into an agreement to transfer production of S.O.S steel-wool soap pads from its Bedford Park, IL, manufacturing facility to third-party manufacturer Global Material Technologies, Inc. (GMT) of Chicago. Terms were not disclosed.

Based in Palatine, IL, the privately-owned GMT is a diversified manufacturing company with more than 50 years experience manufacturing soap pads in the U.S. and UK.

Production from the Bedford Park facility's five production and packaging lines will transition to GMT over several months, after which Clorox will close the facility and then offer it for sale. The company will offer the Bedford Park employees a severance and benefits package, including outplacement services.

"Closing the Bedford Park facility was a difficult decision to make," said Anthony Biebl, Clorox senior vice president, product supply, in a statement. "Over the years, the employees in Bedford Park have made a significant contribution to the business. But since this is the only domestic plant where Clorox produces steel-wool soap pads, we don't get the economies of scale we enjoy with some of our other production operations.

By transferring this production to GMT, we can make better use of our assets and long term, that's in the best interest of Clorox and our shareholders."

The Bedford Park facility employs about 95 people. The plant opened in 1954, and Clorox purchased it from Miles Inc. in 1994.

Home Sweet Home

While many marketers slug it out on supermarket store shelves, one manufacturer of industrial and institutional cleaners has forged success by offering its products in Home Depot. For nearly three years, Zep Manufacturing, a division of National Service Industries, Atlanta, has offered a broad assortment of cleaning products at the leading do-it-yourself retailer in the U.S.

"We're constantly introducing new products," noted Mr. Cohen. "Innova- tion is one of our strengths and we have very good formulas developed through the I&I side of our business that also are terrific to sell at retail."

Mr. Cohen noted that many Zep products have been well received by home owners as well as a broad assortment of contractors. Some of the best-selling Zep products at Home Depot include floor care items, cleaners and degreasers and a carpet cleaner. According to Mr. Cohen, the company will maintain its exclusive agreement with Home Depot. However, another NSI brand, Enforcer, is available at Lowe's, a primary competitor to Home Depot. The Enforcer brand includes plumbing, rodenticide and insecticide products. Enforcer has been sold in local hardware stores for years, according to Mr. Cohen.

Black is Back

In the 1990s, inventor Bob Black created quite a stir in the household cleaning category with the launch of Clean Shower, a product that promised to clean a shower without any time-consuming or back-breaking labor.

But, as quickly as he entered the category, Mr. Black exited it by selling Clean Shower to Church & Dwight in 1999 for an undisclosed sum. "Church & Dwight could make more money on it than we could because of advertising support," he explained.

Following the sale, Mr. Black took some time off, sailing his catamaran and building a house in Florida. Now, however, he's ready for a new round of bathroom battles, with his latest invention, tentatively dubbed Clean Toilet.

"I'm ready to go back to work," Mr. Black told Happi. "It would be a shame if this product didn't get produced. It is philosophically the same idea as Clean Shower."

The patented concept (U.S. patents 6,211,128 and 6,192,524) involves a holder that dispenses cleaning solution on a regular basis under the toilet rim. The consumer only has to replace the pellets once a week. Mr. Black insists the product effectively cleans stains above and below the water line. In contrast, other products are simply rinsed off at or above the water line as the toilet bowl refills.

Mr. Black said he expects the product to reach market by mid-2002. "I'm still nine months away," he conceded. "I want to spend time with my family during Christmas and then I'll get serious after the first of the year."

To get Clean Shower up and running Mr. Black spent much of his time searching for funding. This time around, he's confident that finding money will be a lot easier after his initial success with Clean Shower. Once the new, yet-to-be-named company is established, it will follow the same marketing formula that made Clean Shower a success. Introductions will be made one market at a time and then one region at a time. Mr. Black said it could take as long as one year for the product to reach national distribution.

And what happens when Clean Toilet is available coast to coast? "A week after that I'll sell it," he insisted. Mr. Black said that during its first year of distribution, Clean Shower should enjoy sales growth of 20% a month, which means sales will double every three-and-a-half months. When sales top the $50 million mark, Mr. Black will begin searching for a buyer.

Most of the original Clean Shower team has been reassembled to launch the new product and Mr. Black said he lured them back with the promise of more wealth. "I've been telling folks we want to be unemployed and enjoying it within a couple of years," he joked.

Mr. Black said he's not worried about a multinational firm launching a me-too product and flooding the market with a multi-million dollar advertising campaign. "I've covered the chemistry and the mechanics pretty well in the patents," he insisted. "It's going to be tough for anybody to do something. Two years from now, though, S.C. Johnson can buy it."

If all goes according to plan, Mr. Black will take more time off to ponder new categories. He's already received a patent for cleaning composition to treat dust mites (6,239,166). "They're nasty critters," he told Happi.

But when Mr. Black returns to the household cleaning segment sometime next year, he'll face a new competitor in the toilet bowl cleaning category. For years, Chicago based Sara Lee has been a major player in the European household cleaning segment. But last year, the company decided to focus on the U.S. market by introducing Ambi Pur LiquiFresh two-in-one toilet bowl cleaner/air freshener. The launch helped propel Sara Lee's unit volume 11% in the household products segment. In June, Sara Lee expanded product offerings with the launch of Ambi Pur Sparking Fresh Mint.

"Ambi Pur combines two benefits that make perfect sense in the bathroom," noted Mr. Matises. "It eliminates the need for a separate air freshener, which is a very important value-added feature."

Mr. Matises pointed out that in the past, consumers never realized it was time to change their bathroom air freshener because manufacturers placed too much emphasis on making the product look good in a flowery dispenser. It became too easy for consumers to forget about replacing all those air fresheners when they were no longer effective. But with Ambi Pur, consumers can easily see when it is time to replace the product.

Beyond the Bathroom
While some companies focus their attention on bathroom cleaning chores, others are centering on the dishwasher. Alticor, for example, recently introduced Dish Drops automatic tablets in North America and plans to introduce the product in Western Europe next year.

"We see a trend toward tablets," said Don Bushman, section leader, home care research and development, Alticor. "They meet the convenience needs of consumers because they are premeasured."

Alticor is the parent company of Amway, which distributes consumer products in a wide range of categories. With Alticor's direct sales strategy, the individually-wrapped tablet format makes it easy for business owners to sample the product. The company is also launching tablet products in other categories. SA8 Laundry Tablets will debut in North America in March and in Western Europe by June 2002.

But the focus on tablets is only part of Alticor's strategy. The company is launching a reformulated version of Dish Drops Automatic Powder in North America this month and will expand to Europe early next year. The reformulated powder features a new enzyme that increases Dish Drops' ability to remove starches. The packaging has also been updated to include a pour spout for more accurate dispensing.

In Asia, Dish Drops Automatic Phosphate Free automatic dishwashing detergent will debut in Japan this month, in Korea in February and expand into Europe by June 2002.

These introductions are just a portion of the company's strategy to aggressively manage its portfolio of products. According to Mr. Bushman, Alticor will focus on three household brands: LOC, a line of household cleaners, SA8 laundry detergent and Dish Drops dishwash detergent. "We want to focus on three brands, each with a brand promise that the consumer can understand," explained Mr. Bushman.

"Dish Drops has been around for more than 30 years and has more brand equity than Crystal Bright (North America) and Dish Magic (Western Europe)," explained Jim Wood, brand manager, home care, Alticor.

"These moves enable us to capitalize on our power brands. We're aggressively managing our portfolio by divesting old brands, and launching new products to keep the excitement level up and motivate our distributors."

While Alticor puts its faith in Dish Drops, P&G has boosted the fragrance capabilities of its automatic dishwashing brand with the launch of Cascade Scent Expressions. The product, which debuted earlier this year, includes heat-activated fragrance technology that works with the dishwasher's venting process. Whenever the dishwasher vents, a scent is released.

"There's a huge trend of consumers looking for scent-pleasing products," said Ms. Collins. "Scent Expressions creates an inviting and invigorating fragrance for consumers."

The High Price of Ozone
Most manufacturers continue to introduce traditional household cleaning products, but Waterpik, Fort Collins, CO, has just launched a high-priced home appliance that uses ozone to kill germs and bacteria. The Aquia Sanitizing System is said to kill more than 99% of household germs without leaving chemical or toxic residue.

The system is an entirely new way to help consumers keep their homes free of deadly germs and bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, according to the company. Since ozonated water from the Aquia Sanitizing System leaves no chemical or toxic residue, it is safe to use on food. According to Waterpik, the Aquia Sanitizing System is one of the only products available on the market today that can be used on food and kills more than 99% of harmful germs and bacteria on hard, non-porous surfaces, thus greatly reducing the risk of food-borne disease.

When ozonated water from the Aquia Sanitizing System contacts food or non-porous surfaces, ozone attacks and destroys germs and bacteria, leaving behind a surface or food product that is up to 99% sanitized. The Aquia Sanitizing System is available in three kitchen variations, which include a sprayer, a carafe and a sprayer/carafe combination. The nursery product is available as a sprayer only. Prices range from $149.99 to $229.99. It is available in select retail outlets.

A Comet's Return
In today's global economy, many multinational firms are jettisoning smaller brands to concentrate on ones that have the potential to become billion dollar brands. As a result, some well-known brands have new owners. Earlier this year, P&G sold its Spic 'n Span and Cinch brands to The Shansby Group, a San Francisco-based private equity partnership. The new company, based in Irvington, NY, is called The Spic and Span Company.

More recently, in October, DB Capital Partners, the private equity arm of Deutsche Bank, announced that Prestige Brands International (PBI), one of its portfolio companies, had acquired the Comet brand from P&G. Comet cleanser is PBI's third acquisition, and expands the company's portfolio into the household cleaning category. In November 1999 PBI purchased Prell shampoo, another P&G brand. A few months later, it acquired Chloraseptic throat sprays and lozenges. All are part of BPI's plans to secure a stable business platform built on three legs: personal care, household care and over-the-counter remedies.

"All three are stable categories to be in," noted Elise Donahue, president and chief operating officer of PBI. "Consumers are always going to have a need for these products."

After purchasing Prell and Chloraseptic, Ms. Donahue and Ted Host, chief executive officer, PBI, searched for a household cleaning brand with a strong consumer heritage. "Comet fit our criteria, it's an American icon," said Ms. Donahue. "Everybody knows Comet; its consumer awareness range is in the high 90s. Plus, consumers are loyal to the brand."

According to Mr. Host, Comet's brand image is so strong, it can become a player in a variety of household cleaning segments. For now though, PBI will focus on improving the brand's share in the gel and liquid spray segment. To do that, PBI is planning to air television commercials, increase consumer promotions and print free-standing inserts which will appear in publications starting this month.

A Member of the Family

According to the PBI executives, Procter & Gamble did not support the brand since the mid-1990s, yet all that will change under new ownership.

"P&G has so many products and is active in so many segments that Comet didn't get a lot of attention," insisted Mr. Host. "Comet, Prell and Chloraseptic are like our children. We'll give them the attention they deserve."

As PBI attends to its existing brood, the company is actively seeking to add to its family. According to Mr. Host, Prestige Brands International could ultimately include as many as 12 brands, as long as they fall into one of the three aforementioned categories and have high consumer awareness.

The PBI executives, like many others in the household and personal products industry, are comfortable with their portfolio in an unsettled economy.

"The products we're talking about are recession-resistant," noted Mr. Host. "It's no accident that we're in these categories."

Now that the longest economic expansion in U.S. history is history, the stability provided by cleaners, cleansers and wipes has never looked quite so good.


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