Tablets. time-release and pre-treatment devices. Stain-battling enzymes. With the wealth of laundry detergent choices on today's shelves, consumers should be able to customize their laundry care now more than ever before.
But do they want to? Despite an unprecedented number of cleaning forms and line extensions in the laundry detergent market, the same giants emerged as the category's major players this year-in the same forms. Liquids, for example, topped powders at $3 billion in sales vs. $1.8 billion for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 7, 2001, according to Information Resources, Inc., Chicago. And Procter & Gamble, Lever Brothers and Dial were Nos. 1, 2 and 3 respectively in both liquid and powders, a repeat of last year's performance.
Tide, the category's top brand for years, topped the liquid segment with $1 billion in sales for the year ended Oct. 7; the brand was also the top seller in powders, at $806 million, according to IRI. Other leading brands were All, Purex, Wisk, Xtra and Cheer for liquids and Gain, Cheer, Surf and Arm & Hammer FabriCare for powders.
Though no sales numbers were available at press time for laundry detergent tablets, industry experts agreed that this newest form was less widely accepted last year than many marketers had hoped. Tablet marketers contacted by Happi insisted that tablets will come into their own in the coming years, but in the meantime, consumers relied on liquids and, in some demographics, powders to a much greater extent than alternative forms.
Adherence to tradition hasn't stopped marketers from exploring new ideas, however. The past year has ushered in new fragrances, pre-treatments, detergent boosters and even web- sites dedicated to narrowing down one's needs and selecting the perfect laundry detergent for fabrics, preferences and lifestyles.
Powders: A Thing of the Past?
Powder sales have fallen during the past several years, and sales of powdered detergents fell 3% for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 7. Most detergent marketers insist that powder usage will level off in the coming years, leaving powders a smaller, but still important, market. Powders have maintained appeal primarily for economic reasons; though liquids have been fine-tuned to become a less expensive product than in the past, powdered detergent is still, for the most part, cheaper per wash load.
Purex launched Mountain Breeze and Rain scents, following the trend toward experiential fragrances in home care products.
"In our detergent lines, powders are currently about 30% of the category," revealed Michael Simone of Church & Dwight Company, Princeton, NJ. "A few years ago, it was closer to 50%. But there will always be room for powdered detergents. In general, they perform better, and they're more economical." The company's Arm & Hammer FabriCare ranked No. 5 for the year ended Oct. 7 among powdered detergents, with more than $111 million in sales.
"I think one of the reasons our powders have been so successful is the value equation: how much efficacy vs. how much money," said Scott Fullmer of Dial Corp., which markets Purex laundry detergent. "With economic times as they are, we're a great cleaning product at a great price. Some other brands aren't so economy-proof, and they'll have to grapple with that. But the bottom line is that consumers are looking for value. Powders in general help deliver that."
Executives at Quixtar, Grand Rapids, MI, a division of Alticor, also maintained that powders are down but not out. Part of the reason is brand loyalty, according to Quixtar executives.
"Liquids outsell powders nearly 2 to 1 in the U.S.," commented Brandi Huyser, home care brand manager, Quixtar, "but for Quixtar, this is not the case. Our powder outsells the liquid. We feel this is due to brand loyalty, performance, value and convenience."
Quixtar's SA8 laundry detergent series comprises detergents, softeners and boosters designed to work together for optimum cleaning, according to Ms. Huyser. SA8 with Bioquest Concentrated detergent boasts superior dissolving action with no residue. A 6.6 lb. container can clean up to 100 wash loads and retails for $21.85; a 9.9 lb. box washes up to 150 loads and retails for $31.85. The company also offers the SA8 Spin-Off detergent and fabric softener pouch, combining two actions in one. A 36-load container retails for $22.35.
Quixtar executives cited convenience as a primary motivator in consumers' choice of a laundry detergent product, but also stressed that economy has always been a priority. "Consumers are looking for all different things when choosing a laundry detergent," Ms. Huyser pointed out. "Convenience tends to be right up there, but so is an economical product. The problem is that most of the less-expensive detergents contain a minimum of cleansing agent, and generally, you get what you pay for."
Quixtar has bridged that gap, Ms. Huyser said. "We've always been here to provide unsurpassed value," she commented. "We feel that an economical product is only worthwhile if it also provides an exceptional clean. SA8 is specifically formulated for each product to work with the others to boost cleaner performance."
All things considered, the same trusted names emerged on top last year in powdered detergents, economy, novelty and other factors aside. Tide remained the best-selling powder line last year; the brand has branched off with a variety of specific-action detergents. Tide HE was formulated specifically for high-efficency washers, for example; the brand was introduced in both liquid and powder forms.
Tide WearCare was added to all of the company's powders to help prevent damage to cotton clothes. The WearCare formula includes activated hydrogen peroxide, an ingredient that helps deliver a superior cleaning action.
The Tide lineup also includes Tide Free and Tide with Bleach. Tide Free was developed to provide the same stain removal benefits as regular Tide without dyes or perfumes, making it ideal for consumers who are sensitive to such additives. Tide with Bleach kills 99.9% of bacteria, including E.coli and salmonella, according to P&G executives. The brand is available in regular and Mountain Spring scents.
Cheer, which achieved $134 million in sales for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 7, added a website with an easy-click search of a consumer's needs in laundry care. The consumer can select from sensitive skin, extra cleaning power or color protection to find the appropriate Cheer product. CheerFree, for example, was developed for sensitive skin; its mild, perfume-free formula is non-irritating to most consumers, according to company executives.
Cheer products also provide color protection and cleansing in any water temperature, including cold water, company executives said. The brand's formula helps prevent pilling of cottons and neutralizes chlorine in the wash water to help prevent fading and make clothes last longer.
Added benefits are still emerging in the powdered detergent category as marketers continue to try to draw powders into the forefront. Some professionals contacted by Happi maintained that powder still outsells liquid in certain demographics, based upon income level and geography, and will remain a contender in the laundry detergent segment. One method of keeping powders active is by releasing both powder and liquid versions of new scents and multi-beneficial detergents; both are available to consumers and aim to reach all segments of the population.
Liquids: Top Shelf
Novelty and shelf presence landed liquids in shoppers' carts; convenience has helped keep them there. Today's liquids boast more benefits than ever and remain the most popular laundry form on the market.
Oxydol joined the liquid league this year with the first-ever liquid version of the brand.
Some manufacturers are hopping on the bandwagon by introducing liquid forms of products that were previously available only as powders. Cincinnati-based Redox Brands Inc., for example, launched Liquid Oxydol Extreme Clean, a product targeting generation X and the brand's first liquid launch, according to company executives. The Oxydol brand was originally released as a powder in 1927. Redox purchased the brand from Procter & Gamble last year.
According to Redox executives, research has shown that young consumers prefer liquid detergents. The packaging was changed as well to appeal to a more youthful segment, with a more vibrant green and a stylized "X". This makes Oxydol one of the first brands to target not only a type of clean, but an age demographic as well.
"We believe that generation X has been overlooked in the laundry category," said Todd Wichmann, president and co-chief executive officer, Redox Brands Inc. "They have different needs than their grandparents and parents." Redox also debuted its new website, with offbeat editorials and games to teach new approaches to doing laundry.
Other marketers are taking a more traditional approach, restricting changes in liquids to new scents and improved fabric care.
Era offers Era Max, a "triple threat to stains," with three types of active enzymes to fight grime while providing color-safe whitening. Era also introduced the EraserBall, a pre-treating and measuring device specifically designed for use with Era detergent.
Tide introduced a new device with Tide Kick, also a pretreatment and measuring device. Tide Kick works in conjunction with Tide Deep Clean Liquid formula to remove more stains better than leading pre-treaters and liquid laundry detergent combined, according to P&G executives. The novel devices not only add to the efficacy of the products but encourage consumers to try the newer versions of the companies' liquids.
Fab updated its liquids with new fragrances. Fab Rain Forest provides the same deep-cleaning action of the brand's original formula while providing a more pleasant experience due its appealing scent, according to company executives. The company updated its packaging graphics as well to draw attention to the new scent.
Purex is also aiming for a more sensory experience with its Rain and Mountain Fresh scent liquids. Like its major competitors, Purex also offers a website that helps confused consumers select the right product for the job at hand.
The Great Tablet Debate
Laundry detergent tablets were marketed in 2000 as a unique concept. However, the idea is actually based on P&G's Salvo and Unilever's Vim, both introduced in the 1970s. According to marketers, today's reformulated tablets are a vast improvement over these initial products, which didn't dissolve well in the wash and were comparatively expensive. Executives debated that Salvo and Vim were an idea whose time had not yet come; it was not until recently that consumers began to opt for convenience and multifunctionality over economics. Now, marketers believe the desire for ease of use is growing in this category.
"Development has been slow, but steady, for our tablets," said Mr. Fullmer of Dial Corp., manufacturers of Purex tablets, "so for the most part, sales growth has been a little slower than we anticipated. But within the next few years, the industry will see some huge strides with tablets. The form continues to get reasonably good trial and repeat sales numbers. There's definitely an interest there."
Tablet marketers note that the convenience factor, especially for students, the elderly and consumers who utilize laundromats, far outweighs the drawbacks. Meanwhile, continuous experimentation and reformulation are expected to fine-tune tablets and make them more appealing than ever to consumers.
Quixtar, a division of Alticor, will release its first laundry tablet, SA8, this spring. Company executives said that the superior formulation of the product, as well as the success of the other items in its SA8 laundry detergent line, will help give the new product a leg up on other laundry detergent tablets.
"In the fast-paced society that we live in, where convenience is often a commodity, consumers have high expectations for the products they use," commented Ms. Huyser of Quixtar. "We knew we had to come out with a superior product when introducing our tablets. The SA8 tablet doesn't sacrifice clean for convenience. It delivers both."
Quixtar will launch its tablets line this March. The company expects a positive reception.
The S8A tablet overcomes some of the drawbacks of other laundry tablets, according to Ms. Huyser. "Our product actually dissolves in 60 seconds," she insisted, "and it leaves no residue. It is also safe to use in all temperatures. This product is going to be wonderful for college students, apartment renters and anyone who needs portability but at the same time, demands quality."
The tablet will hit store shelves in March. "We're gearing up for the spring launch," revealed Ms. Huyser, "and we're very excited. The product is exceptional."
Dial executives insist they too have an effective product in Purex Tabs, which dissolve in just 15-20 seconds compared to other marketers' tablets, which take about two minutes to dissolve, they said. Dial backs this claim with research performed at the company's research and development labs. The company's website urges consumers to "take the dissolution challenge" and offers instructions on dissolving Purex and other brands in water for a visual comparison.
The company also claims that Purex Tabs are more economical than competitors' detergents in a number of forms, including liquids and powders. A comparison grid of Purex and other brands and forms shows Purex Tabs at about $0.13 a wash, with other brands ranging from $0.15-0.28 a wash.
Industry leader Tide has also attacked the problem of slowly-dissolving tablets with Tide Rapid Action Tabs, available with or without bleach. The tablets begin to dissolve upon hitting the water, according to P&G executives. The white side of the tablet provides cleaning, while the blue portion gives a special stain-fighting boost. A visual demonstration of the bubbling and dissolving action is available on the company's website.
In the Bag
Tablets aren't the only alternative form in today's laundry detergent market. The LaundryTea system was developed, fine-tuned and marketed beginning in 1991, according to Ophelia Products' Karen Huff. This makes the nonwoven bag system older than the recent tablet relaunches.
"LaundryTea was developed in the early 1990s and came out as a finished product on the market almost seven years ago," said Ms. Huff, the company's president and chief executive officer. "We found that LaundryTea bags filled all the needs consumers were looking for in a detergent: cleanliness, convenience and economy."
According to company executives, the emergence of tablets on the market during the past two years has shaken up, but not pushed out, LaundryTea. "We were here before tablets came," Ms. Huff insisted, "and we will be here when they're gone."
The system offers a controlled-dosage method but dissolves faster and more completely than laundry tablets, Ms. Huff insisted. At the same time, the product offers fabric softening, static removing and lint control properties, which not all tablets offer, she said.
LaundryTea consists of detergent-filled bags that are dropped on top of the wash load before the washer is turned on and are easily disposed of once the load is done. Company executives maintained that the system is more appealing than tablets for a variety of reasons.
Controlled dosage is one plus; while two or three tablets are required for some wash loads, LaundryTea generally washes with just one bag. And according to company studies, there is minimal or no detergent residue on the clothes after washing.
Tablets have been a thorn in the product's side since their reintroduction three years ago, according to Ms. Huff. "Tablets generally haven't performed as well as consumers and marketers would have liked them to," she opined, "and as a result, there's a leeriness as regards any alternative laundry form-LaundryTea included."
But the differences between bags and tablets are clear, she insisted. "Consumers would love to get their hands on our products, but we're still somewhat controlled by our buyers," she said. "They're not completely confident in alternative laundry forms yet. We have to dispel the myth associated with pre-packaged products before expanding outside our current niche."
LaundryTea is currently limited to independent stores and supermarket chains, including Vons and Albertsons, in the western US Though the product line is selling well, the company will keep the product corralled into that area "until tablets either disappear, or start doing phenomenally well," Ms. Huff revealed. "It's going to be one or the other. Until the dust settles, we plan on staying centrally located."
Whether or not the newest laundry forms will be successful in the future is anyone's guess. But today's laundry detergent market allows room for growth in brands, devices and methods. The coming years are predicted to usher in greater advances in the laundry detergent category. But while they wait for the next big step in laundry care, consumers seem content to remain most loyal to the names they've relied on for years.
Laundry Detergents New Ingredients
Here is a list of new laundry detergent ingredients introduced by suppliers in the past 12 months. For more information about the products listed here, contact the supplier directly at the numbers provided.
Tel: (800) 538-8397
Fax: (704) 822-2253
Hestapur SAS Blend 40%
Applications: light duty liquids, heavy duty liquids, hard surface cleaners, general purpose cleaners
Comments: Mild, good detergency anionic blend for many end formulations.
Cognis Care Chemicals
Tel: (49) 211-7940-0
Fax: (49) 211-798-4008
Applications: laundry products/defoamer
Comments: Silicone/paraffin on carrier. As a defoamer for laundry powders, has good flowability and can be dosed in small quantities. The composition of the carrier material is ecologically safe and can be used without in all detergents.
Sulfopon 1218G, 1216G
Suggested use level: approx. 10%
Applications: laundry powder and laundry tablets
Comments: Fatty alcohol sulfates. The products, differing in C chain length C12-18 or C12-16, are offered in granule form and have an excellent detergency.
Suggested use level: up to 30%
Applications: liquid and powder laundry products
Comments: Sodium C12-14 fatty alcohol sulfate. Specially for formulations for application at low washing temperatures.
Tel: (973) 644-4900
Fax: (973) 644-9222
Suggested use level: 3-27%
Comments: Quaternary ammonium compound. A quat targeted at the production of high performance fabric softener dispersions. Utilizing a unique combination of chemistries, Incrosoft TS-82 provides superior static control and wetting properties in addition to its softening effects. Easy to handle and formulate, Incrosoft TS-82 can be used in a wide range of houehold, institutional and textile softener applications.
DeForest Enterprises Inc.
Boca Raton, FL
Tel: (561) 994-9696
Fax: (561) 994-9995
Suggested use level: 2-10%
Applications: liquid industrial laundry detergents; household laundry detergents; truck washes; acid cleaners; waterless hand cleaners
Comments: Modified mixed alcohol ethoxylate. Non-phenolic, biodegradable, hard water stable surfactant which can replace a 9-10 mole nonyl phenol ethoxylate in most formulatins. Improved elextrolyte and hard water stability eliminates or reduces the need for hydrotropes and/or chelating agents.
Suggested use level: 0.5-5.0%
Applications: sanitizing products containing chlorine; laundry detergents; food plant cleaners; alkaline cleaners; automatic dishwashing detergents
Comments: Alkoxylated carboxylate. A unique, low foaming, chlorine stable primary surfactant for use in alkaline systems only. Stable in 15% active caustic and alkaline electrolytes. Has wetting, emulsification and detergency properties. Stable on dry caustic, hard water stable, biodegradable and cost effective.
Suggested use level: 2-10%
Applications: solid block or tablet laundry detergents; dry blended detergents; toilet bowl blocks
Comments: Mixed alcohol ethoxylate. High melting point (58°C) surfactant with acid and alkali stability, detergency properties and moderate foam. Aids in binding of block or tablet detergents and helps control dissolution rates.
International Specialty Products Inc.
Tel: (973) 628-4000
Fax: (973) 628-3999
Suggested use level: 2-7% by weight
Applications: laundry tablets; formulation concentrates (hard surface cleaners); other household and industrial cleaning tablets
Comments: New cost-effective tablet disintegrant for laundry and other cleaning applications. An optimized blend of inert components rapidly breaking up laundry tablets with 3 synergistic modes of disintegrating action.
Makhteshim Chemical Works Ltd.
Tel: (972) 8-6296876
Fax: (972) 8-6296071
Applications: laundry detergent
Comments: 4,4-Bis (2 sulfostyryl) biphenyl disodium salt. BRY-10 D'OR is a fluorescent whitening agent.
Tel: (609) 860-4000
Fax: (609) 860-0138
Suggested use level: 1% by weight
Comments: Premium soil release polymer for polyester and poly/cotton blends. Designed to work in anionic surfactant based laundry powders. Soil release performance is observed after the first wash. Repel-O-Tex PF594 works across temperatures, water hardnesses and powdered laundry formulation types. Product is a folwable, 63% active polymer plus processing agents.
Suggested use level: 0.6-1% by weight
Comments: Soil release polymer for polyester. Product is a flowable, 99% active polymer. Repel-O-Tex SRP6 is designed specifically for powdered laundry detergents based primarily on nonionic surfactant. For use in institutional and consumer markets.
Rohm and Haas Company
Tel: (215) 592-3000
Fax: (215) 592-3377
Neolone M-10 Preservative
Suggested use level: 50-150 ppm of active ingredient
Applications: liquid laundry products; all purpose liquid cleaners; furniture and floor care products; high pH surfactant systems
Acusol 800S, Acusol 8015 Rheology Modifiers
Suggested use level: 2-4%
Applications: high surfactant formulations such as heavy duty liquid laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners