The Nonwovens Phenomenon

November 14, 2005

An idea born more than 15 years ago is still generating sales and leading to innovative new products in the household and personal care industry.

Is there anything more versatile in the household, personal care and institutional cleaning industry than wipes? You’ll find this nonwoven-based technology in everything from skin care to hard surface cleaners to floor care. Fact is, these days you can’t swing a broom or a feather duster without bumping into a new kind of wipe. What started quietly 15 years ago has become a staple in many consumers’ cleaning arsenal and beauty regimens.

Back in 1989, Kao Corp. introduced Quickle toilet wipe, the world’s first cleaning product based on a nonwoven substrate. From that humble beginning, nonwovens have become a cornerstone for innovation within a host of categories, including industrial and institutional cleaners, facial cleansers, acne treatments, dusters and hard surface cleaners. Where once consumers used a mop and bucket to clean their floors, or a washcloth and soap to clean their face, they’ve been replaced by nonwoven materials that get the job done better and more quickly. Best of all, for manufacturers, consumers are willing to spend more for these nonwoven materials.

“The household cleaning segment has been in decline for the past several years,” observed Patrick Probst of Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati. “But the few segments that are winners (including nonwoven wipes) are the ones that focus on convenience and ease of use.”

Billions of Square Meters
Nearly every household cleaning and personal care product segment has, over the years, added a nonwovens category. Sure, the novelty may have worn off, but sales of nonwoven–based cleaners show no signs of slowing down. According to a recent study by Packaged Facts, a market research firm based in New York City, U.S. sales of household cleaner cloths and wipes jumped from $284.4 million (retail) in 2000 to $435.9 million in 2002 for a compound annual growth rate of 23.7%.

Clorox’s ReadyMop is credited for much of the surge in sales last year. Information Resources, Inc., Chicago, called ReadyMop the No.1 product on its list of “New Product Pacesetters 2002: Nonfood.” To be identified as a pacesetter, a product must achieve a distribution rate of at least 30% and top $7.5 million in sales in its first year of distribution. ReadyMop earned $201 million last year, just ahead of P&G’s Crest Whitestrip, which had sales of $193 million. That pace of growth is expected to quicken for the next several years. According to Packaged Facts, annual sales of these products will jump nearly 27% (CAGR) to $1.42 billion by 2007.

Think of a product category and chances are, there’s a wipe designed specifically for that segment.

Other industry statistics are in agreement. According to Ian Butler, director of market research and statistics at INDA, the association of the nonwovens fabrics industry, Cary, NC, more than 40 new wipe products have been introduced since 1999. In 2001, the North American market produced 2.1 billion square meters of rolled goods (worth more than $400 million) for wipes production, an increase of more than 8% from the year before. Globally, Mr. Butler estimated the market at six billion meters, while Lynda Kelly, a senior consultant at John R. Starr, Inc., Naples, FL, estimates that the worldwide market will grow to more than 7.7 billion square meters by 2006.

Growth in Every Segment
The slowdown in the U.S. economy has finally begun to take its toll on the personal care segment as sales of many products, including shampoos, conditioners and cleansers, dipped in the first half of the year. And marketers have been bemoaning the decline in household cleaning product sales for years. But that hasn’t been the case for innovative items such as nonwoven-based household and personal care products. In recent years, multinationals such as Clorox, Procter & Gamble and Unilever have all developed wipes for a variety of cleaning tasks, and while the market may be filled with these kinds of products, it is by no means saturated, according to industry experts.

Today, no skin care line would be complete without a wipe variant.

“Wipes will continue to expand (their share of the market), because consumers want to shorten the amount of time they spend cleaning,” said Cathy Underwood, brand manager, Orange Glo International, Denver.

Orange Glo markets a wide array of household cleaners under a variety of well-known brands, including Orange Glo, OxiClean and Kaboom. Nearly a year ago, the company introduced Orange Glo wood cleaner wipes. After that initial launch, the company went back to the laboratory and introduced a new, improved wipe just a couple of months ago.

“We got the sales we expected, and the performance was well-received in the marketplace,” recalled Ms. Underwood. “But consumers told us they wanted a larger wipe to cover more furniture.”

Zotos International insists that its new Kwik Kill disinfectant wipes clean better than any wipe on the market.

The new wipe is 7x11 inches, compared with 7x8 inches for the original wipe. At the same time, the new, improved wipe does a better job of cleaning and dusting because each wipe holds more Orange Glo solution.

When the company entered the segment, major brands such as Old English and Endust were already established in the wood polish cloth category. Despite going up against the likes of S.C. Johnson and Reckitt Benckiser, the Orange Glo team was confident their wipe could hold its own because it combines cleaning, polishing and dusting in one step.

“Consumers have a lot of wood care products,” observed Ms. Underwood. “They use Pledge for quick jobs and Old English to oil their furniture. But Orange Glo combines all the benefits in one. As consumers become more harried, we’ve been able to provide all the benefits in a cloth and pull new people into the wood polish category.”

According to Orange Glo, the traditional wood care category is relatively small, with a loyal core group dominated by older consumers ages 35 and up. But a cloth format introduces wood care to a younger audience, and initial purchases of Orange Glo wood cleaner wipe have been made by consumers as young as 25.

Although Orange Glo may be attracting younger wood care enthusiasts, the company still has a long way to go before it can outshine the market leader, S.C. Johnson, whose segment-leading Pledge brand holds a 45% share, compared with Orange Glo’s 8.3%. Still, company executives are quick to point out that their wipe outperformed Colgate-Palmolive’s Murphy wipe even though they were introduced at the same time.

“We achieved what we wanted to because Orange Glo provides all three benefits that the consumer wants—cleaning, dusting and polishing,” said Ms. Underwood. “With the other wipes you just get cleaning or dusting, but our wipes contain Valencia orange oil to condition, moisturize and rejuvenate wood.”

For the remainder of the year and into 2004, the Orange Glo team is committed to doubling distribution. “It’s a tremendous opportunity,” observed Ms. Underwood. “We have so many good relationships with retailers in a lot of different channels, such as dollar stores, specialty stores and home improvement centers, in addition to good relationships with grocery stores and mass merchandisers.”

New products from Orange Glo and other fast-growing companies is just one of the reasons why sales of wipes are soaring. The global wipes market totaled more than $3.9 billion (retail) in 2001—more than double what it was in 1997. Euromonitor, a UK-based research firm, expects the global market to reach nearly $5.3 billion in 2006, representing a compound annual growth rate of more than 6%. Although growth is only about half of what it was just a few years ago, it is still well ahead of what’s expected for many household and personal care categories.

But not all varieties of wipes are growing at the same rate. Although the baby care segment was one of the first to exploit wipe technology, sales within that subcategory are beginning to slow down. Industry experts explained away the decline in baby wipe sales to the proliferation of other wipe products. After all, only a few years ago, baby wipes were the only wipe option the consumer had for personal cleansing. But now she can choose from a wide range of personal care products that can provide all the benefits of skin care formulas most often found in tubes and jars.

For example, earlier this year Andrew Jergens introduced Bioré Blemish Fighting cleansing cloths, which contain salicylic acid to fight acne and other skin blemishes. A 30-count package of cloths retails for $6.99. The pre-moistened cloths completely wipe away dirt, oil and make-up with effective cleansers while delivering salicylic acid, which penetrates deep into the pores to control acne. The two-sided cloths offer two ways to get clean: a soft side traps dirt, oil and makeup for the deepest clean possible; the exfoliating side lifts away dead skin to smooth and refine the skin’s texture.

According to Dr. Mary Lupo, a dermatologist and Bioré spokesperson, the cloths provide a dual benefit of delivering acne-fighting salicylic acid and the exfoliating properties found in the two-sided cloths. “It’s very therapeutic to help dissolve oil,” she observed. “Salicylic acid is a great way to loosen white heads and blackheads too.”

Moreover, the wipe format is extremely hygienic, because the user isn’t contaminating the batch by putting her fingers in a cream or lotion. Best of all, the wipe form enables the consumer to get all the benefits of the salicylic acid without having to use water, which makes Bioré Blemish Fighting cleansing cloths perfect for use after sporting events such as tennis or soccer.

“Salicylic acid is ideal for kids who have inflammatory or non-inflammatory acne,” observed Dr. Lupo. “I use it in conjunction with other treatments such benzoyl peroxide and blue light and laser therapy.”

Jergens doesn’t have the salicylic acid wipe segment to itself, however. Earlier this year, Alberto-Culver introduced medicated apricot exfoliating daily cleansing cloths under its St. Ives brand. The product contains tea tree extract to treat acne, chamomile to sooth irritated skin and primrose to moisturize acne-prone skin.

Jergens’ new Bioré blemish fighting cleansing cloths combine the benefits of salicylic acid and nonwoven material.

Dr. Lupo is a big fan of the wipe format, and she would like to see manufacturers introduce more skin care products for teens using the technology. Specifically, she said benzoyl peroxide is an excellent candidate for a wipe because it works in conjuction with salicylic acid to clear skin. While the acid unclogs pores and clears oil, the benzoyl peroxide lowers the bacteria count on the face—which is especially important when the bacteria causes an inflammatory reaction. According to Dr. Lupo, a product that combines salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide “is the best one-two punch” for controlling acne.

Although Dr. Lupo applauded the array of acne-fighting products introduced by the personal care industry over the years, she said the industry must work harder to develop a skin care line that is “plugged into” the youth market (ages 13 to 25) and one that puts a heavy emphasis on sun protection.

“As a dermatologist, skin cancer is a tremendous concern to me,” she noted. “Back in the 1980s, dermatologists urged the personal care industry to include sunscreen in their skin care products, and now nearly all of them provide UV protection.”

However, many of today’s teens aren’t getting the message about the dangers of UV exposure, according to Dr. Lupo. “Teens don’t care about aging, they care about blemishes, but the two aren’t diametrically opposed. They can work together. I’d like to see more sunscreen-based products for young people.”

Of course, one of the easiest ways to avoid UV damage is to avoid the sun altogether. There are plenty of DHA-based products out there that let sun worshipers get the tan they crave without subjecting their skin cells to damaging UVA and UVB rays. One of the newest self-tanners is available in wipe form. Developed by Australian talent agent Lori Braun, TanTowel promises to create a natural tan that develops only two hours after application. Just wipe the citrus-scented towelette over the face and body for an even, consistent tan that dries in seconds, according to the manufacturer. For a darker tan, the user just reapplies TanTowel. To maintain a tan, the product is reapplied every five to seven days.

Will the introduction of Mr. Clean Magic Eraser steal market share from more traditional household cleaning products?

One of TanTowel’s biggest selling points is the cloth itself. The company notes that before the TanTowel was invented, cosmetic firms urged consumers to “exfoliate, tan and moisturize” to maintain a perfect tan. But the three-step process called for three different products. Fortunately, TanTowel covers all three steps. The pulp fiber properties of the towelette exfoliate the skin, leading to an even tan. With the tanning formula impregnated in the towelette, the ingredients apply quickly and easily for a natural look. Finally, ingredients in the formula moisturize skin to help a tan last longer.

Products such as TanTowel can certainly improve the consumer’s tan, but personal care nonwoven wipes have the power to improve a company’s profit margin as well. For example, a traditional alcohol-based, national brand baby wipe costs about five cents per application. Yet, when added benefits such as odor-protection or anti-aging properties are thrown into the equation, cost per use can rise dramatically.

A national brand antiperspirant/ deodorant wipe, for example, costs about $0.50 per application, while a skin care wipe sold in prestige channels might retail for as much as $0.70. It all adds up to a higher profit margin for suppliers, marketers and retailers alike. Even TanTowel can be a pricey proposition. A 20-count package of the original formula costs $44.95 online, while advanced formula TanTowel Plus costs $52.95.

Salon Extensions
Wipes have made tremendous inroads into the personal care and household cleaning segments. Now they’re poised to grab a larger share of the $10 billion professional beauty industry—a segment that is managing to grow faster than the overall beauty industry, insist industry experts.

While the number of traditional barbershops is dropping in the U.S., the number of day and nail salons rose 5.6% during the past year, according to Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions, Inc., an Alexandria, VA-based consulting firm that closely follows the salon industry. In addition, the number of beauty professionals is up 24% and the number of workstations up 9%.

With that kind of growth, it’s easy to predict that more wipes will end up in the hands of beauticians and their customers. One of the newest wipes to enter the professional segment is Kwik-Kill salon disinfecting wipes from Zotos International, Darien, CT.

The wipe is designed to reduce the risk of germs, bacteria and viruses transmitted in salons. Dan Villarroel, group marketing manager, Zotos International, insists Kwik-Kill does a better job cleaning tools such as clipper and razor blades, combs and tanning beds, because it has a higher percentage of active ingredients. According to Mr. Villarroel, traditional wipes have an active level of just 2%, compared to nearly 42% for Kwik-Kill.

Specifically, Kwik-Kill contains 0.12% N-alkyl (60% C14, 30% C16, 5% C12, 5% C18) dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride; 0.12% N-alkyl (68% C12, 32% C14) dimethyl ethyl benzyl ammonium chloride; 41.58% isopropyl alcohol and 58.18% inert ingredients. Moreover, unlike other wipes, Kwik-Kill is EPA-registered. An 80-count container retails for $7.99.

The product doesn’t contain any perfumes that could mask the isopropyl alcohol smell, which has a clean, sanitized connotation. “Once stylists try it, they don’t want to use anything else because the cleaning power is so superior to anything else out there,” insisted Mr. Villarroel.

Although he wouldn’t provide new product specifics, Mr. Villarroel did tell Happi that Zotos is looking at ways to apply wipe technology in other parts of the salon. “Everything is on the drawing board. Wipes are easy to use and when you use a wipe, you know a surface is clean.”

New Substrates on the Horizon?
Even as sales of nonwoven-based products sizzle, marketers are ramping up the next wave of cleaning products driven by new substrates. They’ve seen how consumers are willing to pay more for a product that makes cleaning easier. Flush with the success from its foray into the nonwovens segment, more household cleaning companies are beginning to experiment with other substrates.

The biggest introduction of all is Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, an all-in-one sponge and cleaner combination that debuted last month and retails for $1—a price point that’s much higher than any household cleaning wipe on the market. According to P&G executives, the melamine foam-based material meets an unmet consumer need for tackling specific stains in the home—primarily crayon marks and scuffs on walls, doors and other hard surfaces.

According P&G, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is an innovative cleaning material that gets into grooves where dirt and grime get trapped. It easily and thoroughly breaks up tough dirt, lifting it away from surfaces. And it does all this with just water alone. It is simple and easy to use—no fumes, gloves, buckets or chemicals required.

“When you see the product, it looks like a sponge—nothing very exciting,” admitted Allen Goldstein, assistant brand manager. “But when you position it as an eraser it becomes a magical cleaning device.”

The P&G executives said Magic Eraser breaks down over time—cleaning one bathroom may require an entire eraser, but consumers could get 10 uses out of it if the product is used solely to clean walls.

The launch of Magic Eraser doesn’t spell the end of P&G’s infatuation with wipe technology. Next year, the company plans to roll out a line of car care wipes under the Mr. Clean banner (see Marketing News, p. 28 in this issue).

“It’s all about thorough cleaning with ease—not just introducing products that do quick cleaning,” observed Mr. Probst of Procter & Gamble.

As more consumers look for products that provide a quick but thorough clean—whether it’s for their face or their kitchen floor—you can be sure they’ll continue to take advantage of nonwovens technology.

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