Going Green Gets Going

April 3, 2007

Going green may be the easiest way to gain a foothold in the chemical specialties segment, a category that remains heavily fragmented, say industry experts.

Going Green Gets Going

Going green may be the easiest way to gain a foothold in the chemical specialties segment, a category that remains heavily fragmented, say industry experts.

By Tom Branna
Editorial Director

If you want to go for the green in the household cleaning product segment, you’ve got to go green. Forward-thinking marketers are, more often than not, thinking green these days, as more consumers than ever say they want products that won’t harm the environment. That’s a great opportunity for marketers of household cleaning products, insist industry experts who note that most retail aisles are already cluttered with an array of cleaners, air fresheners and disinfectants.

“Environmentally-friendly is a great point of differentiation,” observed Ken Wasik, managing director, head of consumer products group, Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin investment banking services. “People will purchase environmentally-friendly products if the price points are the same and the product works just as well as traditional cleaners.”

Mr. Wasik predicts that ultimately every household cleaning product category will get refreshed by the eco-trend. Lifestyle-branding, too, will eventually trickle down from personal care segments and into household care, he predicted.

“We’ll see a brand emerge that will hit the consumer on a personal level,” he told Happi. “It’s not just about cleaning the bathroom, it’s feeling good about how you clean it.”

Right now, too many consumers still view the household care segment as a commodity at best, or even a necessary evil at worst. But successful marketers will convince consumers that taking care of their home is good for them and the environment. In order to do that, though, they must find a way to capitalize on the three major consumer product trends: the aforementioned environmentalism, health and wellness and convenience.

Meager Growth Ahead

It all comes at a time when the overall home cleaning market is expected to post growth of just 1% a year, according to Kline & Co., a Little Falls, NJ research firm. Kline estimates that U.S. home cleaning sales were at about $6 billion in 2005. More specifically, Kline puts multipurpose and specialty cleaner sales at $2.8 billion, deodorizers and disinfectants at $1.2 billion, dish care, $1.5 billion and polishes and waxes, $600 million.

According to Kline estimates, the overall home care market isn’t expected to post much growth for the foreseeable future. Yet, while the category is flat, some segments are registering strong gains. Kline estimates that  air fresheners, especially battery-operated units, registered double-digit gains, while mildew removers and bathroom cleaner sales rose nearly as fast.

“Bathroom cleaners have definitely benefited from the popularity of devices,” noted Anna Wang, a Kline & Co. analyst. “A key issue is convenience, and sales growth will be driven by products that consumers see work and are multifunctional, convenient and safe.”

Companies that can drape their products in green could benefit most from consumer concern about safety, insist industry observers.

“We’ve noticed a trend toward green and a growing consumer preference for environmentally friendly, non-toxic cleaners,” added Ms. Wang. “A lot of new products are about performance and minimizing environmental impact.”

Retailers around the world are becoming more interested in environmental efforts too. For example, in the U.S., much has been written about Wal-Mart’s “Sustainability 360” program, but some supermarket retailers in the UK are making stronger environmental commitments, noted Irina Barbalova, a Euromonitor Interna- tional analyst.

“Sustainability and going green seem to be much higher on the agenda,” she said.

For example, Tesco has introduced a new plan whereby it is offering double loyalty points to customers who purchase any eco-friendly product, such as Ecover laundry detergent. In another move, Sainsbury’s said it would start selling a greener washing detergent, which claims to wash clothes as thoroughly at 30°C as at 40°C.

More Convenience, Less Waste

The green trend has even trickled down to the cleaning device category. Earlier this year, Method, a San Francisco-based company that’s in-step with the green movement, rolled out Method O-Mop, which company executives insist provides convenient cleaning with less waste. That’s because the unique microfiber lifts and traps dirt, enabling consumers to  use less cleaning solution.

According to company executives, each fiber in the O-Mop cleaning pad is split 16 times, so there’s more nooks and crannies in every fiber to lift and trap dirt.

“That means you clean with less cleaning fluid. That’s good for the environment and the wallet,” explained Adam Lowry, founder of Method. “Depending on the cleaning job, O-Mop users are squirting just a fraction of cleaner on the floor and getting it clean. Plus, there’s no bucket of water, so it is a lot more convenient for the consumer.”

At the same time, the O-Mop cleaning pad material is made from PLA, a cornstarch polymer that’s compostable in industrial composting facilities. 

Not to be outdone, last month Reckitt Benckiser and Quickie  teamed up to roll out a new line of cleaning tools under the Air Wick brand name. Quickie, Cinnaminson, NJ, is a marketer of household cleaning tools with a presence in the food, drug, home center and hardware trade.  Quickie has recently expanded into the global arena with a growing market share in the U.K., France, and Spain. 

According to Jeanne O’Connor, strategic alliance director, Reckitt Benckiser North America, Quickie brought the idea of an Air Wick cleaning tool to Reckitt Benckiser.

“They have heard from consumers time after time that a signal of clean is scent, so they started to ideate on how a scent could be left behind with brooms and other “dry” cleaning items, such as dusters. it made instant sense—freshen while you sweep,” Ms. O’Connor told Happi. “Additionally the broom enables a new use of our product, hopefully generating more trial and use of Air Wick branded products.”

The product was formally announced at the Houseware Show in Chicago last month.

While Method and Reckitt Benckiser reinvent cleaning devices, Clorox is counting on germophobia to win consumers over. The company recently introduced Clorox Disinfecting Kitchen Cleaner that promises to not only kill bacteria and other germs, but it’s bleach-free too. The company also rolled out a similar product called Clorox Disinfecting Floor & Surface Cleaner.

In February, WD-40 began rolling out a reformulated X-14 cleaner after more than a year of in-depth consumer research, according to Heidi Noorany, director of marketing.

“We met with consumers in a variety of qualitative studies, including focus groups, in-home and shop-alongs,” she told Happi. “Consumers told us that cleaning the bathroom is the hardest cleaning task and they said that an all-purpose kitchen cleaner just isn’t strong enough to get the job done.”

X-14 Starts Anew

With those research results in hand, the WD-40 team is relaunching X-14. The relaunch program includes new positioning, new packaging and even a new website: www.thebathroomexpert.com.

WD-40 is rolling out a new look X-14.
According to Ms. Noorany, X-14 is better than the competition in removing a variety of bathroom-specific grime, including mold, mildew and soap scum. The X-14 brand encompasses Mildew Stain Remover, Orange, Oxy Citrus, Sparkling Shower and Automatic Toilet Bowl Cleaners, all of which are designed specifically for the bathroom, insisted Ms. Noorany.

“X14 is the bathroom expert; we don’t go throughout the house,” she said. “We’ll start our main marketing program in May to let people know we understand their bathroom cleaning needs. The store aisle can be overwhelming, so consumers need to have confidence in the products that they use.”

Fragrance has become a key selling point for consumer products. For years, household cleaning product manufacturers relied on pine and lemon notes in their products, but during the past decade, household product perfumers have developed a wider range of fragrance notes. Still, industry experts insist that there is plenty of room for improvement.

 “It is becoming more and more evident that functional product benefits are still fundamental, but are no longer sufficient to sustain brand growth in a highly competitive market,” said Marcella Bartoletti, sensory and fragrance director, Unilever HPC. “It is more and more about creating emotional connectedness with brands that really deliver,” she told the audience at the 6th World Conference on Detergents in Montreux last fall.

She pointed out that the senses are the key to human emotions and the  source of well-being.

“There are about 400,000 odors in the world and each of them can influence mood and behavior,” observed Ms. Bartoletti. “Fragrance has a key role in the consumer perception. It is a major factor in driving consumer choice and a powerful reason to buy.”

What Lies Ahead?

Ironically, as people age, their ability to perceive fragrance deteriorates, but while older folks may not rely as much on scent when making a purchase, successful marketers must consider a variety of  issues to successfully market products to an aging population.

“We need to increase focus on ergonomics to design products and packaging that better meet the needs of older consumers—products that are easier to read, smaller packages that are easier to handle and open,” Procter & Gamble’s Jorge Mesquita told the audience in Montreux. “Also, we need to create products that give older consumers a feeling of independence.”

Companies that can reach an older population with products that tap into the major trends of the day—evironmentalism, convenience, and health and wellness—are sure to pick up market share over their less-nimble competitors in the household cleaning product segment.