Room to Grow for Wipes?

September 30, 2008

The household wipes category is dominated by Clorox, but smaller players are finding their niche. In personal care, private label holds the lead.

Room to Grow for Wipes?

The household wipes category is dominated by Clorox, but smaller players are finding their niche. In personal care, private label holds the lead.

Keith Jacobsen

Nonwoven wipes have evolved from an accessory in factories to a staple in millions of homes in the U.S. and around the world. Led by the commercialization of sanitizing wipes, nonwovens are now a common sight on kitchen counters and bathroom sinks from New York City to New Zealand.
Leaders in the cleaning wipes category—including Clorox, Lysol and Mr. Clean—have been at the forefront of the latest nonwoven trends for years and continue to strengthen their products as they compete to become the next household name in disinfecting wipes. As of now, none of the companies have distinguished themselves as the best with a relatively small margin between the top products and no “household name” claims just yet. But competition breeds innovation and the nonwovens wipes market has benefitted from the battle for market share.
Boogie Wipes contains saline to help clear nasal passages.
On the other end of the spectrum, smaller players have brought several innovative ideas to the nonwoven wipes market. Previously unheard of companies have burst on the scene during the past few years with products designed to help customers make their lives easier in ways some of the bigger companies have overlooked.

Wiping Up the Numbers

The household cleaner cloth category, which is dominated by nonwoven products, has increased steadily over the years. According to Information Resources Inc. (IRI), a Chicago-based market research firm, sales of household cleaning clothes rose nearly 3% to $274.1 million for the year ending July 13, 2008.
Sales of all-purpose cleaning cloths rose more than 6% and accounted for more than 90% of category sales. Leading the way was Clorox, which held a 48% market share (see chart, above). Reckitt Benckiser’s Lysol brand checked in at No. 2, followed closely by private label. Rounding out the top five were two Procter & Gamble products in Mr. Clean Magic Eraser at $9.1 million and Mr. Clean Power Cloth at $6.5 million. Also, at $6.5 million dollars was S.C. Johnson’s Pledge.
The second most successful household cleaner cloth category is cloth furniture polish/cleaner with total sales of $23.9 million last year—a decline of 5.8%. Pledge was out in front in that category with $10.4 million in sales followed by Weiman and private label with $4.2 million and $2.75 million, respectively. However, the cloth glass cleaner category fell more than 22% to $18.5 million, according to IRI. S.C. Johnson’s Windex brand was the clear cut No. 1 in this category with a market share of nearly 77% and total sales of $14.2 million. Reckitt Benckiser’s Glass Plus brand was a distant No. 2, with sales just under $2 million last year.
Sales in the personal care wipes segment rose 1.6% to $733.6 million, according to IRI. Baby wipes account for two-thirds of sales, with moist towelettes holding the remaining 33%. Within the baby wipes sector, private label accounts for nearly 30% of sales (see chart below).

The Strong Get Stronger

When it comes to all-purpose cleaning cloths, Clorox is far and away the leader in this category. Despite the big lead, Clorox continues to improve its all-purpose disinfecting wipes by making the product even more durable.
Its new line of disinfecting wipes features Polymer Group, Inc.’s (PGI) Spinlace Technology, which adds strength, absorbency, texturing and other performance characteristics, which should provide a nice boost to both the durability and the ability of the wipes to clean up tougher messes.
PGI executives are excited that their material launched with a high profile brand such as Clorox.
Wysi Wipes transform from a tablet to a towelette once they’re immersed in liquid.
“Based on the positive response this breakthrough technology has quickly received in household cleaning wipes, we are excited to be expanding these fabrics into other categories,” said Veronica Hagen, chief executive officer, PGI. “Spinlace fabrics answer a critical demand in the market for a new category of high-performance, value-added materials.”
The feeling is mutual at Clorox, where executives are confident that they have the beginning of a successful relationship on their hands.
“With the new technology, we were able to offer consumers a thicker wipe that cleans better than our earlier wipes,” said Vicki Friedman of Clorox. “Consumer testing indicated that this product is preferred versus our previous product and as such, it is being well received in the market.”
Clorox isn’t the only top company looking to improve its product offering in the household all-purpose cloth cleaner category. P&G is also taking its products to a new level with two solid offerings from Mr. Clean.
Mr. Clean’s latest innovation in the wipes category is a merger between two of P&G’s top brands—Mr. Clean and Febreze. These new wipes are infused with Febreze’s clean scent rather than the traditional “chemical” odor that many wipes contain. However, these new wipes offer  more than just a pretty smell, as they provide the usual benefits of what one would expect from a disinfecting wipe as they eliminate 99.9% of bacteria, including Salmonella and Staphylococ- cus aureus.

Non-Traditional Wipes

While multinationals are doing what they can to stay on top, there is a constantly changing customer base demanding innovative products completely different from anything they’ve seen before. There is no shortage of companies catering to the demands of this market and trying to create their own niche, while making a name for themselves in the process.
One new concept is Wysi Wipe, a brand distributed by Canawipe Distributors of Canada. Aiming primarily at convenience, Wysi Wipe has created a tablet-sized wipe designed for use anywhere and with a variety of different uses.
 La Fresh recently rolled out a 100% biodegradable wipe substrate.
The wipe itself comes in the form of a tablet about the size of a quarter and approximately one centimeter thick. To transform the tablet into a regulation-sized wipe, the consumer adds any kind of liquid, depending on the intended use of that wipe. Weighing only two grams each, these wipes can be transported with minimal inconvenience.
“The beauty of this new product category is versatility,” said Cathy Andersen, president of Canawipe Distributors. “The liquid used determines its use. Add water to refresh; cleanser for hygiene; lemon to cut grease; toner to freshen up; antiseptic to disinfect; cleaners for detailing, and whatever else you can think of.”
Ms. Andersen pointed out that Wysi Wipes provide an extra measure of sanitation that cannot be found in pre-moistened wipes.
“Bacteria grows in moist environments, but Wysis are dry until needed,” she said. “There are no added chemicals or smelly scents, making them the preferred alternative to the pre-moistened variety.”
Another company attempting to make its mark in the wipes market is Little Busy Bodies, Inc. of Beaverton, OR. Company executives have a different view on what a baby wipe should be. The company relies on a creative marketing campaign to attract customers to its Boogie Wipes, which company executives maintain are the best baby wipe on the market.
Boogie Wipes’ main selling point is its unique formula, which consists of vitamin E, aloe, chamomile and the “magic” ingredient—saline. The purpose of the saline built into the wipes is to work in the removal of mucus and also delivering moisture to noses.
“Our product is different,” insisted Mindee Doney of Boogie Wipes. “It feels, smells and works better than what many moms and dads traditionally use on their kids. We did not take any shortcuts in the manufacturing of a quality product that we feel good putting on our own kids everyday.”
While Little Busy Bodies focuses on the formula, other companies are positioning their products as environmentally friendly in the hope that consumers will catch on and support their “green” efforts. La Fresh has rolled out a 100% biodegradable wipe substrate.
“By using 100% biodegradable wipe substrate in our products, we are creating products that are more environmentally conscious, at the same time responding to ever increasing demands from consumers to make available eco-friendly goods,” said Betsy Scherzer for La Fresh, Ontario, California.
As established companies roll out new brands and line extensions, and several newcomers continue to breathe fresh air into the wipes market, consumers are sure to benefit.
The most dominant trend in the industry today seems to be the desire for specific use or niche products as opposed to all-purpose wipes. As with most trends, they tend to take a while to catch on before they become mainstream, to which last year’s sales numbers can attest. Yet observers predict demand for niche products will grow.
“Consumers are purchasing more wipes that have a niche purpose for their lifestyle but they are also becoming much more savvy about what is a gimmick and what actually works,” said Ms. Doney of Boogie Wipes. “If it is just a basic wipe with a new name and face, they tend to notice and will question why they should pay more for it.”

A Growth Opportunity

Ms. Scherzer agrees with this opinion. She sees specific-use wipes becoming more popular and offers advice on how to become successful in this budding area. “Higher-end, niche skin care products provided in wipe form appears to be a viable area,” Ms. Scherzer explained. “Product differentiation is therefore the key to claim the dominance in this area.”
Ms. Doney pointed out that there is a growing green trend among consumers when it comes to wipes.  
“There is more demand for products with ingredients consumers consider ‘safe’ to use,” she said. “They do not want things like parabens and phthalates in their products and more of them are reading the label before they buy. As with most industries in the world today, there is also a trend toward organic, green, earth friendly products.”
While the big nonwovens and wipes companies are sitting pretty on top of the sales charts they are not standing still. The market continues to evolve as new companies inject creative ideas into the segment.