Cleaning Breakthroughs

November 24, 2009

Multinationals and smaller household cleaning companies have made big breakthroughs in product formulations that are more environmentally-friendly than ever.

Cleaning Breakthroughs

Multinationals and smaller household cleaning companies have made big breakthroughs in product formulations that are more environmentally-friendly than ever.

Tom Branna
Editorial Director

You’d think that with H1N1 virus in the news these days, marketers would be focused on the germ-killing capabilities of their household cleaning products. But the truth is, H1N1 like MRSA and SARS before it, is a relatively easy pathogen to kill—any disinfectant on the market already does the job. So while politicians and the medical community fret about the threat of a slightly more potent flu bug like H1N1, marketers large and small are focused on the big picture, which these days means rolling out environmentally friendly cleaners, dish detergents and even—drum roll please—disinfectants.

Seventh Generation’s natural disinfectant line of products.
Sales of green cleaning products are growing 30% a year and reached nearly $65 million in 2008, according to a study published by Mintel earlier this year. But by 2013, Mintel projects green cleaning sales will reach $623 million, rising from a 3% share in 2008 to a 30% share in 2013, due to the fact that 33% of U.S. consumers don’t want to bring harsh chemicals into their home. That’s light years ahead of the 2-3% growth that’s more typical of the U.S. household cleaning product category.

“It’s been our experience that access to and availability of green cleaners is a big driver,” noted John Murphy, senior vice president-sales, Seventh Gen- eration, Burlington, VT. “People want to make positive changes in their lives. Buying green cleaners is one way to do that and having them priced affordably has helped the category grow.”

Like Murphy, executives at Method Home, San Francisco, have noticed that more consumers and competitors are getting in on the green cleaning trend.

“We love that more companies are joining the fight against toxic and caustic products in the home by offering new solutions and educating consumers that environmentally-friendly products are an effective, healthy way to clean,” said Rachel Rosenblum, a company spokesperson. “This clearly serves as validation of the Method philosophies that we have been dedicated to since the inception of our company.”

Who are all these consumers interested in a greener clean? According to Seventh Generation, they’re the 25-30% of wellness-seeking green enthusiasts who aspire to greater levels of health and wellness in their lives. Often, these consumers are young families with children under five years of age.

Beauty and brawn. New Dawn Hand Renewal with Olay Beauty gets dishes clean and helps hands look great, according to Procter & Gamble.
“These families are open to new ways of thinking about what they use to clean their homes and the chemicals that they bring into their homes,” said Murphy.

New thinking about cleaning is even having an impact on how the housework gets divvied up. According to Carol Berning, a senior consultant at the Cincinnati Consulting Consortium, changing demographics, such as the rise of the single-person household, means that while less cleaning may be necessary, more men are tackling household chores.

“Both young and old couples tend to share household tasks more than they did in the past,” explained Berning. “Men gravitate to vacuuming and emptying the dishwasher.”

What does that mean for marketers of household cleaning products? Berning said companies must shape their advertising and marketing messages to avoid any connotation that housework performed by men is not masculine.

“More men have grown up in households where their mothers worked and chores were shared,” she said.

Regardless of who is doing the task, consumers today are relatively happy with the performance of their cleaning products. According to the University of Michigan’s American Cus- tomer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), consumer satisfaction with household cleaning products (and personal care products) continues at a record level, with an ACSI score of 85.

Clorox improved 1% to 88, tying its all-time high and making 2009 the 13th straight year the company has either led or tied for the industry lead. A total of 88% of Clorox products are the No. 1 or No. 2 sellers in their product categories and demand is increasing for Clorox disinfecting and cleaning products due to concerns about the H1N1 flu virus.

Clorox was followed closely by Unilever, unchanged at 87, with Procter & Gamble and Dial at 85 (unchanged) and 84 (-1%), respectively.

Customer satisfaction has been vol- atile for Colgate-Palmolive for the past several years, according to researchers. Its ACSI score rose 1% in 2006, fell 4% in 2007, and rose 7% in 2008. This year, Colgate dropped again, falling 5% to 83. The company was tied a year ago for the industry lead, but now finds itself at the bottom, well behind Clorox and Unilever.Both pricing and quality have contributed to the fall. Researchers say Colgate is stuck in a pattern of rolling out many products coupled with competitive pricing in one year, only to cut back on some products and increase price the next year.

Green Disinfection

While Colgate may be quiet this year in the household cleaning sector, Seventh Generation is getting set to make some noise with the planned January launch of three disinfecting formulas that are said to kill 99.99% of germs botanically. All three—multi-surface cleaner, bathroom cleaner and disinfecting wipes—are EPA-registered and contain thymol, a component of thyme oil, which has well-known disinfecting properties. Despite that notoriety, it took researchers 10 years to develop the right formula.

“Botanical chemistries are a different animal than synthetic chemistries,” explained Cara Bondi, a senior research scientist with Seventh Generation. “Working with botanicals there is variability, so you have to determine what ratio of botanicals works and find out how the actives will work with the inert ingredients. There are a lot of antimicrobial actives that, if not formulated correctly, will not work as well.”

Ultimately, to find the right formula, Seventh Generation teamed up with CleanWell, a small technology start-up based in San Francisco, which developed the thymol technology.

“We were excited to partner with CleanWell, since we share a similar philosophy,” explained Bondi.

That philosophy includes a rigorous ingredient selection process that looks at the human and environmental impact of all ingredients individually and in combination.

Moreover, Seventh Generation executives say they adhere to a higher standard for the ingredients they use than other companies in the industry.

“We would never use LAS because it’s derived from petroleum,” explained Martin Wolf, director of product sustainability and authenticity. Other familiar ingredients that will never make it on Seventh Generation’s list include APEs, phosphates, chlorine and sodium hypochlorite, according to Wolf.

That’s good news for Seventh Generation’s consumers who are label readers, according to Bondi.

“There hasn’t been a botanical option on the market. So our hope is that something EPA-registered conveys and speaks to the product efficacy,” said Bondi. “We’ve provided an alternative to a conventional disinfectant.”

Other companies offer environmentally-responsible cleaning options. One of them, Winning Brands, Barrie, Canada, is determined to use environmentally progressive chemistry to help solve environmental issues.

Responsible, Not Invisible

“We’re environmentally-responsible, not environmentally-invisible,” reasoned Eric Lehner, chief executive officer, noting that even the greenest formulas have an impact on the environment. “If you pour a glass of milk into a fishbowl, the fish wouldn’t like it very much,” he observed.

The company’s flagship product, Winning Colours stain remover, is billed as being “strong as a solvent; as gentle as soap.”

Lehner won’t disclose the formula behind the product, but he said modern product formulation is a moving target.

“It’s not feasible today to remain fixed in a single formulation due to the availability of new raw materials and changing regulations,” he said.

Lehner insists attitudes regarding green must change too.

Looking for a Niche Market? Think Microwave

Over the years, marketers have rolled out specialized products to clean the convection ovens, hardwood surfaces and toilet bowls. But maybe they should turn their attention to the ubiquitous microwave oven, which, it turns out, is getting more use than ever these days due to the recession. According to a study by The NPD Group, Port Washington, NY, Americans are eating at home more but they’re opting for microwaves rather than an open flame to cook their food.

“Microwaving has been flat for two decades, but it increased last year as Americans found a way to eat at home and not cook,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group, and author of Eating Patterns in America, an annual compilation of NPD’s food and beverage market research. “We’re using our microwaves to warm and heat more, but not prepare more dishes from scratch.”

According to Balzer and NPD’s food industry market research, Americans used their microwave ovens more last year and their stove tops less. Approximately 20% of all meals prepared in U.S. homes from 1990 to 2007 involved the use of a microwave, until last year when usage rose 10%. He said stove tops remain the most popular cooking appliance but the percent of main meals prepared on a stove top dropped from 52% in 1985 to 33% in 2009.

“I’ve observed America’s eating patterns in good and bad economies, and the constant is that there is no recession in eating and Americans don’t want to cook what they eat,” said Balzer.

“The tendency is to characterize some products as green and others as not,” he said. “We anticipate a post-environmental market where there will be no nasty products like our grandparents knew. Consumers will expect the product to be environmentally-reasonable.”

Demand for all things green has helped Method expand its distribution in the U.S. and Canada.

“While the primary growth has been in mainstream grocery and drug outlets across North America, some important national retailers were added to our portfolio during the past year including Bed Bath and Beyond, Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers and Babies ‘R Us/Toys ‘R Us,” she said.

According to Rosenblum, these partners offer excellent distribution of the Method brand at key locations where consumers do their shopping.

Five of the Simple Green Naturals products that were launched in 2008 received Green Seal Certification earlier this year (see Happi, April 2009, p. 64). For now it will hold off on more certifications to measure the impact that the prominent display of the Green Seal certification mark has on the Naturals line, according to Denise Dochnahl, a company spokesperson.

“We are hoping that Green Seal will continue to be featured in consumer publications and on television programs such as “Good Morning America” where it has been before,” she explained.

According to Dochnahl, the more manufacturers and Green Seal can educate the public about the purpose and the process behind Green Seal certification, the more the certification mark will hold meaning and value.

“Unlike many of our competitors, we have chosen to very prominently display the certification mark on our front product labels, with the hope that the consumer will see it and learn that it is a verification of the claims and information found on our labels,” she added.

In another move, the company launched Simple Green Pet Stain & Odor Remover. The product’s Bond Technology eliminates odors permanently—with no resoiling or remarking, according to the company.

Keeping Ahead of Deadlines

Procter & Gamble has been extremely busy in the dishwashing category, both in the autodish and handwash segments. Next month, P&G will introduce a phosphate-free version of Cascade automatic dish detergent. The move comes well ahead of a July 2010 ban on ADD formulas that contain phosphate.

For its part, Method launched Smarty Dish, a phosphate- and bleach-free dishwasher detergent more than a year ago, but the company recently repackaged the brand.

The introduction of phosphate-free Cascade follows the addition of Dawn Hand Renewal with Olay Beauty. The product is available in a variety of formulas that seem more at home on a cosmetic counter than a kitchen counter. SKUs include Pomegranate and Splash with Vitamin E, Lavender and Silk with Vitamin E, Aloe Vera Scent and Tropical Shea Butter.

According to P&G, Olay Beauty transforms the look and feel of hands in just five uses, while maintaining Dawn’s normal grease-fighting power.

There’s no doubt that skin-caring ingredients will provide a boost to Dawn’s sales. But for many marketers today, the biggest growth opportunities and challenges lie in the green sector.

“We believe that someday, the entire cleaning aisle in all stores will be eco-friendly and non-toxic,” said Rosen- blum. “It’s actually happening faster than we thought and that’s great!”