Online Exclusives

Fels Napthas Feeling Good

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | February 2, 2010

Sales of this venerable laundry bar have skyrocketed in the past year as consumers looked for new ways to save money.

Is recession ever good for business? Yes, if you sell liquor, candy—or Fels Naptha laundry bars.

Sales of Henkel’s venerable laundry soap have surged almost 45% to $1.4 million for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 1, 2009 and unit sales jumped equally, according to Information Resources, Inc., Chicago.

Not bad for a brand that's had the same formula for more than 100 years—and recorded declines in sales and units in 2008.

The growth hasn’t gone unnoticed at Henkel, which acquired Fels-Naptha when it took over Dial Corp. in 2003.

“We’ve seen explosive growth over the last year as consumers have turned to Fels-Naptha as a trusted brand that can be used to concoct homemade laundry detergent,” said Janell Holas, Henkel brand manager, laundry additives. “Driven by the combination of challenging economy and back-to-basics trends, some consumers are turning to a DIY approach to laundry.”

In many ways, modern technology has fueled this back-to-basic trend. A Google search for “homemade laundry soap recipe” turns up more than 100,000 results—and many of those tips and recipes include Fels-Naptha (and 20 Mule Team Borax, another Henkel product).

 
More than a century old, Fels-Naptha laundry bar soap has witnessed a sales surge in the last year.
“We’ve seen Fels-Naptha ‘go viral’ through the social media universe with moms sharing alternative solutions to traditional household products. The brand team has joined the social media conversation via limited partnerships with our passionate advocates,” noted Holas.

For example, when a retailer enlisted a local blogger to hold “make your own detergent” demonstrations using Fels-Naptha, Henkel teamed up with the blogger, so she could her offer special contests to her online audience—“essentially working with her as a 'Fels-Naptha Insider',” Holas told Happi.

 
Fels Naptha, which is made in Aurora, IL, is also getting press in new books that offer consumers similar tips, such as “Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less,” by Leah Ingram.

Ingram came across the brand the same way others have: while conducting web searches on DIY detergent recipes.

“One of the common denominators in all of them, as far as a brand went, was Fels Naptha,” she said.

While Fels Naptha may be enjoying newfound celebrity status among thrifty consumers like herself, Ingram quickly found out the brand’s heritage when she talked about it with older relatives. “They all reminisced about how it was the soap that their mothers used and that they grew up knowing its smell,” she said.

In terms of saving money on laundry care, Ingram has used lower-priced detergents, but has decided to stick with Fels Naptha and her DIY ways.

“I just feel like I’m getting more of a cost savings making my own. Plus, here’s a big thing for me—if I happen to run a load of laundry and then forget to put it in the dryer for a day or two, my laundry ends up smelling mildewy when I used a commercial detergent. But when I’ve used my own recipe and forgotten a load for a day or two, there is no mildew smell. How does this save me money and time?,” Ingram asked. “I don’t have to use more soap and run my laundry through again to get rid of the smell.”

Saving consumers time and money? That sounds like a winning combination in an economy that's only now starting to grow again.

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