Green that Cleans

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | July 2, 2010

Rick Theiler of Henkel on the state of the household cleaning business, and what companies and the industry must do to get growing again.

The Great Recession wreaked havoc with consumer spending budgets and corporate R&D plans. Shoppers bought fewer products, preferring instead to draw down their pantry inventories and cleaning product stockpiles. When they did decide to make a purchase, shoppers relied on brands and products they knew and trusted. At the same time, the weak economy made consumer product companies less eager to roll out new products to cash-strapped consumers.

It’s no wonder, then, sales of household cleaners have been on the decline for years. The good news is that consumers are ready to spend again and marketers are rolling out new products to meet their needs, according to Richard Theiler, senior vice president-technology, Henkel Consumer Goods, Inc.

“The household cleaning product category hit bottom in 2009,” insisted Theiler. “(This year) for the first year since 2006, we will see a marginal uptick.”

One thing driving that growth is that in the U.S. and around the world, household cleanliness is associated with health and well-being. With health issues such as H1N1 making headlines on a regular basis, consumers are more concerned with cleanliness than ever. At the same time, however, these consumers could use some help getting the job done faster.

According to Theiler, on average, consumers spend 35 minutes a day cleaning—an allotment of time that has not declined over the years, despite busier schedules.

Soft Scrub Total: Just one product does it all, according to Henkel.
“Yet, just under half of consumers don’t think that 35 minutes is enough time to clean,” observed Theiler, who said these shoppers would welcome an innovative cleaning product that would help them save time.

Anticipating the economic recovery and consumers’ needs, earlier this year, Henkel rolled out Soft Scrub Total Bath & Bowl and Soft Scrub Total Kitchen; both promise to simplify cleaning routines, since consumers need only one product to clean the entire bathroom or kitchen. According to Henkel, the Soft Scrub formula is safe on multiple surfaces, including granite, cultured marble, plastic laminate, stainless steel and chrome. The trigger dispenses either a foam or a spray, and even works upside down to get into hard-to-reach places such as under the toilet rim or inside the microwave.

Consumer interest in gentler cleaning formulas is on the rise, too. Theiler recalled a January 2010
Datamonitor study that found 55% of consumers are concerned about household product safety and chemical harshness, but fewer than 22% believe natural products work.

“There is a substantial gap in the views of green products,” explained Theiler, who pointed out that green household cleaners represent less than 5% of the category and that most consumers aren’t willing to pay as much for them as they would have four years ago due to the recession and questions about product efficacy.

Greener Cleaners

To help remedy the situation, Henkel is a supporter of CleanGredients.org and is a backer of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program. Theiler noted that the new Soft Scrub formulas are solvent-, chelant- and preservative-free, and contain natural lactic acid and alkylpolyglucoside surfactant. The end result is a formula that’s effective on soil and grease removal but with a good environmental profile—at a time when more consumers than ever are concerned about the products they use.

“The consumer packaged goods industry is impacting the rise of affluence, but we are a leading contributor of environmental impact and we have to get that in balance,” insisted Theiler.

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