A Niche Necessity?

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | October 5, 2011

Single-use nonwoven wipes can be either a must-have or one of life's little indulgences.

To the mom faced with a diaper explosion at the local mall, wipes are survival gear. But when she gets home from her girls’ night out and needs to remove her eye makeup, a traditional cleanser and hand towel will do just fine.

And so it goes with wipes. In some situations, they are an absolute necessity, one of those modern conveniences that users won’t do without. But other times, well, while a wipe would be nice, the old way of cleaning seems sufficient—especially when the budget is tight.

Right at Home
In household care specifically, wipes were a disruptive technology, shaking up the category and growing exponentially in sales and by the number of launches. Today it is easy for consumers to find a task-specific wipe for just about every household chore, whether it is cleaning the counter (in the kitchen or bathroom), polishing the furniture or de-smudging an iPad screen.

Yet with a stale economy that has Americans less likely to stockpile products and more likely to cut their household budgets, consumers are rethinking the contents of their cleaning buckets.
“The US consumer will certainly attempt to economize as a result of strained household incomes, but the ease and convenience of disposable household wipes has enduring appeal,” said Howard Telford, research associate at Euromonitor.“Rather than revert back to sprays or rags, I would anticipate attempts to economize within the category.” According to Telford, consumers may trade down to private label wipes, or gravitate to versatile, all-in-one cleaning wipes as opposed to surface specific product lines.

“Multi-purpose wipes that can be used in several rooms of the house can be an effective way to retain the convenience of disposables while keeping the household cleaning budget under control,” he said.

And while value sales of all-purpose cleaning wipes fell 3% in 2010 to $419 million, according to Euromonitor’s own figures, the market research firm is bullish about the future of the category.

“Although we have not yet conducted our wipes research for 2011, I am expecting the all-purpose cleaning wipes market to demonstrate a return to positive growth this year, and mid-year indicators have been encouraging,” Telford noted.

Wipes have helped drive recent growth at Clorox. Its cleaning unit—which covers laundry, home care and away from home—posted 4% gains in volume and sales, with home care shipments growing behind “strong merchandising on Clorox disinfecting wipes,” the company said in early August upon release of its sales figures for the fiscal fourth quarter.

Seasonal Sales

Burt’s Bees rolled out new towelettes that are made with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) fibers.

August is months away from cold and flu season, but it can be a hot month for wipes as the antibacterial/disinfection message rises up during back-to-school time. Along with No. 2 pencils and marble composition books, wipes have become staples on teacher supply lists—and parents are often asked to send in a large container with their child on opening day.

The goal is to help keep classrooms clean, and ultimately, kids in school. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 22 million school days are lost each year to the common cold alone, and along with washing hands, the agency recommends placing disinfecting wipes in classrooms, and encouraging students and staff to wipe down frequently-touched surfaces.

The trick for marketers is getting back-to-school shoppers to pick up their brand in the sea of wipes stocked at the store.

This back-to-school season, Lysol offered consumers a rebate for a free canister of Lysol wipes when they purchased any two other Lysol products.In addition, the Reckitt Benckiser brand is running the Blue Ribbon School Attendance Challenge—schools that demonstrate the best attendance rate and parent participation in the program during the month of November will win rewards. A total of $25,000 in prizes is available, according to Lysol, which holds the No. 3 and 4 spots in the all-purpose cleaner cloth category, according to recent data from SymphonyIRI, Chicago (see chart below).

Upgrades Made
Despite having names synonymous with disinfecting and much deeper advertising coffers, brands such as Clorox and Lysol face tough competition from private label wipes. According to SymphonyIRI, private label holds the No. 2 spot between the two in the general purpose cleaning cloth category, although it lags far behind market-leading Clorox.

The marketplace’s most recognized brands believe their cleaning heritage resonates with wipes consumers, especially when purse strings need to be tightened.

“During a recession, brand equity and trust becomes even more important to consumers, noted Gary Rizzo, associate brand manger, Lysol. “Since Lysol is the No. 1 pediatrician-recommended brand and our products are proven to kill 99.9% of germs, we have a truly loyal consumer base. These consumers have used our products for years and continue to do so, despite changes in the economy.”

To combat private label’s price attraction, wipes marketers have been rolling out improved performance and other user-friendly attributes, including packaging upgrades and unique scents, to offer more value.

For example, Lysol offers Dual Action Wipes, a dual-sided cloth that features built-in scrubbing fibers on one side with a second side that’s smooth for everyday touch ups. More recently, this summer, Reckitt rolled out Lysol X-tra Large Wipes, which are 50% larger, allowing consumers to clean bigger messes or cover a larger area with just one wipe.

“X-tra Large Wipes are available in both base and dual action wipe formats and fit on any floor sweeper, which is another great added benefit,” according to Rizzo.

Procter & Gamble has also unveiled improved technology within its Swiffer range, which relies on disposable cloths to clean a number of household surfaces.

According to P&G, the new Swiffer lineup offers consumers “HD” cleaning capability. Specifically, the new Swiffer High Definition line of Dusters features Dust-Lock Adhesive technology, which combines textured dusting strips with thousands of dust locking fibers, according to Corey Schmidt, section head, Swiffer R&D. The technology, according to Schmidt, traps and locks two times more dust than a dry cloth, holding on to more dust even in hard to reach places and tight areas.

In addition, Swiffer Duster has a new ergonomically redesigned handle that is easier to assemble and holds the duster pads more securely, while redesigned Swiffer Sweeper Dry Cloths have deeper ridges that more easily conform to the surface floors, such as tiled surfaces that have grout lines and crevices.

It is tweaks like those that keep customers coming back to Swiffer, insist P&G executives.

Dr. Sears, the parenting expert, has expanded into personal care products, including baby wipes.
“From the beginning, we’ve learned from consumers the specific upgrades they desired in traditional cleaning methods and designed our Swiffer products to exceed their expectations. To this day, Swiffer continues to delight consumers with innovative products. Our most recent technology upgrades keep loyalists coming back,” said Jeff Pierce, P&G external relations, Home Care. “Our purpose—to improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come—guides and inspires everything we do. Swiffer has consistently brought forward innovation products designed to meet the unmet needs of consumers versus traditional cleaning methods such as sweeping, mopping and dusting.”

Tools of the Trade
Those improved Swiffer cloths can also be used on Evolution Robotics’ newest cleaning robot—the Mint Plus Automatic Floor Cleaner. Relying on Evolution’s NorthStar technology, the nearly $300 device adapts to different home environments through floor sensors that allow it to adjust the friction of the wipe to maintain optimal traction with its wheels.

The disposable wipe has also made its way into the growing at-home beauty device market. Neutrogena’s Wave Sonic Power Cleanser, for example, uses a pre-dosed, single-use pad to loosen and lift away skin-dulling impurities for softer and visibly brighter skin after just one use, according to the J&J brand.

Keeping wipes a part of the consumer’s daily routine is paramount for repeat purchases, and a change in packaging or dispensing is another strategy employed by wipes marketers to increase usage. Along those lines, Kimberly-Clark recently unveiled a new OneTouch dispensing tub for its Cottonelle Flushable Moist Wipes. The proprietary design is sleek and modern, with a significantly larger button that requires less force to push open. For a limited time, the brand is offering the dispensing tub with a free Cottonelle EasyReach Hanger, which installs using Command brand strips from 3M.

In baby wipes, which remain far and away the largest category in personal wipes, private label retains a strong and growing presencewith many large retailers marketing their own product lines. To garner attention away from store brands, K-C’s standout diaper franchise, Huggies, has been getting creative with its wipes packaging. In connection with the rollout of limited-edition Huggies Little Movers camo diapers, the firm unveiled limited edition Huggies camo wipes incamo-inspired pack. Both were sold exclusively at Walmart.

“Licensing and similar marketing innovations will be increasingly important, as the overall market for infant care is challenged by a declining birth rate in the US,” said Telford.

Green Scene
The eco trend—in materials and ingredients—is playing a larger role in the wipes market. For example, like Huggies, another trusted name when it comes to raising baby is Dr. Sears—and now the well-known pediatrician/parenting expert has entered the personal care side of the baby business. Launched this summer, the Dr. Sears Family Essentials Baby Care range incudes wipes made with biodegradable bamboo fabric.

Always eco-minded Burt’s Bees has rolled out new facial cleansing wipes that are made with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) fibers, specifically wood cellulose.New Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Towelettes with White Tea Extract rely on plant-derived cleansers to help remove surface dirt and oil and aloe leaf juice and cucumber extracts to help soothe.
Look for green to play a role in household wipes too.

“Organic formulations of wipes, particularly in general all-purpose wipes, were a major trend in 2010,” said Telford, who expects non-toxic formulations for impregnated personal and home care wipes to demonstrate strong growth, despite the higher price points of these products during difficult economic conditions. “In both personal care and household cleaning, the US consumer can be expected to prioritize products that he considers to be the safest and most effective product for the household, Telford added.

Pretty Faces
Beauty consumers are on the prowl for multi-tasking products that promise to simplify their routine—think of B.B. (beauty balm) creams that promise to treat skin with beneficial ingredients as they minimize pores and even skin tone. Now, Atopalm is answering the double-duty call in wipe form. Its new moisturizing cleansing wipes are said to remove face makeup and leave it supple and hydrated via a blend of vitamin E, allantoin, portulaca oleracea extract and olive, grape seed and jojoba seed oils, The paraben-free, plant-derived ingredients are said to mimic the structure of natural skin lipids to restore the skin’s protective moisture barrier system, according to the company.

Above all, beauty customers are also looking for value, according to Eve Yen, founder of Diamond Wipes International and La Fresh. This fall, Diamond Wipes is rolling out a new line of beauty care products under the Pretty Touch banner. The Pretty Touch line includes Acne Killer treatment pads, Makeup Gone eye and lip pads and Wash Away face cleansing wipes.

“We developed this line because—now more than ever—beauty consumers are seeking value with every purchase…they want performance, convenience and a great price served up with a bit of fun, glamour and entertainment,” Yen told Happi. “[They] are only $4.99 each, yet they rival the performance of many well-known brands out there. We gave the brand a lot of color and coyness. I think the tagline ‘Be Flirty Not Dirty’ says it all.”

Along with more SKUs, La Fresh/Diamond Wipes is growing its shelf presence. While Eco-Beauty products can currently be found in Bliss Spas they’ll soon be stocked at Regis salons and DermStore.com—and this fall, they will debut on MomoTV, Taiwan’s No. 1 home shopping channel.

Sun Care: A Wipe Out?
Even as wipes proliferate, there’s a new area in which they may be wiped out: sun care. Recent changes announced by the US FDA regarding sunscreens will clearly impact the niche market for sunscreen wipes.

In its June 17, 2011 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on dosage forms, FDA states that it does not currently consider sunscreen wipes eligible for inclusion in the OTC sunscreen monograph. According to FDA’s Reynold Tan, interdisciplinary scientist, division of Nonprescription Regulation Development, Office of Drug Evaluation IV, to be eligible for inclusion in an OTC monograph, products generally must have substantiated evidence showing that they were marketed OTC in the US prior to 1972, the date the OTC Drug Review began—i.e., the date the OTC monograph review process began.

“We do not have this evidence for sunscreen wipes,” he told Happi.

The onus is on the wipes market to deliver what FDA needs.

“We are currently issuing a letter to educate our private label customers on the 2011 ANPR, namely the omission of wipes and towelettes as approved dosage forms for OTC sunscreens, and the resulting ramifications,” said Yen of La Fresh/Diamond Wipes. “We’re making sure our customers know that they have the option to submit their products to the FDA for eligibility. But until the approvals are officialized, we unfortunately won’t be making any sunscreen wipes for our own brands or our customers’ brands.”

The Market Outlook
Even with a sluggish economy, wipes will remain a big part of consumers’ lives. According to data from INDA (the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry), consumer retail sales of disposable wipes have risen from $720 million in 2007 to almost $4 billion last year—and the association is predicting a steady climb for the next few years.

INDA expects sales and volume to rise to almost $5 billion by the end of 2015,noted Ian Butler, director of market research and statistics at INDA. “We also expect further sales increases of this industry as the producers target the medical and industrial markets.”

But not every wipes category is destined to clean up.Virginia Lee, senior research analyst at Euromonitor, isn’t forecasting the same growth pattern for facial cleansing wipes, a category that saw value sales decline by 8% in 2010.

As she told Happi,“The recession impacted sales of facial cleansing wipes as they carry higher per-use prices than liquid facial cleansers, and consumers sought to economize. Sales of facial cleansing wipes are expected to continue declining in 2011.”

All About Wipes
Wipes are front and center for these three start-up businesses.

For the big players in the marketplace, wipes are an easy way to grow their product lines and expand their shelf space. But for small firms, wipes can be their bread and butter.

Saline Soothers are new from Little Busy Bodies.
Little Busy Bodies (LBB) for example, has grown considerably since it rolled out its first product, Boogie Wipes, in 2007. Its latest launch is Saline Soothers, a line of wipes rolled out in July that mimic Boogie Wipes, but are “more geared toward something that adults would like to pull out of their bag and use,” said co-founder and CEO Julie Pickens.

“We kept hearing from our moms and dads how much they love using Boogie Wipes so we created a wipe specially designed for them. The range features scents that are more adult friendly, like lavender and menthol,” Pickens said.

Boogie Wipes has been on a tear. It experienced a 200% sales increase in 2010, hitting the$6.5 million mark, according to the Beaverton, OR-based company. Growth can be traced to line extensions as well as effective marketing endeavors, such as its ‘Save the Sleeve’ campaign.

“The campaign was very successful at educating children on saving their sleeve—curtains, couch, mom’s pant leg, among other things.Instead of using these common nose-wiping items, we focused children on choosing a fun, natural alternative. Moms everywhere were thrilled,” noted Pickens, who started the brand with cofounder Mindee Doney and a $20,000 investment.

Another start-up pair—Erin Whalen and Tim Stansbury—went hunting for investors for their Grease Monkey Wipes on “Shark Tank,” an ABC TV program in which entrepreneurs seek funds from a panel of investors in exchange for equity in their firm. In January 2010, two of the “shark” investors bit, providing Grease Monkey with a $40,000 cash infusion to further develop their wipes business.

This month, the Austin, TX-based Grease Monkey brand has inked an endorsement deal with Cannondale’s professional cyclocross teamas well as two of the sports’ athletes—Tim Johnson and Meredith Miller.The bike-related endorsements are quite fitting for Grease Monkey as the heavy duty, citrus based wipes were developed to tackle the heavy grease that Stansbury, as an avid cyclist, would encounter while making on-the-road repairs.

Another bike ride led to another wipe product—Paper Shower.Having stopped at a Starbucks after a morning mountain bike ride, Dr. Jim Bahcall used a moist towelette to wipe the sweat off his face, hands, arms and legs. Although the alcohol-based towelette was designed to dry quickly, he felt as if he walked out of the shower without a towel to dry off. It was at that moment the thought came to him: why not include a dry towelette in the pack too?

From there, Paper Shower was born—that is, after market research and business plan were mapped out on a paper napkin.

Paper Shower is a wet towelette sized for the body, packed with a dry wipe.

“When I thought the idea was worth developing to fruition, I decided to outsource everything from product design to manufacturing. The reasons for outsourcing were to keep our cost down and allow us to respond to the consumer market much quicker,” Bahcall told Happi.

Paper Shower’s “wet” product is designed to be a body wipe; it is a highly saturated unscented, 9” by 12” moist towelette that contains water, soap and skin moisturizers. That pack is connected to one containing the same size dry towelette.

While the product was recently named a finalist in the World of Wipes 2011 Innovation Awards this summer, Bahcall recognizes that carving out a successful business takes time.

“It is important to keep in mind that as Americans we are born consumers and go through life being exposed to hundreds of thousands of products. Since most of us have heard of a get rich quick product success story, we have this false sense of reality that if I invent a product, getting it to retail will be easy and I will make millions of dollars. Not so! Getting Paper Shower to retail shelves has taken time, patience and money,” he said.

His company is currently selling Paper Shower online (papershower.com and Amazon.com) and is growing the brand through word of mouth and social media as it attends trade shows to get in front as many retailers as possible.

“We are anticipating being in big box sporting good stores and mass market retailers either later this year or early 2012,” Bahcall said.

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