Get It Done

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | April 2, 2012

When it comes to chemical specialties, efficacy, speed and convenience are top demands

As the weather gets warmer here in the US, homeowners’ thoughts switch from snow shovels and rock salt to budding trees and sun-filled afternoons—and tidying up too. According to research from the American Cleaning Institute (ACI), 62% of those surveyed said Spring cleaning is an annual ritual in their home.

But that doesn’t mean they like it. The reality is, very few consumers actually like—and we mean really, really enjoy—tasks like mopping the floor, cleaning the toilet and disinfecting the kitchen counter.

Homeowners would much rather be doing anything else, with a few exceptions (like hanging out with the in-laws, for instance.)

A recent survey conducted by consumer publication Real Simple and the nonprofit research organization Families and Work Institute shows just how much women (the ones who still do most of the housekeeping) loath keeping up with household chores. When asked which chore they would like to get off their to-do lists, women overwhelmingly replied “cleaning.”

Makers of chemical specialties—those aerosols, disinfectants and sanitizers that keep homes tidy and healthy—are in a tough spot for sure. Imagine trying to build rapport with a consumer whose main goal is to spend as little time as possible with your product.

SC Johnson is testing the All In One, which houses any three cleaning solutions in one device, allowing consumers to tackle multiple cleaning chores with one unit.
“People don’t like to spend time cleaning,” admitted Alison Gutterman, president of Jelmar, maker of CLR and Tarn-X brands. Homeowners, she said, want “the most effective and quickest” product because they already spend quite a bit of their valuable time keeping their living spaces livable.

On average, American adults spend 13 hours a week cleaning, according to Jelmar, which took advantage of 2012’s Leap Year status to reinforce CLR’s multi-tasking capabilities with a marketing campaign reminding consumers how its original Calcium, Lime and Rust cleaner has helped them clean faster and “get their day back” for more than 30 years.

The Skokie, IL-based firm also expanded its roster of products to include CLR Stainless Steel Cleaner, CLR Stone Cleaner, CLR Outdoor Furniture Cleaner and CLR Bathroom & Kitchen Cleaner, offering consumers targeted products that can clean specific surfaces and areas both inside and outside their home.

Home Economics
As expected, the sluggish economy has been hard on the chemical specialties market.

According to SymphonyIRI Group, the Chicago-based market research firm, sales of household cleaners in US supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandise outlets (excluding Walmart) fell 1.4% to $1.44 billion dollars for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 22, 2012. Unit sales declined 3.34% to 474.3 million (see chart below for more details).

But luckily, cleaning isn’t discretionary (in most homeowner’s eyes anyway).

“Even with the slow economy, people must still clean their homes; they just have less time to so do because they’re spending more time working and just trying to make ends meet,” said Cheryl Holliday, general manager of the household division for BioLab, makers of Greased Lightning cleaners.

According to Holliday, Greased Lighting has “consistently offered affordably-priced products for consumers who have less time on their hands.” One of the brand’s main benefits is its versatility, and along those lines has recently updated select SKUs to showcase the many places and scenarios in which consumers can use the products. In addition, the company last month rolled out Greased Lightning Multi-Purpose Cleaner in a spring rain scent.

Industry insiders believe multi-purpose products that offer convenience and can leave more money in
consumers’ pockets shine brightest when the economy loses its luster.

“We see that people continue to put a premium on convenience,” noted Andrew Charleston, product manager for Spray Nine. According to Charleston, while some multi-purpose formulas tend to be strong in one area but weak in another, Spray Nine multi-purpose cleaner and disinfectant is a great fit for “time-starved consumers” as they don’t have to switch out one product for another when cleaning.

Permatex, the Johnstown, NY company behind Spray Nine, has recently signed nine new firms to sell and distribute its products throughout the US. The new reps are part of an “aggressive channel expansion” as it seeks to expand Spray Nine’s presence in a competitive market where it faces competition from private label products and well-known national brands.

The big players, including Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson and Reckitt Benckiser, are touting their multitasking cleaning products that offer consumers speed and performance.

“Quality cleaning fast,” is what homeowners want, said Ian Tholking, P&G Home Care PR manager.
“We see that consumers still want the best performance, but they want the cleaning to be done as quickly as possible.”

Among P&G’s newest products are Mr. Clean with the Scent of Gain multi-surface spray and liquid, which provide cleaning power and a favorite scent under one cap.

“It’s perfect for cleaning almost any hard surface in the home, from the kitchen sink to greasy stovetops and floors,” Tholking said.

“When it comes to cleaning, our consumers want products they can trust to get the job done quickly and efficiently [because] most people are time-crunched and would rather be doing something else,” said Kelly M. Semrau, senior vice president-global corporate affairs, sustainability and communication at SC Johnson.

According to Semrau, innovation and convenience are paramount during brand development and “drive what products actually make it to market.”

Take for example, SC Johnson’s All-in-One Cleaning System, which is currently in test market. It allows users to “customize their clean” as they choose three cleaners which are docked in one lightweight sprayer.

“This allows consumers to switch between cleaners instantly with just a simple twist helping them navigate multiple areas of the home while carrying one device,” said Semrau.

Meanwhile, Reckitt Benckiser is pushing its new Lysol No-Touch Kitchen System, which debuted in select retailers in January and is currently rolling out to all stores where Lysol products are sold.

The new system is similar to Lysol’s no-touch hand soap dispenser; it automatically doses a multi-purpose formula—in one of three scents—that tackles grease on dishes, cleans surfaces, kills bacteria and gently cleanses hands too. It works to reduce contamination, not to mention kitchen clutter as it eliminates the need for three separate bottles of dish soap, hand soap and surface cleaner on the kitchen counter.

Whistle While You Work
Method is taking a slightly different tack this Spring cleaning season, evidenced in its first-ever global brand campaign. “Clean Happy” is billed as a colorful, quirky campaign that puts a positive spin on chores via a brand anthem music video and a series of consecutive “Method of the Month” music video vignettes–each supported by a social media program, viewer and community offerings, and an online media buy.

“We are bringing our brand mission of inspiring a happy, healthy home to life with this campaign,” said Eric Ryan, Method’s co-founder and chief brand architect, in a press statement. “Method stands for a more enjoyable cleaning experience, and we want to show that cleaning doesn’t have to be such a chore—it can actually make you feel good and at the same time be safe for you, your family and the planet.”

Seventh Generation has also entered new marketing territory, embarking on its first major studio film promotion by working with Universal Partnerships & Licensing (UP&L) to support “The Lorax.” In connection with the March release of the animated film based on the Dr. Seuss classic, more than 13 million units of custom Lorax packaging have been stocked at retail channels, and tie-in to the flick is being featured in Seventh Generation’s print and digital campaigns.

Maybe these campaigns can reignite the green marketplace. As consumers gripped tighter to their purse strings, sales of many eco-based cleaning products dipped at FDMx outlets.

For example, Seventh Generation’s all-purpose cleaner/disinfectant sales slid 10% and glass cleaner sales fell 25.22%, according to SymphonyIRI. Clorox Green Works has had tough go of it too; sales of Green Works all-purpose cleaner/disinfectant fell 21.97% and its glass cleaner took a bigger hit, with sales dropping 27%.

Interestingly, online retailer Alice.com recently held a Green Works cleaners flash sale—something shoppers have come to associate with pilates classes and designer pocketbooks, not household cleaning products.

“Typically, social deals have focused on bigger ticket items such as yoga classes or fine dining,” said Brian Wiegand, CEO and co-founder of Alice.com. “We’re thrilled to help Green Works lead the way in offering consumers deep discounts on their favorite CPG products through the industry’s first-of-its-kind flash sale on Facebook.”

The promotion bundled four Green Works products (a 32oz all purpose cleaner spray, a 30-count pack of compostable cleaning wipes, a 22oz dishwashing liquid and liquid laundry detergent) for $10—a savings of more than 50%, according to Alice.com.

“As social media transforms and extends into every corner of our lives, we saw an opportunity to innovate the shopping experience for our Green Works consumers,” Amy Hsiao, brand manager of Green Works cleaners, said in a release. “This groundbreaking flash sale on Facebook is an exciting way for us to provide an exclusive deal to our fans.”

The Green Clean Scene
When it comes to buying a “green” cleaner versus a conventional offering, cash-strapped consumers continue to grapple with a raft of issues ranging from price to efficacy to safety to the product’s overall environmental impact.

According to Sue Perry, deputy editor of ShopSmart magazine, (which comes from Consumer Reports), homeowners are looking to reduce their exposure to nasty chemicals yet they still want cleaners that get the job done. But are green brands up to the challenge?

According to Perry, “sometimes the greener cleaners aren’t up to the task of the big guns.” Yet she said “two greener all-purpose cleaners, Nature’s Source and Seventh Generation, aced our tough mess tests.”

Seventh Generation is banking on the success of “The Lorax,” a movie based on the Dr. Seuss classic.
“The marketplace is seeing a spike in natural offerings, but if the product doesn’t work, then consumers aren’t going to be repeat buyers. We pride ourselves on proving authentic natural products that are highly effective,” said J.R. Rigley, vice president of sales and marketing at J.R. Watkins, which offers natural home care products such as window and bathroom cleaners and room sprays as well as personal care items and edible SKUs like vanilla extract; the latter of which it has been selling for more than 140 years.

“It really boils down to efficacy,” he insisted.

Perry insists it comes down to personal preferences.

“If someone feels safer choosing the greener cleaner because they think it’s less harsh and they value that, then it might be worth it to them,” she said.

Changes Made
While SC Johnson’s Nature’s Source scored well with ShopSmart, the company continues make its mainstream chemical specialties more eco-friendly as well. For example, SCJ has recently expanded its mini refill pilot program from Windex to Fantastik, Pledge, Scrubbing Bubbles and Shout. The move builds on a pilot program rolled out last July in which Windex concentrated refills were sold online at scjgreenchoices.com.

“We wanted to start a national discussion on concentrates and with the Windex Mini launch, we did just that. We got very positive feedback on the product as well. But this wasn’t simply about sales–it was about dialogue,” said Semrau. “We wanted SC Johnson to be a leader in helping consumers have and understand green options, and make more environmental choices. And while the Windex Mini launch was a really good step in learning what consumers wanted in concentrated cleaners, we are hoping this new expanded line will take it further.”

In addition, the refills have been tweaked based on feedback from Windex Mini users, such as a “desire for recyclable packaging, people wanting to buy individually rather than in three-packs, and feedback about the challenge of pouring from a pouch into a bottle.”

According to Semrau, “All of this has been reflected in the new products—they come in easy-to-pour mini bottles that are made of HDPE and can be recycled in most communities. And, we have five products instead of one, to help clean all over the home.”

Currently, single bottles are available online for $2.50 and starter kits (two concentrates and reusable bottle) are priced at $5 each.

“We do want to see concentrated refills on store shelves in the future. But that’s a long-term goal—certainly not something we expect in less than a year,” Semrau told Happi. “The initial Windex Mini pouch was about getting the product into consumers’ hands as a first step, and then listening to the feedback. We did that, and now we’re applying what we heard. This is a major change for consumers and we expect it to take a while with lots of learning along the way.”

In addition to the “mini” expansion, SC Johnson recently released its Exclusive Fragrance Palette, which provides a comprehensive list of the fragrance ingredients found in the company’s products and is accessible to consumers through its recently-enhanced ingredient disclosure website.

“We believe that it’s critical that we share our full fragrance palette, to help consumers feel confident about the fragrances found in SC Johnson products like Windex, Glade and Pledge.And we know we are making a difference as thousands of people visit www.whatsinsidescjohnson.com every week,” according to Semrau.

SC Johnson’s fragrance ingredients are evaluated under International Fragrance Association (IFRA) criteria and its own internal requirements.

CLR has expanded its franchise with surface specific SKUs.
“These internal requirements may look at the same criteria as IFRA, such as carcinogenicity, mutagenicity or reproductive toxicity, but the SC Johnson standard may take a stricter or different view of an ingredient. In some instances, additional factors are considered such as consumer confidence with ingredients or other scientific viewpoints.”

In addition, this year SC Johnson is rolling out product labels that list ingredients using their INCI names, and will complete the task over the next several years.

Speaking Out
Moves like these are designed to reinforce SC Johnson’s mission of transparency and its products’ long history of both efficacy and safety—a message that must be heralded not only by marketers themselves, but also industry at large, especially when their products come under attack.

Such was the case in March, when a Silent Spring Institute (SSI) co-authored paper entitled “Endocrine Disruptors and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Consumer Products” appeared in Environmental Health Perspectives.

SSI reportedly tested 213 consumer products—including cleaning products made by companies such as Colgate, Unilever, SC Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Seventh Generation, Ecover and others—for the presence of hormone disruptors as well as chemicals associated with asthma. According to SSI, “all 50 different categories of conventional products contained some target chemicals. And the majority of the ‘alternative’ products—marketed for having safer ingredients than their conventional counterparts—also contained chemicals of concern.”

Upon release of the paper, SC Johnson, Clorox and even Seventh Generation issued statements about the paper’s findings, and industry associations went on the offensive, too.

Both ACI and the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), were quick to refute the findings, question the methodology, reinforce product safety and call attention to their voluntary efforts in regard to ingredient disclosure.

CSPA questioned SSI’s presumption that selected chemicals are “endocrine disruptors” or “asthma associated” simply by the detection within a product. According to CSPA, it is “unfortunate and misleading that the title of this report implies that there is a well-defined link between consumer products and endocrine disruption and asthma when the study of this issue continues and scientific questions remain unresolved.The mere presence of a chemical in a product does not deem the product unsafe.In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated, the level of exposure to a chemical is relevant, not its mere presence.”

According to ACI, the paper raises unfounded safety concerns over cleaning products and distorts the established safety of ingredients used in cleaning products by inappropriately equating their detection with health issues.

“An enormous amount of research, development and testing takes place before cleaning products hit the shelves,” said Richard Sedlak, ACI executive vice president, technical and international affairs.
“Detailed safety assessments are conducted by companies throughout the life cycle of a product,” he said, insisting that safety is “built into the DNA of cleaning product development and manufacturing.”

Added Sedlak, “It’s apparent through Silent Spring Institute’s publicity materials that they are disparaging dozens of products and ingredients that contribute to better hygiene, health and living every day.”

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