Not Exactly Cleaning Up

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | November 21, 2012

The category continues its years-long slump, as the innovations that jump-started the detergent industry fail to materialize.

Disruptive innovation. It’s been credited with invigorating industries as diverse as computers, publishing, shipping and, most recently, laundry care. Unfortunately, that “next big thing” has eluded the household cleaning market. Incremental gains are nice, but they’re not moving the needle the way unit dose technology has provided a big lift to laundry detergent sales.

According to data from SymphonyIRI, household cleaner sales rose just 1.53% to more than $3.1 billion for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 7, 2012 (see chart, p. 58). Sure, there’s been some new product activity, but not enough to shake things up to any great degree. But that doesn’t mean marketers and their suppliers shouldn’t strive to create the next generation of cleaning products.


No one loves cleaning the house, but the right product can make the task a bit more enjoyable.
“Do not give up on innovation,” urged Gerard Baillely, R&D manager, Home Care and Procter & Gamble Professional at the recent Cleaning Products 2012 Conference in Baltimore, MD. “We are overwhelmed by safety issues, energy regulations, China’s economic slowdown and Western Europe’s struggles. Innovation is what resolves these tensions.”

In his presentation, Baillely noted that within the autodish wash (ADW) category, unit dose forms have grown from a 12% share of ADW sales in 2002 to more than 50% a decade later. Nearly all the gain came at the expense of traditional powder and gel formats.

So, is there a similar magic bullet ready to be fired for household cleaners? To find it, companies must start with the consumer.

Time Constraints
Regardless whether marketers develop ADWs, disinfectants or toilet bowl cleaners, convenience plays a key role in the consumer’s purchasing decisions. Baillely noted that the average consumer spends significantly less time cleaning her home these days, down to 2.5 times/week from 6.2 times in 1998. But while more consumers are eating more ready-to-prepare foods or ready-to-eat meals, they are spending even more time in the kitchen, according P&G data.

Baillely explained that more consumers are watching the Food Network and committing themselves to healthier eating. As a result, while they may not be cooking as much, there is increased contact time with food, as the kitchen becomes the hub of the home, which leads to increased food occasions per day and the likelihood of more family members participating in the cooking process.

Armed with that data, chemists must develop the right formula that works well the first time. In household cleaning product formulations that means finding the right mix of surfactants, enzymes, catalysts, polymers and chelants.

Clorox executives said they found that mix when they developed the GreenWorks brand of household cleaners. Six years ago, recalled Gregory van Buskirk, a research fellow at the company, Clorox began its sustainability journey when it took a closer look at the green cleaner space and found most formulas did not perform as well as conventional cleaners, and yet, cost more than traditional cleaners.

Armed with that information, company researchers were confident that their formulation know-how would enable them to build an effective green formulation from the ground up, according to van Buskirk. With the success of Green Works, Clorox ramped up its sustainability profile, with the goal of boosting the percentage of products made more sustainable from 15% to 25% by 2013. What’s more, 39% of the company’s growth now comes from its more sustainable brands.

More Green Moves
Ecover, the Belgium-based manufacturer of green cleaners, has been searching for the greenest ingredients since its founding in 1980 by Frans Bogaerts, who created a range of phosphate-free cleaners. Today, the company has additional offices in France, US, UK, Germany, Switzerland and India, as well as manufacturing facilities in Belgium and France. Overall, the company markets 35 products in 40 countries and is trying to spread its message around the world.

“Ecover’s mission is making a healthy and sustainable lifestyle easy,” explained Tom Domen, long-term innovation manager, Ecover.

Ecover recently added Method to its product lineup.
The company relies on plant-based raw materials derived from herbs, starch and wood fibers (cellulose), rapeseed, palm and coconut oil, and essential oils. Apart from plant-based ingredients, Ecover also uses minerals and mineral derivatives, such as sand, lime, zeolite and silicate.

Its September acquisition of Method creates the world’s largest green cleaning company, with 300 employees and annual sales in excess of $200 million.

According to Domen, ecology must be embedded in every company’s strategy, without compromising on cleaning power or dedication to green.

“We need disruption and we need new raw materials,” he told the audience. “The Oil Age (petroleum) will end long before we run out of oil. We must make a sustainable transition to a bio-based economy.”
But to get there, companies must be able to source bio-based materials. Ecover, for example, formulates its hard surface cleaners with Eco-Surfactants, a combination of glucose and rapeseed oil.

However, there are several avenues to sustainable feedstocks, according to conference speakers.

“In the next 10 years, every consumer product company will incorporate a flood of renewable chemicals (into their formulas),” predicted Jere Kolstad, president and chief financial offer, Rivertop Renewables, which develops materials based on glucose.

Taking it a step further, Kolstad predicted that within the next five years, two novel drop-in chemicals will come to the market and will be adopted by the majority of cleaning product companies.

That’s all good stuff, especially when customers are demanding data to backup green cleaning claims. For example, big box retailer Staples’ new “Race to the Top” corporate strategy calls on suppliers to compete on product quality, cost and features, as well as solutions for product manufacturing, packaging and distribution to reduce environmental impacts, according to Roger McFadden, VP-senior scientist, Staples, Inc.

“Business-to-business makes up 51% of our revenue,” he explained. “We sell more than 100,000 products, with more than 10,000 chemicals from over 1,000 suppliers.”

With that kind of complicated supply chain, the company is demanding more transparency from its suppliers—and it is getting a good response from its trade partners.

“An increasing number of product makers are responding by going beyond compliance and voluntarily listing all ingredients on their product labels and safety data sheets,” according to McFadden.

Staples’ Chemical Policy requests product chemistry and hazard endpoint data from suppliers; prioritizes chemicals of high concern for elimination; calls for collaboration with suppliers to avoid chemicals of concern and substitute safer alternatives; and develops a scorecard to measure progress and evaluate results.

“All industries face credibility issues, when transparency is done right, it can be very powerful,” noted McFadden.

He continued, “Neither the chemicals nor the companies that sell them are the problem. Chemical companies are the solution.”

The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) is creating the Cleaning Product Ingredient Safety Initiative (CPISI), dedicated to keeping all stakeholders informed about product formulas.

The goal, explained Paul DeLeo, senior director, environmental safety, ACI, is to make safety publicly available for every chemical ingredient used in every formulated consumer cleaning manufactured by its members. CPISI objectives include:
  • Compile the universe of members’ ingredients;
  • Identify publicly available hazard data;
  • Conduct exposure assessments based on use;
  • Conduct screening-level risk assessment for each cleaning product ingredient; and
  • Create an electronic clearinghouse.
“We will be working on this for the next four years,” said DeLeo, whose team has surveyed 900 products from 12 American Cleaning Institute members. The inventory includes more than 13,000 separate ingredient entries and more than 1,000 separate listed ingredient names.

Welcoming the World
It’s one thing to have regulators watching you and your company, but the world was watching when Jan Matthews was cleaning up at the London Olympic Games as its head of catering, cleaning and waste services. Matthews, the CEO at RP Global, had the herculean task of feeding and cleaning for thousands of athletes and spectators.

Suppliers, marketers and their customers are partnering to develop sustainable cleaning solutions.
In the midst of all that humanity, what areas represented the toughest cleaning challenges? As every homeowner might suspect, the kitchens and bathrooms.

“The kitchens were being used 24/7, and the workforce was preparing 15,000 meals a day,” she recalled. “There was no down time for deep cleaning.”

To overcome that obstacle, the Games relied heavily on P&G Professional to provide cleaning staff with the training needed to use products properly. At the same time, the grounds were monitored and APT tests were taken regularly to ensure that cleaning was being done correctly.

Kitchen duty aside, ensuring that the toilets were clean and smelled fresh was the toughest cleaning job at The Games. But all went well as Matthews’ crew relied on toilet bowl cleaner and Febreze to get the job done.

And what was the biggest takeaway from Matthews Olympic experience. Teamwork is critical.

“You are better together than by yourself,” she told Happi. “When companies look for strategic partnerships, they will flourish. It’s not enough to ask, ‘how can my business help your business.’ You have to move forward together. That’s what happened at The Games, where people walked the talk and delivered. That made for a better, happier environment.”

Better, happier environments. Isn’t that really the goal of every consumer who purchases a hard surface cleaner or disinfectant?

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