Fresh & Clean: 50 Years of Soap

By Melissa Meisel, Associate Editor | June 6, 2013

From bar soaps to bath gels and beyond.

Lifebuoy, Cuticura, Sapolio and Pearline made the pages of Detergent Age (now Happi) in June 1964. Today, brands like Dove, Dial and Axe are in the headlines, but the mission is still the same: keeping people clean.

In 1963, soap (category size at the manufacturers’ level) was $271 million in the US. By 2012, sales topped $4 billion, according to Carrie Mellage, director, consumer products, Kline & Company, Inc., Parsippany, NJ. Those 1963 figures included toilet soaps (bar soaps) and “detergent bars,” which were 8% of the total; Kline’s 2012 figures include bar soaps, liquid soaps, body washes and bath additives.

“In the 1963 profile, one interesting tidbit noted is that sales had leveled off at the time due to the increased popularity of showers, which use less soap than tub baths, along with growing consumer awareness that soaps can be drying to the skin,” according to Mellage.

She added that the 1956 launch of Dove was a game changer for the industry, as it was the first time cleansing and moisturization were combined. Similarly, the debut of Jergens Body Shampoo in 1994 was noteworthy.

“While shower gel/body wash products had been popular in Europe for some time, the concept had not taken off in America yet,” Mellage explained. “Many brands had attempted and failed prior to 1994, including Softsoap and Fa.”

According to Mellage, Jergens was the first to package the body wash along with an innovative, eye-catching sponge that produced more lather than a washcloth. Many other launches quickly followed, each packaged along with a bath accessory or “poof.”

“Packaging along with the accessory proved to be the key to success here,” she observed.

Major Innovations
Though bathtubs have been around since Antiquity, the modern tub debuted during the 19th century when water was piped into homes and faucets were installed, noted Ben Krigler, fifth generation perfumer and president of operations at Krigler Haute Perfumery, The Shops at The Plaza Hotel, New York. Once this innovation became accessible, soap became part of daily life.

“Though quality varies, soap can be found in a variety of forms in terms of size, solid or liquid, moisturizer instilled or even fragranced,” said Krigler. “The greatest innovation in soaps has been the development of offerings, which all ultimately result in the same objective—to cleanse.”

According to Frank Klisanich, president and CEO, The Village Company, Chaska, MN, delivering liquid soap in a bottle with a pump is the greatest innovation in the category during the past 50 years. In the late 1970s, Robert Taylor and the Minnetonka Corporation introduced the “Incredible Soap Machine” that dispensed liquid soap through a plastic pump. By 1978, the product had evolved into the Softsoap brand. To protect Softsoap’s position in the category, he purchased all available dispensing pumps from the only two manufacturers—over 100 million pieces—ensuring similar products could not be made.

In 1993, Minnetonka Brands was founded by former Softsoap executives, and in 2005 was renamed The Village Company, LLC. In 2008, it expanded its kids’ bath portfolio with the purchase of Mr. Bubble. Since its introduction 52 years ago, Mr. Bubble has remained a top-selling brand in the kids’ category, with a recent addition of a 3-in-1 body wash, shampoo and conditioner.

Ian Ginsberg, president and third generation owner of the historic C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries, New York, also pointed to “amazing breakthroughs we’ve made in liquid soaps and cleansers” over the past 50 years. He told Happi, “After so many years of a culture so accustomed to the bar companies, we have done a great job innovating in liquid and causing a dramatic shift from bar to liquid...Liquid cleansers are more convenient, less messy, and for the most part, are easy to work with in scent. As we get smarter, it becomes easier to incorporate ingredients and ingredient complexes for better skin care benefits.”

Ginsberg’s company recently reintroduced two liquid products from the archives—Peach Nut Oil Liquid Soap (18-in-1 uses) with 5% peach kernel oil, as well as a semi-solid Chapped Hands Cleanser made with 5% aloe vera oil and 1% jojoba oil.

Greener Pastures
Botanicals and other natural ingredients have permeated the soap segment over the years, much like other personal care categories. In 2009, beauty brand Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics pioneered a palm oil-free soap base, which is now in production and available for purchase from other companies. Another classic is crafted from natural oceanic elements—Erno Laszlo’s Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar, which was coveted by Marilyn Monroe and Jackie O. According to the company, Laszlo’s iconic black bar cleans deeply with 97% natural mud from the Dead Sea.

“Dr. Laszlo was one of the first to insist that his patients, including the princess of his native Hungary, cleanse their faces with soap and water as opposed to cold cream that was popular back in the day,” said Laura Filancia, institute director, Erno Laszlo, New York.

Modern Day Makeover
In October 2011, Ivory, Procter & Gamble’s oldest and most iconic consumer brand, debuted an advertising campaign and product packaging makeover for its line of bar soaps, body washes and liquid hand soap aiming to contemporize the 132-year-old brand. According to the company, a vibrant new color scheme and packaging redesign complements the current Ivory product offerings of Lavender, Aloe and Simply Ivory bar soaps and body washes.

Ivory advertisement circa 1965, at left; a revamped image today,
at right.

In addition to the television, print and online executions, Ivory ran a number of out-of-home ads in select cities and engaged fans and followers through Facebook and Twitter.

Just for Guys
Early in 2012, the first gel-to-foam men’s body wash hit the shelves. According to Henkel, the Dial for Men brand reinvented the body wash category with Speed Foam body wash. The self-propelled Speed Foam “body wash gel” boasts more than 40 washes per unit.

Dial for Men is just one example of the burgeoning men’s personal care marketplace, predominately featuring soap. According to Shannon Romanowski, beauty and personal care analyst, Mintel, Chicago, “Launches from Unilever’s men’s brands Dove Men+Care and Axe could be indicating an emerging trend.”

Prestige player Jack Black has also carved out a niche for itself in the soap segment. Its “new and improved” Clean Formula Face Bar & Shave Soap is a 2-in-1, French-milled, plant-based bar now in a round shape.

“Soap has changed dramatically over the past 50 years,” said Patricia Finn, Jack Black’s VP of marketing. “Most notably, bar soap is no longer made exclusively from tallow...most of today’s bar soaps are 100% vegetable derived.”

Wash ’n Go
Besides new innovations in bar soaps, body washes and bath gels offer an alternative for personal cleansing. In 2013, Softsoap branched out into body washes with two new beach-inspired fragrances. Meanwhile, prestige mainstay Philosophy (known for its 3-in-1 formulations) recently debuted its Field of Flowers Violet Blossom shampoo/shower gel and bubble bath product.
According to its director of international programs and global press, Robin White, Phoenix, AZ, consumers are looking for multi-tasking soap and shower products. She told Happi, “We call our formulas 3-in-1 because they can be used as shampoo, bubble bath and shower gel.”

Fresh Outlook
Bar soaps will continue to evolve in terms of functionality, observed Finn of Jack Black. She told Happi, “They will do much more than just cleanse. There are already bar soaps on the market that treat acne, dry skin and more.”
Future bars featuring anti-aging ingredients and warming/cooling ingredients are only a few ingredient trends, added Finn. Incorporating ingredients from the food industry will remain hot and personalization will continue to grow.  She explained, “In the past, every member of the family used the same bar of soap in the shower. Today, you see bar soaps geared toward specific ethnic groups, age groups or skin concerns.”

Ginsberg of C.O. Bigelow agreed. He said, “As technology gets better, we’ll begin to see more multi-tasking options—for example, deodorizing, moisturizing, anti-aging, protective or exfoliating products,” he said.

In terms of trends, the wide array of soap options available will continue to be implemented into daily life, observed Krigler, who added,  “Whether it is in the form of a shower gel, body wash, body scrub or bar soap infused with fragrance or moisturizing properties, consumers will use these as a way to indulge themselves through an experience of the senses.”

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