The Future of Cleaning

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | November 4, 2013

The world is getting smaller, consumers are getting smarter and the result is that marketers must work harder than ever to succeed in the global household cleaning space.

Today, how consumers clean their clothes and their homes in Guandong is different from how they clean their clothes and homes in Mumbai, which, in turn, is different than how they clean their clothes and homes in São Paulo or St. Paul or St. Petersburg. And yet, in the coming years and decades, experts agree that commonalities in cleaning will outweigh the differences in an increasingly global marketplace.

That fact was clearly evident at Cleaning Products 2013 in Richmond, VA last month. The event, which attracted 180 attendees, is put on by Smithers Apex in association with the American Cleaning Institute (ACI). Organizers said Cleaning Products 2014 will be held Nov. 10-12, 2014 in Washington DC.

“Today there are regionally and culturally divergent lifestyles around the world that call for different cleaning methods and different cleaning products,” noted Jaimie Rosenberg of Mintel. “But that is beginning to change as the world is becoming more homogeneous.”

The world is also moving eastward, as Asian cultural influences blur the lines between East and West. Rosenberg noted that 82% of all new food, drink and beauty products targeted at seniors in 2012 were launched in Japan and China. One big driver for all this globalization is access to universal information. Mintel estimates that there will be 10 billion internet-connected devices worldwide by 2015, as consumers rely on their mobile devices in all aspects of their lives. Already, 25% of smartphone owners have compared prices while shopping online, according to Rosenberg.

And while more of these “smart” consumers say they want to purchase green household cleaning products, they are very skeptical about such claims. In fact, according to Mintel’s research, 81% of US consumers  and 76% of UK consumers agreed with the statement, “I don’t believe companies are as green as they say they are.”  Still, Europe accounts for 82% of new product launches with ecolabels, compared to North America (12%), Asia-Pacific (6%) and Latin America (0.4%).

Why, Robots?
Consumers are getting older around the world as well, according to Rosenberg, who noted that 50% of babies born in industrialized nations after 2000 will live to be 100 and will have to work longer too. Therefore, they will be looking for help around the home, which explains why sales of household robots, such as Roomba, are expected to double by 2015 to approximately 3 million units. But today’s robots aren’t just sweeping floors. Ecovacs’ new Winbot cleans all types of windows, making the hassle of cleaning glass a thing of the past. With micropads that wash and dry each window, Winbot has safety features so it remains attached to windows.

“These robots change the way we apply household cleaning products and offer more opportunities for household cleaning product companies,” explained Rosenberg, who noted that Clorox supplies the cleaning solutions for the iRobot Scooba units.
“More companies will find themselves working together with these partners,” predicted Rosenberg.

Self-cleaning goes beyond windows and includes entire facilities, according to Rosenberg. Pilkington Activ is billed as the world’s first self-cleaning glass to use a microscopic, dual-action coating. In the photocatalytic stage, the coating reacts with daylight to break down organic matter. In the hydrophilic stage, rainwater hits the glass, spreads evenly and runs off taking the loosened dirt with it. The product is recommended for all external facing glass in windows, doors and skylights.

Cleaning Less Often?
“Consumers may find themselves cleaning less frequently,” warned Rosenberg, who noted that the same trend is taking hold in the laundry category thanks to the emergence of microfibers that repel dirt and the hard surface cleaning segment, too. Major players such as Reckitt Benckiser (Veja), Henkel (Blue Star), 3M (Scotch Guard), P&G (Mr. Clean), Colgate-Palmolive (Ajax Shower Power) and Unilever (Cif) all offer hard surface cleaners that promise to repel dirt and water.

“Twenty-free percent of European consumers are willing to pay more for self-cleaning surfaces, and 18% would pay more for self-cleaning fabrics,” he noted.

In the same Mintel survey, researchers found that 52% of respondents are interested in self-cleaning surfaces but wouldn’t pay more for them and 45% are interested in self-cleaning fabrics, but they wouldn’t pay more for them either.

Marketers, however, continue to roll out sensor-controlled devices. Reckitt Benckiser, the world’s largest hard surface cleaning company, for example, markets Odor Detect AirWick air freshener and Cillit Bang hard surface cleaner, while SC Johnson offers Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower cleaner, Raid Automatic insect control and a variety of automatic multipurpose sprayers under the Windex and Fantastik brand names.

“Long-term market expansion is reliant on added value; i.e., convenience, more than volume,” Rosenberg concluded. “Saving consumers time and effort is essential.”

What Consumers Want
Creating green cleaners that do the job faster and easier appear to be a home run in the marketplace, but Steve Bolkan of Church & Dwight warned that there are winners and losers in the marketplace. That’s why C&D views the segment in “4D;” i.e., Delight, Discover, Develop and Deliver; all with the goal to create repeat purchases. But in a candid presentation he called “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,”  Bolkan noted that some product launches are more successful than others.

On a positive note, Kaboom Foam-Tastic Color-Changing toilet bowl cleaner lets consumers know when the formula has cleaned a surface. The super cling foam is said to work “before your eyes” to eliminate the guesswork from cleaning. The foam sprays on blue and turns white when it’s clean. It offered consumers value too, as one container cleans as many toilets as four traditional toilet bowl cleaners, according to Church & Dwight.

Bolkan explained that the Kaboom Foam-Tastic Color-Changing toilet bowl cleaner launch helped save the brand, as sales doubled, led to strong incremental growth and helped pave the way for other product launches such as Kaboom BowlBlaster.

Not as successful was the introduction of Arm & Hammer Crystal Burst, C&D’s entry into the unit dose laundry detergent category.
“Will unit dose transform the laundry category?” asked Bolkan. “We don’t know yet. Unit dose eliminates flexibility on the part of the consumer.”

He recalled that C&D executives were concerned that if they didn’t launch a unit dose product quickly, they may have been shut out of retail space. Unfortunately, sales of Crystal Burst flat-lined and sales within the entire segment have stalled.

If the Crystal Burst launch was bad, the introduction of Arm & Hammer Essentials household cleaners was truly ugly, according to Bolkan, who recalled that Church & Dwight rushed the product to market in response to Clorox’s launch of Green Works. The A&H Essentials launch featured an empty spray bottle that consumers filled with concentrated product. It was a great idea, in theory: Church & Dwight wouldn’t ship water and retailers would save on shelf space. In reality, however, the launch was deeply flawed, recalled Bolkan.

“Consumers will not buy an empty bottle. We should have launched a filled bottle with a refill,” he explained. “If the consumer has to change her habits, [a new product launch] will be dead on arrival.”

Bolkan also warned that big failures can destroy a good idea, such as refills, for years.

“Once you fail so badly, it is tough to come back,” he warned the audience. “It may take five years to bring the concept back to the marketplace again.”

Fail to Succeed?
But not all failures are catastrophic, and some may even be cathartic, according to Method’s Kaj Johnson, who reminded attendees that if people didn’t fail at an early age, they would never learn to walk—much less fly, as Orville and Wilbur Wright failed repeatedly, like so many before them, prior to their success at Kitty Hawk, NC.

“Failure teaches you where not to go; it helps you find new paths,” Johnson asserted. “But you must learn something in the process.”

Seven years ago, Method couldn’t compete with multinationals on laundry care shelves. In an effort to break through that wall of plastic jugs, Method researchers devised a concentrated laundry bead that, unfortunately, did not dissolve in cold water and, on occasion, even “glued” clothes together in the dryer. Yet, rather than walk away from the ultra-concentrated concept, Method devised the world’s first 8X ultra-concentrated detergent that promises to deliver the same cleaning power as the leading liquids, but at one-fourth the dose. The end result: Method lowered its carbon footprint by 35%. Johnson insisted that if the entire category switched to 8X concentrated, it would save 3.4 million barrels of oil, 40,000 tons of plastic and 66 million gallons of water.

Utilizing that same “can-do” attitude, Method co-founder Adam Lowry became obsessed with the idea of using ocean plastic in product bottles. For more than a year, Method employees worked with local volunteers from Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i and the Kokua Hawai’i Foundation to hand-collect several tons of plastic from the beaches of Hawai’i, where the kinds of rigid, opaque plastic needed to make this packaging are most abundant.

Find the Right Partner
Next, Method partnered with innovative recycler Envision Plastics to develop a new recycling process to make the bottles. The process allows plastics recovered from the ocean to be cleaned, blended, and then remanufactured into high quality recycled plastic that is the same quality as virgin high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic.

“You need to find the right partner,” cautioned Johnson, who said Method found another good partner in Segetis, to create solvents that are non-VOC, natural and degradable. Now, Ecover, Method’s parent company, is utilizing sophorolipids, a natural surfactant that was discovered in the 1960s, in its hard surface cleaners.

Despite these advances, much work remains, according to Johnson. He suggested the industry target:
  • Ultra safe preservatives and industrial solvents;
  • “Nasty” chemistry and processes;
  • Polymers and packaging with good pasts and futures;
  • Economical cellulose conversion and full infrastructure to take biochemicals beyond sustainable; and
  • Nature-made materials, such as algae, that open new doors.
But even as industry works toward solutions, Johnson warned the audience that a different mindset is needed for long-term success.

“We think that everything is infinite,” he observed. “Mass consumption is part of the problem.”

New Markets, New Problems
As marketers and suppliers grapple with the problems facing developed markets, company executives in emerging markets have their own issues to deal with, said Dr. Kitty Zhang, chief scientist, Guangzhou Liby Enterprise Group Co., Ltd., which is the largest domestic player in the Chinese household cleaning segment. Liby controls 22.3% of the powder laundry detergent segment (ahead of P&G’s 20.3%) and 41.8% of the dishwashing detergent segment. More specifically, liquid laundry detergent accounted for 33.64% of China’s household product sales from January to June 2013. That was followed by household cleaner (13.33%), powder detergent (9.16%), kitchen cleaner (9.12%), fabric disinfectant (8.84%), fabric care (8.58%), household disinfectant (8.28%) and laundry soap (4.18%). Incredibly, while sales of powder detergent have been flat in recent years, sales of liquids have soared 41%.

Several trends are impacting consumer product sales in the country. China’s population topped 1.3 billion in 2011 and is growing 4.79% a year. In 2011, 57.2% of the population lived in urban areas, compared to 26.2% of the population in 1989. However, the percentage of people over 65 years old will grow from 12.54% of the population in 2010 to 22.8% by 2034.

“We will face a severe shortage of working people,” Zhang predicted.

She noted that China’s gross domestic product has grown nearly 8% a quarter for the past five quarters and that annual retail sales of consumer goods is better than 13%. Green, or rather, the low carbon concept, has taken hold in China. Driven by consumer and retailer demand, producers are utilizing green processes in production, less fuel in distribution, less packaging in retail and less water and energy in consumer use.

Zhang predicted that, given Chinese consumers’ predilection to dote on their children, more product will be launched for mom and baby. During the next five years, sales of liquid detergents that are safe and mild to skin, more convenient and more caring for fabrics will be popular, as will products with natural ingredients and antibacterial products.

Natural ingredients? Products that care for clothing? Sounds like consumer demands are the same whether folks shop in New York or Nanjing.

CSPA Celebrates Its Centennial
• There are 100 reasons to celebrate at the annual meeting of the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), which will be Dec. 8-12 in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The event will kick off CSPA’s year-long centennial celebration, with the theme “A Century Moving Forward – The Past,” which reflects upon the growth of the association and industry during the past 100 years.

The annual meeting will include a full schedule of division meetings, award presentations and a keynote lecture by Michael Beschloss, best-selling author and historian, whose works include “Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989.” Beschloss has served as a historian on the staff of the Smithsonian Institution, was appointed a senior associate member at Oxford University in England, and was elected a senior fellow of the Annenberg Foundation.

More info: www.cspa.org