According to IRI data for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 1, 2015, laundry detergent sales at multi-outlets rose less than 1% to $6.9 billion. In liquids, the largest category, sales were essentially flat at $5.1 billion, while packets/bars—the sector where unit dose is tallied—posted a 19.92% gain to $957.1 million. And as has been the trend for years, powder sales continued to decline, falling 10.41% to $778.3 million.
The Reality of the Dose
Pods growth remains strong despite issues about product safety. For example, Consumer Reports announced in July that it would no longer recommend liquid laundry detergent pods due to the “continued high-rate of accidental positioning of young children attributable to those products.” The organization—which rates and recommends a bevy of consumer products from automobiles to yogurt—said it was strongly urging households with children younger than 6 to refrain from purchasing the format.
The detergent industry as a whole, however, continues to address the issue, including efforts spearheaded by organizations such as the American Cleaning Institute. (You hear more about ACI’s efforts in a recent podcast on Happi.com.) And manufacturers are making changes too. For example, last fall, P&G announced that it would add a bitter taste to the outer layer of its Tide, Gain and Ariel laundry pacs in North America and make packaging opaque with more secure closures.
“In the long run, the safety issues shouldn’t destroy their ability to remain a growing market,” said Ryan Tuttle, a research analyst with Euromonitor International, who noted that the unit dose category is expected to show continued grow through 2020.
Cleaning, Conditioning and Care
It is no surprise that Tide rules the roost in unit dose, and the P&G powerhouse brand has been promoting the use of its pods with ancillary products such as scent boosters and conditioners.
“We continue to educate consumers how the fabric care regimen of Tide Pods laundry detergent along with Downy fabric conditioner helps clothes look newer longer,” said Mary Johnson, P&G fabric care scientist.
According to Johnson, Tide Pods plus Febreze fuses Febreze for long-lasting freshness with the stain removal power and convenience of detergent packs. The 4-in-1 technology gives users detergent, stain remover, brightener and 24 hours of freshness all in one pac while Downy fabric conditioner protects clothes at the fiber level to reduce abrasion from daily wear, which ages clothes.
“Think about it this way—you wouldn’t use a shampoo without a conditioner, so why would you treat your clothes any differently? Using the two products together not only cleans your garments but protects them, ensuring that they look their best wear after wear,” Johnson said.
Conditioning and protecting clothing is on the minds of decision makers at Sun Products, which is the No. 3 player in fabric softener concentrates (based on IRI analysis). Among the firm’s 2015 rollouts were All Radiant, which features patented “Fiber Shield Technology” which is said to restore dingy whites and protect colors from fading as well as two new Snuggle liquid softener scents (Island Hibiscus & Rainflower and Fresh Spring Flowers) which helped Snuggle become one of the fastest growing brands in the conditioning category this year, according to Ed Vlacich, president national brands and chief marketing officer at Sun Products.
“The laundry conditioning category is a bright spot, with sales up 4% over the past year. This expansion is being led by the scent enhancers segment, which is now 18% of the category,” Vlacich continued. “Our Snuggle Scent Boosters is a big contributor to that growth, and helping Snuggle hit a five year market share high. Year to date, Snuggle is growing share of wash loads faster than any other brand in the category,” he boasted.
A Newcomer in Unit Dose
Competitors are quick to note that there are plenty of consumers who use mid-tier and value products come laundry day. In fact, there’s a new player coming onto the laundry scene that hopes to break into the fast growing unit dose sector by offering a more affordable option.
Detergent 2.0 is rolling out new Wash’n Go Singles, which offers “consumers a compelling value” while giving “retailers a gross margin they can live with,” according to Frederick J. Horowitz, CEO of the New Brunswick, NJ-based company.
Horowitz played a key role at USA Detergents, which rolled out Xtra detergent back when the laundry category was transitioning from powders to liquids.
“At that time, there was no opening price point in liquid, and Xtra filled that role in the market. Today, as the market begins another epic transition from liquid to much more sustainable and efficient unit dose technology, there’s an opportunity,” he told Happi.
According to Horowitz, Detergent 2.0’s team is leveraging past experience and lessons learned from growing Xtra from nothing into a $300 million brand.
In addition, Detergent 2.0 has the benefit of entering as a unit dose brand.
“We don’t have a legacy to protect,” said Horowitz. “We’re coming back to what made Xtra as a brand—a combination of great products and great margins for the retailer.”
Not to mention a great price for consumers; a package of Wash’n Go Singles, containing 45 doses, will be $4.99.
“Consumers want unit dose, but they don’t want to get ripped off. We are giving the best unit dose product at that price point, without dumbing down the product,” Horowitz said.
In addition, Detergent 2.0 will concentrate its efforts on reaching the right customers and stocking products at the right retailers—another lesson learned from his days at USA Detergent.
“The Tide consumer never bought Xtra,” he said.
Taking on Tide
Another newcomer in the US laundry market is taking on Tide. Last year, Henkel rolled out global premium brand Persil to US retailers with an exclusive launch at Walmart in March. Recently, the firm expanded Persil to Sam’s Club, Kroger, Meijer and Rite Aid, and Henkel will continue to add new retailers and regional stores such as ShopRite, Hy-Vee and others throughout Q1 2016, according to Caroline LaBarre, director of marketing-US premium laundry detergents, Henkel.
“There’s one very dominant premium brand in the US, but one brand can’t meet the needs of all consumers,” LaBarre told Happi. “This is a great opportunity for American consumers to see why consumers around the world love Persil.”
While Persil’s formula is traditionally tweaked a bit for the region in which it is sold (to accommodate for differences in food stains—think kimchi versus red wine), Henkel also changed the color of the liquid from green to blue for the US market.
“Americans need laundry detergent to be blue,” LaBarre quipped.
Those familiar to Persil may also recognize the detergent’s original scent, which is used globally. According to LaBarre, it tested well with Americans.
And Consumer Reports (CR), too. The agency ranked Persil ProClean Power Liquid 2-in-1 as its top-rated detergent, toppling Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release “by a decent margin, though both products are excellent overall,” CR wrote in June 2015.
While the CR news put smiles on the faces of the Henkel R&D team, the key to Persil’s success stateside may come down to how well the company can drive trial. The brand already has a 32% repeat rate, exceeding company expectations, according to executives. Still, industry observers contend that to get into US laundry machines, Persil has to get into the hearts and minds of American consumers.
“They have captured some share,” Euromonitor’s Tuttle said about Persil. “They are doing all right for a new product with so little name recognition. In the US, they have to fight an uphill battle—so much of laundry is ingrained due to what our parents used.”
While market giant Tide casts a long shadow across the laundry aisle, competitors don’t remain idle.
For example, Sun Products last year embarked on a high profile integrated campaign and promotional effort with Peanuts that Vlacich described as extremely well received.
“Since the campaign launched in April, All dollar sales are up 3.5%, outpacing category growth of 2.2%,” he said (citing Nielsen Total US+ Costco, for the 36 weeks ending 11/28/15).
Sun will continue the Peanuts story with a promotion timed with The Peanuts Movie DVD release later this spring, but the company will also highlight another one of its brands in 2016; Wisk turns 60 this year.
“Wisk was first introduced in 1956 as the first liquid laundry detergent and ultimate stain fighter and is most recognized for its extremely successful “Ring Around the Collar” campaign that ran for more than 20 years making Wisk a household name synonymous with powerful cleaning,” said Vlacich.
Sun Products plans to support the brand throughout this milestone year with a national print campaign featuring the headline: “Don’t just wash it, Wisk it.”
Although liquids may not seem as hip as pacs and pods, manufacturers are delivering new options and making enhancements to their pourable products.
For example, Henkel has rolled out Purex Powershot, which features a unique bottle design that makes pouring the right amount of detergent easier.
In addition, Method’s most recent laundry launch is a 4x concentrated liquid housed in a transparent recyclable bottle made with 100% PCR. The package offers 66 loads-worth of product that is formulated to work in cold water. (Method fans can expect new laundry care SKUs sometime this spring, according to those close to the firm.)
A Delicates Issue
Not everyone needs, wants or will pay for a pod, which means liquids still have solid footing in the category, and while sales numbers have been shrinking for decades, consumers still use powders too—although the format tends be more popular on a regional basis and with select groups.
And there are other options for consumers who take their fabric care more seriously than others—like the women behind The Laundress, a specialty cleaners company that recently opened a new flagship retail store in New York City to showcase its commitment to being a “tastemaker” in the domestic space.
“We developed the collection because of a need and void in the category and we were tired of being at the dry cleaner,” said founder Gwen Whiting, recalling the reasons she and her business partner Lindsey Boyd created The Laundress 13 years ago.
According to the duo, the storefront allows the company to follow through with more interactive experiences and education. In addition to the company’s complete line of detergent, fabric care and cleaners, visitors will find the Ask The Laundress counter—billed as “all-inclusive question and demo station.” Plus, the company has planned in-store activities such as washing workshops and pop-up collaborations with fashion brands.
“So much of our experience is the how-to, and empowering people to know what to do. But you can only do so much on the website and with collateral,” concluded Boyd.
Another niche player in laundry care is Canadian firm Soak Wash, Inc. Company founder Jacqueline Sava’s road to fabric care came by way of clothing retail; her initial business was as a knitwear designer. Sava found that consumers often sought out advice on how to best care for the garments they were buying. But after giving them some basic laundry lessons, she realized she didn’t have anything to recommend.
“We weren’t impressed with delicates-washing products,” said Sava, who created her own product with the help of a contract manufacturer in 2006.
Touted as “skin care for clothing,” the low sudsing, no rinse, pH-neutral formulation resonates well with customers at knitting, quilting and craft stores, but it is also stocked at lingerie and swim shops.
Sava put her background in industrial design and product development into good use when it came to the packaging. Rather than rely on her CM, she designed and curated an upscale bottle that consumers would want to keep out on their counters.
“We’re in a category that hasn’t been given a lot of love and attention. Everyone has a bottle of Woolite at home and it has cobwebs on it,” Sava told Happi. “We encourage people to keep Soak out on the counter, and tell them anything that doesn’t go in the dryer should go in Soak.”
For wool garments that do end up in the dryer, there’s hope by way of a start-up founded by Harvard Business School grads Des Stolar and Nate Barbera. Through an appearance on “Shark Tank,” Stolar and Barber secured an investor interested in Unshrinkit, their patent-pending formula that helps return shrunken wool clothing back to its normal size.
According to the company, sweaters are made of long and straight wool fibers and the heat or agitation of the washer/dryer can break the protein bonds and cause the fibers to curl up into a ball, shrinking the garment. Unshrinkit interacts with the proteins to relax the bonds so users can straighten out the fibers again.
Available right now on Amazon, a bottle of UnShrinkit retails for about $14.99, and directions call for using it all to rescue one garment. Sounds pricey for a single use—but if hubby was on laundry detail that day and shrunk a favorite cashmere sweater, UnShrinkit is more affordable than replacing it, and it might just save an argument too.