What smells clean varies, of course, by consumer, and how the brand get there varies, too, as household cleaning brands take different positions on the use of synthetic and natural materials to achieve a particular scent.
“We have very stringent requirements for fragrance ingredients we use,” Martin Wolf, director of product sustainability and authenticity at Seventh Generation, told Happi. The Burlington VT-based company, which was recently acquired by Unilever, uses only essential oils from plants or isolates from essential oils. “We won’t use anything synthetic or petroleum derived.”
Those parameters can impact the company in areas such as substantivity. “We can’t make some of the fragrances that have strong, but familiar odor…because they are generated synthetically,” said Wolf.
But Seventh Gen is always pushing for improvement within its own formulations.
“We formulate differently,” added Sarah McLaren, senior brand manager, home care. “We always try to think of the best formulation and continuously try and lay the ground work for future iterations.”
According to data from Information Resources, nearly 400 million units of all-purpose cleaner/disinfectant were sold in US supermarkets, drugstores, mass market retailers, military commissaries and select club and dollar retail chains, and all of them smelled like something—other than the raw materials inside the bottle (including those labeled as “unscented”). To achieve those goals, brands turn to experts at leading fragrance houses to create a scent (and a name) that will resonate with consumers.
The major olfactory themes from 2016 carried over into 2017, and will follow through this year, too, as the household cleaning market continues to be driven by traditional scent themes that suggest clean—think citrus, watery, ozonic and green.
Experts such as Jennifer Powderly, who is vice president of marketing at Robertet, pointed out the continued segmentation within citruses. Say goodbye to your mother’s lemon; today’s shoppers are more likely to see products such as Meyer Lemon countertop spray and all-purpose cleaner from Williams Sonoma, as well as a growing array of other citrus fruits from Method’s Lime and Sea Salt to the Rosemary Grapefruit Lime scented toilet bowl cleaner offered by Uniquely J, a new private label offering from online retailer Jet.com.
According to Uniquely J, its new bowl cleaner leaves behind the “oh-so-pleasant aroma of rosemary, grapefruit, and lime. Which is nice, because those are all very nice things to smell! So, if you’re looking for a septic safe toilet bowl cleaner that isn’t a downer to use, just grab a bottle of this stuff and you’ll be set to take a seat in no time.”
There are 50 Uniquely J products across several categories, with the plant-based cleaning products range touting unique scents such as Lemon Thyme Basil APC and wipes and Bamboo Cedar scented laundry detergent.
Lost in Translation
When it comes choosing and naming fragrances, leading brands have their eyes trained on healthy, recognizable ingredients as trends such as wellness and simplicity influence the household cleaning category, according to Powderly.
Yet even when brands have a handle on their customers’ preferences, deciphering what a consumer really likes or dislikes about a specific fragrance can be complicated, say fragrance experts.
“What they think they like and what they really like are different,” noted Powderly.
And there is always room for improvement when it comes to fragrance. Seventh Generation, for example, recently “rejuvenated” its original Lavender Laundry Detergent to Fresh Lavender.
“The original scent was a little polarizing to the consumer base…It came across as medicinal, but they couldn’t say why,” said McLaren.
The reason is simple: “Consumers aren’t trained in smell,” she said, revealing that more detailed testing allowed Seventh Generation to drill down to the culprit: eucalyptus.
For laundry, Seventh Generation tests fragrances across the three stages where consumers will encounter them: neat (when opening the bottle), damp (for example, when they pull clothes out of the washer) and dry (the smell that comes out of the dryer).
“Out of the bottle and out of the wash are the most important,” she told Happi.
Seventh Generation’s fragrance experts were also recently tasked with crafting scents for its new disinfectant spray featuring Clean Well technology, a formula based on thyme oil. Thymol, according to McLaren, has a strong fragrance and is hard to mask. The group settled on Lavender Vanilla & Thyme, Fresh Citrus & Thyme, and Eucalyptus, Spearmint & Thyme scents for this new SKU, which does not need to be rinsed after use and is effective at killing viruses such as Rhinovirus type 37 (the common cold virus) and Influenza A viruses, including H1N1. It’s also effective at killing bacteria, specifically staphylococcus aureus, salmonella enterica, pseudomonas aeruginosa, and escherichia coli.
Other major cleaning product makers have been rolling out new scent offerings designed to attract today’s consumers.
Reckitt Benckiser, for example, added Lysol disinfecting wipes in Brand New Day (billed as “uplifting” tropical fragrance) and Brighter Horizon fragrances (a refreshing country fragrance). Both variants are housed in stylized packaging to redefine the cleaning experience of today’s generation, according to the company.
At Clorox, more enticing scents helped propelled quarterly performance. Last January, the company launched the Clorox Scentiva platform of disinfecting wipes and sprays that were designed to deliver a “differentiated product experience through scents” with variants designed in collaboration with high-end fragrance houses. In the first quarter of its fiscal 2018, Scentiva products contributed to strong sales growth of Clorox’s Home Care business, which is now expanding the line. Rolling out this month are new Clorox Scentiva Bathroom Foam Cleaner in Tuscan Lavender & Jasmine and Pacific Breeze & Coconut scents, and Clorox Scentiva Bathroom Disinfecting Foamer Spray in Tuscan Lavender & Jasmine.
While that average consumer’s nose may not be able to pinpoint specific accords used in a scent she loves (or loathes), it appears she will have greater access to the materials used in the formulation, thanks to recent state legislation and increased transparency efforts at cleaning product companies.
In August, the Procter & Gamble Company announced that it will share online all fragrance ingredients down to 0.01% for its entire product portfolio in the US and Canada by the end of 2019, which includes more than 2000 fragranced products. The additional level of detail on product fragrance ingredients will offer consumers more reliable information to help choose what’s best for them and their families, according to the company. P&G is starting with its fabric, home and beauty care products where there is the greatest consumer interest and will expand across additional product categories and geographies over time. As part of the effort, P&G said it will include where else these ingredients can be found, such as everyday fruits, foods, and other products.
After the announcement came out of Cincinnati, SC Johnson released a statement in which it “applauded” Procter & Gamble (and other firms) for their newly announced plans to increase their products’ fragrance disclosure—reminding them that the firm has been “well ahead” having disclosed product-specific fragrance ingredients since 2015.
Just last month SC Johnson announced that it had fulfilled a commitment it made in May 2017 to disclose the presence of 368 skin allergens by product on its ingredient website WhatsInsideSCJohnson.com. Previously, the company published a list of fragrance and non-fragrance skin allergens on its website, and this latest move, according to SCJ, goes a step further by listing the specific allergens by product. With this initiative, the company officials boast SCJ has gone well above and beyond regulatory and industry allergen disclosure standards, including those in the European Union and the United States.
State-level legislation is also impacting disclosure of fragrance ingredients. California’s Cleaning Product Right to Know Act (SB 258), signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2017, requires cleaning products sold in the state to list ingredients on labels and provide additional ingredient information on product websites. And, for the first time in the US, manufacturers will have to disclose the presence of potential fragrance allergens within their products too. Product labels will need to be updated by Jan. 1, 2021 and manufacturer websites by Jan. 1, 2020, according to the legislation.
Stakeholders that played a role in the constructing the final bill lauded the multi-group effort (see Happi’s December 2017 issue for details).
Companies that have long-championed and practiced ingredient disclosure welcomed the move too.
“Consumers are so comfortable looking at a label on a granola bar to make a decision, they should be able to do the same thing in household cleaning,” said Wolf of Seventh Generation.
Moving forward, consumers in the cleaning product aisle will be able to use their heads thanks to greater and more seamless access to the fragrance ingredients used. But as fragrance experts will attest, when it comes to closing the sale, her nose will do the rest.