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    GROCERY: Household Cleaners: Clean up in the aisle

    Disinfectants are shining, as are products friendly to the environment and the nose.

    By Laura Liebeck

    Killing germs is serious business. Reports of the threat of new flu pandemics and other emerging diseases are doubtless helping to fuel demand for antibacterial and disinfecting household cleaners, giving the overall category a shot in the arm.

    It can also be hard work, so consumers are being drawn to product innovations that not only offer convenience, but are also more pleasant to use. With the right assortments of products to meet those needs, retailers can really clean up in the cleaning product aisle.

    Sales of disinfectants rose 21 percent in 2005 to $164.9 million, while unit volume rose a whopping 42.5 percent, in food, drug, and mass retail stores, according to data firm ACNielsen's Strategic Planner. These segment results shine when compared with the overall household cleaner category, which charted flat sales of almost $1.8 billion in the 12-month period ended Dec. 31, 2005. Overall unit volume rose a mere 1 percent over the same period.

    Supercenter domination

    What the above data doesn't reflect is Wal-Mart's dominance in the category. According to another data stream, ACNielsen's Wal-Mart Channel Service, which projects sales of merchandise through Wal-Mart Supercenters and discount stores from a large panel of consumers who scan product purchases in their homes, Wal-Mart recorded a 7.4 percent increase in overall household cleaner sales, to $915.7 million. Meanwhile unit volume at Wal-Mart grew 4.2 percent.

    For cleaning products aimed specifically at wiping out germs, Wal-Mart saw its sales of disinfectant cleaners soar 24.9 percent last year, to $81.5 million—again outpacing overall industry performance. Unit volume for disinfectant cleaners advanced 10.1 percent at the megaretailer during the same period.

    These sectors of robust performance, whether in product segments or certain channels or retailers, reflect an industry scrubbing away at old dirt to find incremental gains through product innovation.

    "Cleaners is a mature business," says Brian Sansoni, v.p., communications for the Soap and Detergent Association, based in Washington, D.C. Sansoni says inventive products that make people's cleaning activities easier tend to drive the market these days.

    For example, convenient disposable wipes have become popular, aligning as they have with a new trend in multisurface cleansing. "It's all about products that are efficient, effective, and expedient," explains Sansoni. "They get the job done sooner than it took our moms and dads."

    Sansoni suggests that the household cleaner category will continue to move toward more multisurface cleaners, whether the format is wipes or more conventional sprays. It will also get a boost from fresh scents and fragrances, he notes. This latter trend would edge certain products to the periphery of aromatherapy, accelerating the household cleaner category's increasing focus on "green" products.

    In addition, Sansoni expects to see an increasing number of specialized products developed in response to the manufacture of other goods, such as cold-water laundry detergents designed specifically for use with new high-performance washing machines.

    Increasingly, manufacturers of cleaners are looking for ways to increase the performance of products while also enhancing their appeal to consumers, thanks to a host of attributes ranging from the practical, such as environmental safety, to the aesthetic, in the form of pleasing in-home smells.

    "Green is one of the areas that is ripe for growth and development, and on trend with where consumers are going," says Jim Hertel, s.v.p. at Barrington, Ill.-based Willard Bishop Consulting. "Everybody kind of wants to be green so long as it works, and people will spend the money."

    In addition, Hertel notes that consumers "have a fascination with convenience, and disinfectant wipes are a 'no muss and no fuss' winner."

    Quick and easy

    Hertel, a former brand manager at Spic & Span, mentions Swiffer from Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, the leading manufacturer in the household cleaner category, as a perfect example of an effective cleaning product in a quick and easy format. Another is Purel, an antibacterial hand cleaner in a ready-to-use liquid gel.

    "Green is part of the formula for the foreseeable future," concurs Paul Kelly, president of Silvermine, a Westport, Conn.-based consulting firm. Kelly, too, notes the success of the disposable wipes and the Swiffer cleaning system as examples of innovative products that have spurred growth in the category.

    Procter & Gamble is "serious about protecting the environment and has long-standing programs to ensure we meet our responsibilities," says P&G's Ross Holthouse, fabric & home care external relations manager. He notes that P&G has strived for many years to improve the environmental quality of its products, packaging, and operations.

    A current example is Febreze NOTICEables, recently spotted in an end cap display at Sam's Clubs. The product is a dual-scented electric air freshener that alternates between two fragrances. Five scent combinations are available.

    One company that's going all the way with environmentally friendly cleaning products is Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day, from Minneapolis-based Caldrea, Inc. The line, says founder and c.e.o. Monica Nassif, consists of more than 100 SKUs that are good for the earth, biodegradable from renewable plant sources, and cosmetic grade. In addition, the products feature a unified fragrance program, meaning that consumers may choose one of three subtle fragrances for each of the products they use to clean their home, so that the smells don't conflict with one another.

    Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day, formed in 2001 and named for Nassif's own mother, has met with a good measure of success in its short tenure, having sold more than 1.5 million bottles of product in its first year, and over 10 million bottles of product in 2005.

    A concept sell

    The brand started out offering a selection of basic housekeeping products such as dish and window cleaners, all with retro labeling, and now is introducing a toilet bowl cleaner -- a challenging product to develop in this market -- a surface wipe, and a dryer sheet (with a vegetable coating).

    The line formulates and tests all of its products at an on-site lab. It employs five full-time chemists, and Mrs. Meyer's owns all of its formulations. Each of the company's products is tested against the market leader; the gold standard is that products have to be at least on par with that market leader, says Nassif.

    The challenge for Mrs. Meyer's, admits Nassif, is that the line is a concept sell. "We want this to be a lifestyle choice. We've worked really hard to tell our story through packing, shelf space, fragrances, etc."

    By Laura Liebeck
    • About Laura Liebeck

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