Category Review: Cleaning Aids -- Clean Sweep

July 14, 2008
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Although recent store brand performance varies among the different cleaning aids categories, the right strategy here can strengthen growth opportunities going forward. And retailers would be wise to include green initiatives within such a strategy -- especially for cleaning wipes, paper towels and other cleaning aids that add to the nation’s trash-load.

Cleaning house. It can be a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it, right?

But today’s designated “cleaner-uppers” can count on plenty of help from modern household cleaners to get the job done. Moreover, they can trust the cleaners’ reliable (if not exciting) partners -- cloths, sponges, paper towels and other handy cleaning aids -- to handle the messiest wet and dry tasks.

Recent dollar sales performance within the entire cleaning aids category runs the gamut from not so great (trash receptacles/waste baskets) to excellent (gloves, cleaning supplies containers). As for private label products, data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) show dollar and unit sales for gloves up 26.6 percent and 22.2 percent, respectively, during the 52 weeks ending April 20, 2008 (excluding Wal-Mart). Private label household plastics and scouring pads also did well, with dollar sales increasing by 8.1 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

Green Appeal

Although store brand products did not fare so well in some cleaning aids categories, the right strategy here can strengthen growth opportunities going forward. And retailers would be wise to include green initiatives within such a strategy -- especially for cleaning wipes, paper towels and other cleaning aids that add to the nation’s trash-load.

“Private label options are opening up a new spectrum of cleaning products for consumers,” says Mark Weber, who works in the technical papers area for the Specialty Products division of Mosinee, Wis.-based Wausau Paper. “We find converters, distributors and end-users are more interested in environmentally responsible products with real benefits to the environment.”

Wausau Paper has even observed some private label offerings that demonstrate environmental stewardship in advance of branded products, Weber notes.

“The higher-end boutique market segment no longer has exclusivity in offering environmentally responsible products. Real environmental benefits are proven by factual documentation and third-party certifications that converters are successfully using with their private label customers and distributors.”

Weber points to recent innovations such as biodegradable cleaning wipes and substrates, along with more environmentally responsible contents, as noteworthy green advances that will be important to private label products in the years to come.

“Reduced environmental impact in our homes and on the environment as a whole is becoming more important to buyers in the private label market,” he stresses. “Scorecards help reinforce environmental and energy-saving concerns for many suppliers and distributors.”

Still, convenience remains the primary driver for growth in the cleaning aids sector, Weber says. But products need not sacrifice convenience in the quest for green.

Weber says his company provides new biodegradable compostable wiper substrates designed for multiple wiper applications. The substrate completely biodegrades in 21 days or less under average soil and moisture conditions, saving landfill space and reducing the consumer’s carbon footprint.

The products also are manufactured using “documented energy-saving best practices,” Weber adds.

“We continue to expand our hydro power and bio-fuel use in the manufacturing process to reduce energy costs and lower environmental impact,” he says. “The natural fiber base of these wiper substrates originates from sustainably managed renewable forest resources that are FSC certified.”

Keep the Momentum

Within the cleaning aids category, private label gloves represent a “dream” subcategory -- enjoying an almost 50 percent market share. But savvy retailers still have an opportunity to grab additional market share, contends Jennifer Fritz, director of marketing for Clean Ones Corp. in Portland, Ore.

“With inflation on the rise and gas costs taking a larger bite out of their budgets, consumers will look for ways to cut their grocery bill -- even those who haven’t purchased private labels on a regular basis,” she says. “Retailers are experiencing sales of their private label gloves that enable them to remove the national brand completely. Consumers are recognizing private label products have all the features of national brands; they try them and are satisfied rather than returning to the national brand.”

But Fritz stresses that glove offerings must be “consistent” -- which means retailers must source them from single-source suppliers that can produce the product within the defined specifications (be it good, better or best) at all times.

“Some manufacturers justify inconsistencies by claiming that it is OK for a consumer to receive a better product from time to time,” Fritz says, “but such situations only set up the retailer to not meet the expectations of the consumer when they purchase the standard product -- even though it may be to spec.” PLB

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