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Americans hate germs but they're becoming ambivalent about whether PL antibacterials can kill them
Dollar sales for household cleaner cloths, which includes sub-categories of all-purpose, furniture polish, glass cleaner and scouring cleaner, fell 1.7 percent, with a 0.14 percent decrease in unit sales for the 52 weeks ending June 12, 2011, reports SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm. Private label overall cleaner cloths were down 2.5 percent in dollar sales, with a substantial 5.3 percent drop in unit sales for the same period.
A similar story unfolds for the all-purpose cloths sub-category overall, with dollar sales down 1 percent, and private label all-purpose sales down 2.2 percent.
Interestingly, in both categories of household cleaner cloths, private label’s average unit prices rose, 9 cents and 10 cents respectively, while name brands average unit prices fell 5 and 6 cents, thus narrowing the price gap between private label and store brands.
Is the smaller price gap sending consumers to national brands instead of private label? How do they feel about the effectiveness of private label offerings?
The drop in private label share has less to do with the small decline in the percentage of users who believe that store brand cleaning products work just as well as their national brand counterparts, and more with a significant increase in the percentage of consumers who “neither agree nor disagree,” that they do, according to Household Cleaning: The Consumer – US, a report from Mintel International Group Ltd., Chicago.
“The increase in ambivalence suggests that opinions about the effectiveness of private label cleaning products have as much to do with the broader consumer mindset as they do with actual product experience,” the report states. “When times are tough, consumers are more willing to believe that store brands are just as effective as higher-priced national brands. In an improving economy, the challenge facing retailers is to expand the appeal of private label cleaning products beyond price alone.”
The good news is that private label antibacterial products are well-positioned to increase sales as the public continues to express demand for soaps, hand-sanitizers, wipes and other germ-killing cleaners in an age of superbugs, H1N1, avian flu, and E. coli outbreaks.
“Some claim that the American consumer has become germophobic given the media hype around recent epidemics,” says Donna Rippin, antibac category director for Sheboygan, Wis.-based Rockline Industries. “While we consider that an exaggerated perspective, it is clear that consumer awareness about germ transmission is heightened, and products such as antibacterial wipes, soaps, and lotions benefit from this shift in consumer attitude.”
A recent poll released by Washington, D.C.-based American Cleaning Institute and Personal Care Products Council says 74 percent of American consumers use antibacterial soap, and more than 50 percent use it regularly. Additionally, 48 percent of shoppers specifically seek out soap with antibacterial properties, and the majority of Americans view antibacterial soap as ‘very useful’ in preventing the spread of germs in everyday settings such as doctor’s offices, hospitals and healthcare centers, school washrooms and cafeterias, after changing diapers or caring for sick or elderly family members, or everyday hand washing.
“Let’s face it-the world is a dirty place. Whether it’s the bacteria that we encounter in our everyday lives or the evolution of superbugs, people are conscious of the need for germ protection for themselves and their families,” says Caroline Pieper-Vogt, CEO of Fusion Brands, Inc., New York, N.Y.
A key trend within the antibacterial category is the need for products with dual benefits, specifically those that target hydration, Pieper-Vogt points out. “Most hand sanitizers on the market kill the common germs and bacteria on your hands for minutes, but because they contain alcohol, they also dry out your skin, leaving you more susceptible to new germs,” she says. Her company has developed a product line that provides germ protection through a moisturizing hand cream.
Innovation in product formulations is another area that can spell sales growth for manufacturers, Pieper-Vogt says. “Today’s marketplace is overwhelmed with gel-based products containing skin-drying alcohol and triclosan. Through innovation and restoring the qualitative aspects of the products they’re offering, brands can continue to evolve within this space and meet consumers’ needs.”
As for retail promotion, Rippin says retailers are having success with seasonal promotions of personal antibacterial products at key times such as Back to School and fall/winter flu season.
“Since H1N1 and other recent epidemics, consumers are more aware of how germs spread and take precautionary measures during flu season. Retailers have the opportunity for incremental sales by displaying product and encouraging impulse buying from the consumer,” she says.
Manufacturers and retailers should pay careful attention to packaging for antibacterial products, and offer an array of choices to fit consumer needs.
“These products were hard to dispense in the past, there has been more focus on the dispensability of the product, making them easier to use and more accessible,” says a company spokesperson for U.S. Nonwovens Corp., Brentwood, N.Y. “The trend in packaging is to make the products more accessible, where the products were available in just two formats, they are now available in eight or more, including flow-packs, sachets, or tubs.”
“With Americans on the go more than ever, away-from-home use is popular for many product categories including antibac wipes,” says Rippin. “Portable single products are attractive, particularly to households with children, and find their way into Mom’s purse, the glove compartment of cars, kids school backpacks, etc. There have been some recent innovations in the traditional canister products to make it more ergonomically friendly to consumers (grip-able). Also, it’s standard now for the canister product to fit in the cup holder of automobiles.”
Peiper-Vogt agrees, “Brands need to offer an assortment of product sizes, including a travel size, purse size and even the large family size. Customers will buy across the products range to meet their daily needs.”
Eye on national brands
The bleach wipe used most by U.S. hospitals are ready-to-use, hospital-grade disinfectant wipes containing 0.55 percent (5,500ppm) sodium hypochlorite, which exceeds the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended requirement to kill many of the pathogens of most concern to hospitals.
The company offers the Clorox Germicidal Wipes in multiple packaging options including 70-, 110-, and 150-count sizes that can be adapted for various healthcare purposes such as general purpose cleaning and of patient rooms or disinfecting of clinical surfaces such as glucometers, BP monitors, or other small-surface disinfection.
Clorox Germicidal Wipes are part of a line of C. difficile solution products offered by Clorox.