Non Food Reviews

A Clean Sweep

April 25, 2008
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Sales for private label household cleaning supplies have leveled off, but with new innovations in products and packaging, the category is beginning to rebound.

When Cinderella was forced to clean, she only had sponges and soap to use. Today, however, the options of cleaning supplies have drastically improved. From nonabrasive tub and tile removers to all-purpose cleaners and disinfectants, there are a variety of choices on the market. But despite the plethora of options, the household cleaning supplies category has not been growing.

According to Chicago’s Information Resources Inc. (IRI), for the past 52 weeks, the total household cleaner category had dollar sales totaling $1.6 billion, which was only a 2.6 percent increase from the previous year. Additionally, the private label household cleaner segment had dollar sales totaling $97.8 million, a 4.2 percent decrease from the previous year. Despite the uniformity of dollar sales, the bigger concern is that unit sales are rapidly decreasing. For example, private label household cleaners decreased 10.7 percent from last year while the total subcategory decreased 3.4 percent.

The reason for the decline in unit sales and the stagnation of dollar sales is that the category has reached its maturity level, some say. Household cleaning supplies have been around for years; and although there have been packaging changes and slight advances in technology, the basic formula for most cleaning supplies has remained the same throughout the years. According to David Stone, director of sales and marketing for Oxi Brite International, Mississauga, Ontario, “The household cleaner typically gets left behind [during the typical shopping trip].” Therefore, manufacturers and retailers have to improve their marketing strategies, packaging techniques and formulas in order to boost sales.

Keeping up with the Jones' (i.e., national brands)

One way that private label manufacturers are improving the quality of their products is by creating more brand-equivalent products. “An emerging trend is to raise the private label program to the quality of the brand,” Stone says. “Putting out the cheapest version of a product doesn’t necessarily produce a product that people want anymore,” he adds.

Essentially, manufacturers are realizing that they must do more than just create an inexpensive product and expect consumers to purchase their items. Private label household cleaning supplies need to directly compete in quality and price.

According to Susan Braun, product category manager at Rockline Industries, Sheboygan, Wis., “Quality is one of the key factors for a successful private label offer in this category, but cost also ranks right up there in the eye of the consumer, so we really need to take a holistic approach during the development process.”

Private label manufacturers must continually create quality products that are effective but that also have attractive price-points. By doing so, the category will bounce back.

According to Jennifer Fritz, director of marketing for Clean Ones Corp., Portland, Ore., “The private label household cleaning supplies category is bound to continue to grow as more retailers see the need for national-brand-equivalent products, rather than the similar, less-expensive item that is not equivalent.”

Convenience is one area that manufacturers are specifically zeroing in on. “Consumers are busier than ever and are looking for ways to cut time out of common tasks such as cleaning,” Fritz says. There are only 24 hours in a day, so consumers want products that will help them clean quickly but also effectively. When individuals come home from work, the last thing they want to do is spend hours cleaning. Therefore, products such as multi-surface wipes and all-purpose cleaners are very important.

For example, “Pledge launched its duster with the spray in the handle last year, which really boosted sales in the entire category,” Rockline Industries’ Braun notes.

GPMI Co., Gilbert, Ariz., also introduced dual-purpose bathroom cleaning wipes with air-freshening features. Even though these new multi-purpose cleaners are driving sales, they also are creating problems for traditional cleaning supplies.

“Multi-surface wipes, such as Windex products, have negatively affected both the furniture and glass wipes category,” Braun says. Although this is problematic for those categories, it is evidence that “consumers prefer the convenience of a single package of multi-surface wipes over two packages of a glass and furniture wipe,” she says.

Another element that adds to the convenience of household cleaning products is higher unit counts. With enough errands to run as it is, having a product that lasts longer is always helpful. According to Braun, “Swiffer has added large unit counts to its dry floor wipe and duster refills as well as co-packing its wet floor wipes to increase the unit counts. The higher-count packages may lead to increased usage of these items.”

Successful cleaning is all about minimizing time and maximizing effectiveness. Consumers want their products to be quick yet effective, but after a long day of cleaning, the last thing they want to do is clean up after their cleaning product.

According to Bruce Wooflief, director of marketing for Potlatch Forest Products, Spokane, Wash., “Research reveals that many consumers who clean glass mirrors and smooth surfaces complain of excess lint that is left on the surface from the paper towel. Therefore, Potlatch created lint-free paper towels that bind lint fibers to the towel to prevent such occurrences,” Woodflief says.

Yet another important trend affecting the category is antibacterial products. “People are increasingly concerned about fighting bacteria,” Fritz says. There often is a misconception that a private label product does not offer the same benefits that the national brand does. Therefore, it is important that private label manufacturers not only have the necessary ingredients but also market their products appropriately. According to Fritz, “An added feature that is popping up in many new items is an antimicrobial treatment, which is a chemical added to products in production to protect against the growth of microbials, such as odor-causing mold and mildew.”

Scent/fragrance is another essential feature that consumers look for in cleaning products. According to Greg Pohlmann, director of sales for Valley Consumers Products Group, Memphis, Tenn., “Consumers enjoy using products that not only perform effectively but also have great fragrances and scents.” Consumers want to clean and disinfect their homes, but they also want it to smell fresh, not like a chemical.

According to Yarron Bender, president of GPMI Co., in the past year there has been an increase in the assortment of natural fragrances.

Pohlmann agrees, “Orange seems to have reached optimum popularity, however, both lavender and citrus still continue to grow in popularity with consumers.” Examples of specific scent-oriented products include Valley Consumer Products Group berry-scent glass and surface cleaner with ammonia and an all-purpose cleaner with a citrus scent.

By creating products that have the appropriate disinfectants and that smell fresh, retailers are creating fuller product offerings, and, in turn, using store brands to compete successfully with national brands.

Going Green

With the recent fears of global warming and climate change, consumers are becoming even more concerned about protecting the environment. According to Sona Rejebian, vice president of marketing for Earth Friendly Products, Winnetka, Ill., “Consumers are increasingly sensitive to the chemicals in conventional products and are looking for safer, healthier alternatives. The 20-somethings who have grown up with a sense of environmental consciousness expect products to be safe, healthy, green and effective,” she says.

And this consumer group has justification for their “green” demands. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that, “Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” With the recent concerns about green house gases, it’s important that cleaning products used within the home are as safe and environmentally friendly as possible.

According to John Manolas, president of Whyte Gate Inc., Gurnee, Ill., “The single most exciting new trend in cleaning supplies is the growing demand from both retailers and from consumers of natural/organic cleaners. As consumers become aware of environmental issues, the more likely they will be to try all-natural cleaners.” To cater to these customers, Whyte Gate offers all-natural glass cleaners, all-purpose cleaners and air fresheners. Odorite also has introduced earth-friendly, organic products, such as urinal cakes with no paradichlorobenzene, an ingredient often associated with causing cancer. The cakes are made with all-natural ingredients and eliminate odor-producing bacteria.

In addition, when having products that are all-natural or organic, the packaging is just as important as the product’s formula. The packaging is key because the consumer that buys these products is more concerned and aware about recycling and protecting the environment than the everyday customer. According to Manolas, “It is important to avoid PVC and minimize packaging.”

The challenge in creating these products is that there is a lot of gray area in terms of what people consider “green.” According to Stone, “There is no real definition of what it means to be green. Everyone has their own example of what they consider green.”

Recently companies have been selling “green” designation. For example, Green Seal - a non-profit certification organization - has a list of criteria of what they consider green. Therefore, if you follow their guidelines, you will get a green seal. “However, that doesn’t make your product green or not green. It all depends on who is setting the bar,” Stone says. Since there are no government standards to determine green, it is extremely important that manufacturers truly understand the chemicals that comprise their products. By doing so, they will create the best products for the environment, regardless of what seal they have.

Appearance is Everything

One of the most overlooked aspects of private label household cleaning supplies is the aesthetics of packaging. Even if consumers are not buying the national brand, they want their products to look equivalent to it.

According to Stone, “It is essential to make a private label program look like a brand, so when your customer looks at one product at $2.99 and yours at $2.49, they don’t notice a huge difference in what they are buying besides the price.”

“Consumers spend very little time evaluating the product, so product presentation is important - it has to have the appearance of equal quality to the branded items,” Braun adds.

Although the private label cleaning supply category appears fairly stagnant, there is definite room for growth. With recent improvements in packaging and technology, the category can rebound from the decline in unit sales. According to Stone, “There is still a huge opportunity to produce products that customers want to buy.”

“As consumers become more confident that they are purchasing [brand]-equivalent products, they will try more of these better-value items as an alternative to the national brand,” Fritz adds.

By creating products that are effective, convenient and inexpensive, the private label household cleaning supplies category will reemerge as a major force in the private label market.

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