Basic is Best

April 14, 2010
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These days, many consumers are keeping things simple when it comes to house cleaning. Rather than buying one agent to clean a nasty toilet bowl and another to make a grimy tile floor sparkle, these people are opting for a cloth, a pair of gloves and a single product that can make their house shine all over.

At least that’s what data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. seem to suggest. In the 52 weeks ending Feb. 21, many household cleaning product categories suffered declines in both overall and private label dollar and unit sales (supermarkets, drugstores and mass market retailers, excluding Walmart).

But the data reveal a bright spot, particularly for private label. Several categories posted impressive private label dollar and unit sales gains, including all-purpose cleaners/disinfectants (11.6 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively), disposable gloves (14.6 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively) and household cleaner cloths (30.5 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively).

Unlike yesterday’s private label household cleaning products, today’s products offer a quality that’s on par with or better than the national brands’.

“Consumers are finding as they trade ‘down’ that the private label of yesterday was far inferior to the quality of today,” says a spokesperson for Brentwood, N.Y.-based U.S. Nonwovens Corp. “Innovation and scent profiles enable manufacturers to give above and beyond what the brands promise.”

Lean, Mean and 'Green'

When it comes to innovation, “green” products remain all the rage. Consumers have given up many things in this economy, but many of them would like to keep an eco-friendly ethic - as long as the products are affordable.

“Surface Cleaners – US – June 2009,” a report from Mintel International Group, Chicago, says many consumers want eco-friendly household cleaning products but are not willing to pay a premium price for them. This situation is providing an opportunity for private label.

“We have been seeing an increase in demand for all-natural and biodegradable private label products in all cleaning categories,” says Keith Bozman, president of V.I.P. Soap Products Ltd., Mission, British Columbia.

In response to this demand, retailers have rolled out some eco-friendly cleaning product lines that compete well against the national brands. For example, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company of Montvale, N.J., offers the Green Way line of organic, natural and eco-friendly cleaning products. And Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway Inc. retails the Bright Green line of eco-friendly items, including cleaning products made from naturally derived ingredients.

But eco-friendliness is just one of several product attributes retailers need to compete against the national brands - consumers also want private label cleaning products with unique innovations and value-added features the national brand products do not possess.

“Just copying the national brands’ products is old news,” says Jennifer Fritz, product marketing manager for Clean Ones Corp., Portland, Ore. “Retailers need their brands to look forward and be able to stand alone. The glove category has a national brand whose share has nearly been cut in half in the past 10 years, making it not nearly as relevant as it once was.”

As an example of a unique product, Fritz points to Clean Ones’ Cross Wave glove, available for private labeling. She notes that although the product is a traditional household glove, it is distinctive enough to stand out from the array of ordinary household gloves.

“We created a new design with a larger gripping area, as well as a distinctive gripping pattern that would not be mistaken for a second-rate cousin,” Fritz says.

Fritz notes that Clean Ones also offers retailers a household glove that features an ultra-plush lining. The glove’s decorative details set it apart from other brands. In addition, the glove is latex-free, taking into account the allergen concerns some consumers have.

For its part, U.S. Nonwovens released unique floor wipes for retailers’ private label programs. According to a spokesperson for the company, the disinfecting floor wipes are suitable for killing mold, mildew, the flu virus and athletes foot fungus.

In addition to the floor wipes, U.S. Nonwovens released a hand-sanitizing solution that comes in an innovative packaging format. Touted as the first-ever single-use instant hand-sanitizing gel card, the product can be folded in half to open and discharge the sanitizing gel inside. The card’s small, convenient design makes it travel-friendly, and the gel kills 99.9 percent of all bacteria, leaving no sticky residue.

What a Package!

Portability and ease-of-use are only two of the things consumers want from packaging, though. Sustainability is in demand, too.

Bozman says that in response to consumer demand, V.I.P. now offers cleaning products in bottles made from 50 percent recycled plastic and cardboard cases made from up to 95 percent recycled fiber. And his company recently added recycled material to its paper labels.

Bozman also notes the green benefits of retailing concentrated cleaning solutions in smaller packs.

“We are producing millions of stand-up refill pouches each year that are emptied into consumers’ bottles at home, further reducing landfill problems,” he says. But retailers need to be careful when using smaller packaging - if a package’s billboard is too small, it could be less likely to capture attention.

“Private label shouldn’t sacrifice their prime advertising billboard for the sake of having the smallest package possible,” Fritz says. “Clean Ones has resized all of our bag packages to achieve the goals of reducing package material; we succeeded with 15 percent material reduction while bringing improved consistency to our line, and held onto a key function of the package - to sell the product.”

Even with little marketing money, Fritz goes on to add, retailers could use several techniques to sell store brand household cleaning products.

“In private label, we don’t have the big advertising budgets [the national brands have], but there is still much that can be done,” she says.

For example, Fritz believes cleaning products such as gloves could be cross-merchandised with other cleaning products in promotions based around cleaning seasons. Clean Ones recently developed a promotional program for the spring and fall cleaning seasons that retailers could use in their stores. The program includes power panels, floor displays and clip strips.

It also doesn’t hurt to get involved with consumers online.

“Web sites and social media outlets are a good fit for store brand promotion since you have an attentive audience at a relatively low cost,” Fritz notes.

For example, in September 2009, San Antonio-based H-E-B set up an online sweepstakes to celebrate the launch of a line of private label household cleaning tools. By entering the contest via H-E-B’s Web site, customers were given the chance to win free cleaning services for a year.

Finally, Art Harre, president of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Haviland Consumer Products, emphasizes the need for retailers to treat their own brands as true brands. “Create a brand; create an image; and create a following,” Harre says. PLB

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