A Clean Commitment – HAPPI

Wash your hands for 20 seconds with antibacterial soap, of course, but be sure to wipe down that countertop, too, and, while you’re at it, throw another load of laundry in the washer. About a year after consumers around the world heard the term, “coronavirus,” the emphasis on clean has touched the very fabric of their lives. Sales of hard surface cleaners, disinfectants and hand sanitizers have soared during the past 12 months, but laundry detergent, bleach and other fabric care formulas have also benefitted from heightened awareness about germs, according to industry observers.

“Detergent and complementary products such as fabric, liquid softeners and dryer sheets increased as detergent increased,” said Ellen Chen, research analyst at Euromonitor International. “We’ve also seen powder detergent and bar detergent increase from previous declines, supporting the fact that more consumers are doing laundry during the pandemic. More specialty products such as fine fabric detergent saw a decline.”

Unit Dose Drives Detergent Gains. The pandemic has helped lift demand for laundry detergents as consumers realize the value of clean. Here are laundry detergent sales for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 1, 2020 in US multi-outlet (grocery, drug, mass market, military and select club and dollar retailers).
Source: Market Advantage TSV; IRI Liquid Data
In the US, sales of laundry detergent jumped 5.9% to nearly $8 billion, according to IRI (see chart at left). Euromonitor analysts attribute the gains, in part, to a propensity for overdosing among consumers who tend to use more than is required. Along with a lack of knowledge, even among regular users, this behavior stems from elevated health concerns during COVID-19. In consumers’ minds, this follows a straightforward logic that more product will clean more effectively.

But no matter what the reason nor the season, Procter & Gamble dominates the US fabric care category, year-in and year out. Among liquids, P&G brands hold six of the top 10 spots. Within unit dose, Procter’s Tide and Gain brands hold eight of the top 10 spots and, even in downtrodden powder, four P&G brands are in the top 10.  In an effort to build on that lead, P&G rolled out Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X laundry detergent collection which, P&G maintains, provides an effective odor and stain removal at the microscopic level. Also new at Tide is One Wash Miracle, a premium, liquid detergent that eliminates odor and buildup while removing tough stains in just one wash.

Despite Procter’s dominance, other detergent makers insist there is plenty of room for growth. Henkel’s North American laundry and home care business grew last year, particularly within the laundry detergent and fabric conditioner categories, according to Patrick Davis, chief marketing officer, US laundry and home care division.

“This is a trend we’ve seen throughout 2020 as fabric care has become more important during the pandemic with people doing more wash loads or washing clothes more frequently,” observed Davis. “Our Snuggle dyer sheets sales, for example, are up both year-over-year and year-to-date.”

Consistent category growth has encouraged others to make a go of it in the laundry detergent market. Reckitt Benckiser entered the laundry space last year with the introduction of Botanical Origin. RB comes at the category with two differentiators—online-only sales and plant-based ingredients. According to RB, online laundry household penetration increased from 8.1% in 2019 to 25% by the end of November 2020. Of all household products, laundry saw the highest uptick of increase consumption during COVID-19, according to Nielsen data. Botanical Origin is available exclusively through Amazon and a dedicated website. The online-only approach enables RB to validate its proposition and deliver a robust test and learn strategy, according to company executives. By doing so, RB can get quick feedback from consumers and determine the right channel and messaging strategy to its goals.

“Botanical Origin breaks those barriers as we offer plant-based products that really work, without having to pay a premium,” said Marc Palomeque, general manager eCommerce USA, RB.  “We have seen that the interest for plant-based is still very much there, but the pace of category share growth has slowed from previous years.”

Based on internal consumer research, RB expects that as the US recovers from COVID-19 more people will again be comfortable switching to plant-based products and have a mix of conventional and more sustainable options in their homes. Botanical Origin laundry detergent contains 67% USDA-certified biobased ingredients and the Botanical Origin fabric softener is 71% biobased. Both are sensitive, hypoallergenic and dermatologist-tested with no dyes, brighteners, parabens, phosphates, artificial preservatives or chlorine.

RB’s research found that when it comes to plant-based solutions, there are two key barriers for consumers: 1. The belief that plant-based doesn’t work as well as conventional options, and 2. They aren’t willing to spend more on plant-based, which is traditionally more expensive. It’s early, but so far, RB executives like what they see.

“We’re seeing very positive results from consumers as our brand has over a 4.3 average rating on Amazon.com,” said Palomeque. “We’re seeing strong growth month-on-month since launch. We expect 2021 to be a key year for educating and encouraging the big change towards plant-based cleaning solutions that really work.”

Feedback from consumers has been positive, too. Here’s just some of what they had to say:

“The scent is amazing! I have the lavender scent. I am vegan and have been searching for a sustainable option for detergent that is also effective, and I have finally found it. I will definitely purchase Botanical Origin in the future.”

“This detergent scared me as I hate scent on my clothing. I usually refrain from any scent at all. But this cleaned heavy dirt well. It is heavy scent in the bottle but my bedding, towels, etc. are not heavily scented. I usually get a headache in a matter of minutes. But I did not with this. I will buy it again.”

“Works great for baby’s [sic] and adults! My son has sensitive skin, and I mean very sensitive, but this fabric softener doesn’t break him out at all. Awesome.”

Henkel isn’t the only company with an Amazon-only launch. In November, Whirlpool introduced a concentrated liquid laundry detergent called Swash on Amazon. Its foray into the liquid laundry detergent category is an ultra-concentrated (8x) formulation that’s said to wash up to 83 regular loads, and can be used in all machines. The packaging comes with “precision pour cap” that dispenses the detergent in a pre-measured dose to limit residue and other buildup in the washer, according to the company.

Why all of the interest from new players? According to Filip Hoffmann-Häußler, senior consultant at Euromonitor International, leading brands performed strongly during 2020 as consumers were willing to spend their money on products they trust. Yet, evidence suggests that consumers have equally started to experiment with new brands.

“When demand surged, some retailers ran out of stock, which resulted in consumers trialing new brands or moving their home care purchases online,” explained Hoffmann-Häußler. “This has helped smaller brands and e-commerce pure players to increase their reach, cannibalizing sales of established brands in the market. Private label has also seen strong demand among increasingly price-sensitive consumers. Depending on the severity of the economic consequences deriving from the pandemic as we transition into 2021, this can be expected to continue and intensify as a trend.”

Ironically, these COVID-19 consumption drivers are partly counterbalanced by the effects of home seclusion, as consumers across the world are still exposed to some level of restriction on movement.

“With fewer occasions out of the home and flexible working arrangements in place, dressing up for work or social gatherings has become less common, which is especially true during the months of home seclusion, observed Hoffmann-Häußler.

All the concerns about germs makes consumers less likely to leave heaps of dirty clothes lying about.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve noticed a significant increase in the weekly number of loads consumers are doing, and clothes are being washed more frequently primarily to remove germs and bacteria from household items and to wash clothing after being out in public,” observed Davis, who noted, however, the average size of each load is smaller than before, with consumers doing more medium vs. large loads. At the same, time, the Henkel executive said consumers are also taking extra precautions by increasing wash temperatures for additional sanitization and purchasing more sanitizers/bleach products than before. IRI data backs that up; bleach sales soared 33% during the most recent 52-week period (click here).

“Additionally, consumers normally tend to gravitate toward a brand they’ve tried before when their preferred product is unavailable, however, amid the pandemic, they appear to be more willing to try a brand they’ve never bought before,” he added.

Davis told Happi that it is clear that the pandemic created a major shift in consumer behaviors and attitudes during the past several months. He predicted that as the world continues to battle COVID-19 in the US, and consumers continue to use more laundry products, the need for fabric care is expected to grow.

“For example, consumers may increasingly look to products like All Free Clear Clean & Care, which is formulated with keratin and vitamin E to provide extra protection for fabrics,” he added.

This shift in behavior has also driven Henkel to rethink how and where it is reaching consumers.

“We have focused more heavily on digital marketing to ensure we’re connecting with consumers who are more likely to make purchases online vs. instore during the pandemic,” said Davis. “One example of this is the recent launch of Snuggle SuperCare that included a digital influencer program on social media, focused primarily on Instagram.”

Euromonitor analysts agree that direct-to-consumer and e-commerce have also significantly increased in popularity during 2020. Multinationals, startups and established players have all found success with the DTC model.

Dropps’ sales have doubled every year for the past four years and growth in 2020 was even better, according to Founder and CEO Jonathan Propper. The company moved entirely to DTC four years ago and Propper said getting off the shelf has been Dropps’ ticket to success.

“Politicians tell us the system is rigged, but no system is more rigged than retail shelves,” explained Propper. “You can build a better mousetrap and offer the best margins, but if you’re not big, you’re not in the middle of the shelf.”

He called Dropps the most concentrated unit dose formula on the market, a concept that consumers readily understand. “Our mantra is ‘eliminate the stupid.’ It makes no sense to ship traditional liquid laundry detergent across the country to put it in a machine that adds water.”

With a plant-based formula that is equal to that of the multinationals, Propper and his team have stepped up their sustainability message, eliminating plastic containers and, most recently, in November, eliminated labels on its compostable cardboard boxes and replaced them with water-based inks.

“There’s an issue with labels and biodegradability,” he explained. “Using water-based ink reduces costs, saves time, gives us manufacturing flexibility and even acts as a metaphor in that we are getting rid of labels.”

Dropps may have been the first startup to challenge the multinationals with unit dose formats and environmentally-friendly formulas, but since then, other marketers have entered the category.

Truman’s debuted in 2019, with a line of home cleaning products. It entered the toilet bowl cleaner, laundry detergent and dish care space right as the pandemic was taking hold in the US, but Company Co-Founder Alex Reed called it perfect timing as consumers were adjusting to working-from-home conditions.

“It’s odd to say it, but the pandemic has been a tailwind for a subscription-based business,” said Reed. “It was always a challenge to sell liquids online, so cleaning products never had a solid foothold in ecommerce, but there’s been a big shift to e-commerce for laundry and similar categories.”

The pandemic also caused a sharp reduction in acquisition costs, as online advertising costs per impression were cut in half.

“Big companies were boycotting Facebook in the Spring and local restaurants were closed, which created more inventory for companies like ours,” explained Reed.

No wonder then, that leading industry players as well as smaller businesses are experimenting with subscription models and auto-replenishment to retain their customer base.

“An increased focus on hygiene has led to a heightened level of competitiveness among FMCG players, as well as appliances companies who seek to benefit from an increased demand for hygiene by selling their own laundry detergents,” explained Hoffmann-Häußler. “This will further proliferate with an increased household penetration of connected washing machines that come with auto-dosing functionality.”

Propper says he’s not concerned about competition from multinationals or startups.

“We’re in a very big market that’s growing 6% a year, and a market that size can float all boats,” he insisted.

Sapadilla Soap Company maintains that its point of differentiation is its 100% pure blend of essential oils. According to Melanie Blumenthal, manager of digital, social and public relations, that aspect of the brand connects with consumers who are looking for premium products that are free of artificial colors or fragrance.

“We just conducted some consumer research and found that our audience is in the 35 to 65 age range,” noted Blumenthal. “We had thought the age would skew younger, but in today’s climate it makes sense because people are looking for more natural formulas.”

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, Henkel launched several fabric care products through its various brands this year. For example, the Snuggle’s SuperCare line is built off the success of its sister line, SuperFresh, according to Davis. The new line focuses on providing superiority in fabric and color care protection to consumers, which is underlined by the line’s key message, “Keeps Clothes Looking Newer Longer.”

Also new is a Free Clear Clean & Care line through the All brand. It uses a new fabric formula with keratin and vitamin E to help smooth fibers and promote elasticity. Similar to All’s other products, Free Clear Clean & Care is 100% free of perfumes and dyes, and hypoallergenic helping to make clothes feel comfortable on sensitive skin.

In terms of eco-friendly products, Henkel introduced an All eco variant that provides the same cleaning power of its regular All detergent, but with a 99% bio-based formula and at a mid-tier price point. That introduction dovetails with current trends in the market, say analysts.

“Interestingly, a lot of new products are natural ones that focus on ingredient transparency and bio-based formulas, such as RB’s Botanical Origin; natural scents, like Gain’s Essential Oil, and Henkel’s new All Vitamin E detergent,” explained Chen of Euromonitor. “Consumers are seeking additional benefits to their products, and manufacturers are trying to differentiate themselves by adding natural fragrances and fabric conditioning.”

That search for natural, or at least better-for-the-planet options, transcends formulations and includes interesting packaging options. Packaging and formats of products such as powder and tablet detergent (Blueland), refillable (Blueland and Cleancult), compostable packaging (Blueland and Cleancult), and more concentrated formula (Seventh Generation). 

“P&G has been doing really well, especially with their Tide brand. They are dominating within the laundry tablets category, especially as consumers typically associate pods with Tide pods, similar to Kleenex and tissue,” Chen said. “P&G’s success demonstrates how consumers have been turning to familiar brands that they trust to do the job.”

The current crisis hasn’t just impacted how consumers clean clothes and how soapers sell products. The pandemic is reshaping how industry associations conduct business. This issue of Happi includes coverage of online annual meetings of the Household and Commercial Products Association and the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. This month, it’s the American Cleaning Institute’s chance to step up to the monitor for its virtual summit, which will take place January 25-29. In an interactive twist, ACI is planning six informal hot-topic discussion sessions moderated by industry peers with attendees as the panelists. Registrants are invited to suggest or vote for topics, which will be announced this month.

Other sessions will include how the supply chain responded to COVID-19, the latest in sustainable packaging, a global industry update, a look at emerging technology and of course, the State of the Association address by ACI President and CEO Melissa Hockstad, who noted that throughout 2020, ACI was in contact with federal, state and local legislators on a host of issues.

“In New York, we are consistently working to ensure that implementation of its 1,4-dixoane law will not lead to the clearing of retail shelves of safe and effective cleaning products,” Hockstad explained. “At the federal level, ACI has urged the Environmental Protection Agency to consider the fact that 1,4-dioxane was a manufacturing byproduct.”

Those efforts paid off last month when EPA issued a supplemental draft risk evaluation of 1,4-dioxane, which found that regular use of surface cleaning, laundry, dishwashing and, general purpose cleaning products does not pose an unreasonable risk to consumers.

In New York, ACI is working with the Department of Environmental Conservation to get a clear understanding of the product sell-through process, when the ruling goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. In related news, ACI is keeping an eye on New Jersey, where concerns have been raised regarding 1,4-dioxane levels in drinking water.

Key issues that ACI continues to work on include ingredient communication, where ACI is calling for a federal policy to govern cleaning product communication through virtual meetings and briefings with members of Congress and their staffs.

Another area of work for ACI is on the issue of topical antiseptics. The US Food and Drug Administration continues to acknowledge the in-depth research that’s been undertaken by ACI and its members through the years.

“The Agency actually told us, and I quote, ‘FDA believes that ACI continues to demonstrate its ongoing progress in conducting the necessary safety and efficacy studies.’ It’s really important to get that type of feedback from FDA,” explained Hockstad.

These multiyear research projects are critical to ensuring that antiseptic products that contain these important ingredients remain available to the consumer, commercial and health care marketplaces, she added.

“That’s so critical especially now, with what is going on in the world today.”

To keep its members updated about all of these activities in a pandemic, the Association launched a series of webinars called ACI Presents which covers topics such as FDA’s temporary changes to hand sanitizer rules, EPA updates and the Association’s partnership with the Centers for Disease Control.

“It enables our members to stay up-to-speed on things in a virtual format,” concluded Hockstad. “The webinars have been well-received and something that we will be continuing in 2021.”

At press time, ACI had conducted five webinars and had more than 2,000 attendees. Clearly, online is on-target, for associations, for marketers and their suppliers, both now and for the foreseeable future.

How soap companies plan to address the future varies, of course. For example, Truman’s continues to eye new categories in the new year, but Reed is understandably cautious.

“In 2021 we are going to be careful,” he told Happi. “One mistake is expanding too fast. For us, our market penetration gives us so much runway, but we want to pick our spots. We are working on some new categories, but I can’t promise when we will launch them.”

Meanwhile, RB is new to the laundry category, but the company is working on developing more online friendly formats such as unit doses and concentrates to better serve its online customers.

According to Chen of Euromonitor, antibacterial claims are becoming more important, but there could be more awareness raised among consumers about more specialty products like fabric sanitizer.

“In the US, consumers still believe that clean clothes is hygienic enough,” she added.

But whatever the format, the emphasis will be on clean for years to come. Chen’s colleague, Hoffmann-Häußler observed that hygiene and healthy living were integral components of many consumers’ lives prior to COVID-19, with strong links to urbanization and global warming. The latter resulted in sustainability moving to the center of attention, accelerated by the media, governments, consumers and manufacturers. Going forward, he expects efficacy will continue to be a key driver of consumer decisions, especially when “normal” life begins to resume.

“While sustainability will continue as a long-term shift, consumers are less likely to be willing to compromise on cleaning performance. The strong performance of bleach, home care disinfectants and laundry sanitizers in 2020 bears testimony to this shift in priority,” he explained. “This contrasts with the direction in which the industry had started to move over recent years, with a clearly defined trend toward gentle, eco-friendly and non-toxic ingredients. Manufacturers are well advised to build this new understanding into their R&D thinking as we transition to the new normal.” 

As a result, he expects sustainability will likely be addressed through new packaging formats, compaction, refills to combat plastic waste and broader environmental and social sustainability campaigns. Take RB, for example, which aims to reach 100% post-consumer recycled plastic use for Botanical Origin by 2022 and by 2025 launch new, renewable packaging.

“You’ll see a lot of headlines in the home cleaning space in 2021,” Reed predicted. “There is a lot of investment in startups, and there will be more activity, more innovation and more M&A. There is a lot of excitement to come.” 

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