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Household Cleaning Products: Adding Green to Clean

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Everybody probably has them under the kitchen sink or in the hall closet, but most people prefer not to use them, even if from time to time they must. Even so, household cleaning categories are beginning to break free of several years of lackluster sales and somewhat limited product introductions.

In our fast-paced, multitasking world, convenience has become one of the most dominating motivational factors, and this is certainly the case with the cleaning products that consumers say they crave. Despite 70 percent of the respondents on a recent research survey by Chicago-based Mintel indicating that they’d pay more for cleaning supplies that make cleaning faster and easier, people’s habits don’t seem to have changed much.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent 36.3 minutes a day engaged in cleaning activities in 2003, while in 2011 they cut that time to 34.8 minutes.

While saving a minute and a half might not seem all that much, convenience — or at least the consumer perception of convenience — is still one of the driving forces of both new product introductions and shopper interest.

When it comes to clean, especially in the home, the job a cleaning product does is still more important than the speed at which it does it. While 70 percent of the respondents to the Mintel survey said that they’d pay more for a more convenient and faster cleaner, only 30 percent said that they’d pay more for the convenience product if it didn’t clean as well.

The awareness of germs and effective disinfecting is particularly strong among kitchen-cleaning categories and disinfectants. This may be an area that supermarkets are particularly equipped to take advantage of by pairing the point of purchase of food with proper household hygiene, and promoting the products that sustain that hygiene.

Several household cleaning categories achieved large sales gains in 2012, while others didn’t fare as well. According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc.’s (IRI) Infoscan, sales at retail for the total household cleaner category were $3.16 billion during the year, a gain of 1.7 percent over 2011 sales.

Among subcategories of household cleaners that saw sales gains in 2012 were all-purpose cleaners, with sales of $1 billion, a 3.1 percent increase; drain cleaners, up 4.2 percent to $288 million; oven and appliance cleaners/degreasers at $166 million, a
12.2 percent increase; and specialty cleaners and polish, up 10.7 percent to $105 million.

In addition, sales of rug, upholstery and fabric cleaners reached $695 million, a rise of 4.8 percent, while sales of air fresheners reached $2.51 billion, up 7.3 percent. Among the air freshener subcategories two to watch are automobile air fresheners, up a whopping 52.2 percent to $259 million, and potpourri, up 31.6 percent to $217 million.

Categories that lost ground? Abrasive tub and tile cleaners, down 8.4 percent with sales of $128 million. Non-abrasive tub and tile cleaners also lost sales last year, dropping 1.7 percent on sales of $444 million. Toilet bowl cleaners lost sales slightly as well, dipping 0.6 percent to $505 million.

According to Mintel, sales of cleaning equipment had been slipping for the past couple of years but are poised for a rebound. Sales of household cleaning equipment in the United States decreased slightly by 0.6 percent in 2012; this is seen as a result of many consumers’ unwillingness to spend on new equipment in the more expensive categories such as brooms, mops and floor care appliances. Mintel predicts that the market for cleaning equipment will experience growth of 1.7 percent in 2014, with estimated growth rates of 1.9 percent in 2015, 1.7 percent in 2016 and 1.8 percent in 2017.

Mintel also reports that sales of sponges and scouring pads rose 1.8 percent through 2012, while cleaning gloves were up 10.3 percent. Sponges and scoring pads were relatively inexpensive and put to frequent use, while glove use was spurred by concerns about germs (also a reason for purchasing more sponges). The stick goods category (mops and brooms) declined 4.7 percent between 2010 and 2012.

One of the key issues affecting innovation in the cleaning product categories is the movement to green. According to Mintel, 40 percent of the U.S. consumers it polled agreed that they’d pay more for cleaning products that are more environmentally friendly, such as those made from recycled or sustainable materials, or with fewer detergents or harsh chemicals. Once again, the caveat to this response was that the green cleaners had to clean effectively.

New green products are now entering the market again in greater numbers, however. Once the almost exclusive domain of specialty manufacturers, environmentally friendly items are stirring much more interest among the large producers of conventional cleaners.

Mainstream brands such as Clorox will probably lead the next wave of nontoxic cleaning products with its Green Works line. These may eventually crowd out those specialty eco-friendly product lines, including Method, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, Earth Friendly and Seventh Generation, that have heretofore dominated the segment.

The amount of time that women spent on cleaning chores has decreased by about 10 percent over the past eight years; consequently, the time that men spent cleaning rose about 10 percent during that period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This trend hasn’t gone unnoticed. Along with that, there’s an opportunity to design products and packaging that appeal to men.

Co-branded products have also become a major marketing force in the cleaning aisle. Led by Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, several cleaning product manufacturers have teamed up to introduce new joint products, or products that feature the blending of two familiar brands from the same manufacturer.

For instance, P&G has introduced co-branded products from its Swiffer, Gain, Febreeze and Dawn brands. According to Mintel, 16 percent of the new items launched in the cleaning categories were co-branded products.

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