US soap star plans to make its UK debut

US conglomerate The Dial Corporation manufactures everyday household products, such as canned meat, Vienna sausages, washing powder, soap and air freshener, and it is coming to the UK.

From its base in Phoenix, Arizona, the company is hatching ambitious international expansion plans, which include the launch of its flagship Dial soap brand in the UK next year (MW September 17). It may also bring over its Tone cocoa-butter brand if Dial proves successful.

However, some would say the UK soap market is not worth getting into a lather about. There just aren’t enough dirty punters out there in need of a good scrub. Soap makers are selling just about all the soap they can. Established brands are attempting to gain share and increase their profits with inventive new products, but the market already seems to be at capacity.

Cussons launched its Imperial Leather Foamburst Gel in June and is spending 7.5m promoting it across the country. At the same time, Sara Lee has committed 5m to the imminent unveiling of a liquid bath soap called Radox Everfresh, with ads starring Leslie Grantham, who used to play Dirty Den in EastEnders. As one industry source says: “There has to be innovation to make any headway, it’s a cluttered market.”

But Ron Carpenter, The Dial Corporation’s international managing director, believes there is space in the UK market for Dial, an anti-bacterial, or deodorant, soap.

He says: “We own a very large niche in the US with our anti bacterial positioning. We have a unique product, price and position.” The brand’s annual US sales are $350m (220m). Almost 1 million bars of Dial are sold each day, the company claims.

In the UK, Dial plans to take on the Boots and Superdrug own-label soaps, as well as Carex, Cussons’ anti-bacterial handwash brand.

Carpenter is Dial’s first international managing director with a brief to build the company’s global expansion plans. He took up his job a month ago. Previously, he was vice-president of natural beauty products manufacturer Freeman, which The Dial Corporation bought in June.

Dial, which has an annual turnover of $1.4bn, (88m) has told Wall Street investors it plans to expand its non-US business. In the first quarter of 1997, its international business accounted for five per cent of sales, and it intends to raise this to 15 per cent by 2000.

Freeman is available in the UK with its Beautiful Skin range of products, but Dial plans to introduce new Freeman ranges, including its Vitamin C Complex (MW September 17).

The company also owns Renuzit air freshener in the US. Carpenter says the product’s licence is owned by SC Johnson in Europe, but he says his company is looking at the UK market for a possible launch. He also comments that Dial is considering acquiring local companies, though he would not say in which product field.

Growth in demand for liquid soaps is far outstripping that of bar soaps. The Dial range includes both variants, and Carpenter says: “Consumers are moving to it [liquid soap] especially in the European market. Bar soap is still a market, but it appears to be shrinking.”

Between 1993 and 1997, the sales value for bar soaps has risen by just 0.3 per cent to 142.6m. In the same period, sales of liquid soaps have leapt by 17.9 per cent to 33.6m, according to Datamonitor.

One soap industry insider says: “Manufacturers are trying to develop the category through innovation. They want to get consumers to spend a bit more money.” A bar of Dove soap retails for 79p, while a bottle of Dove Creme Bath retails for 3.09.

Theories on why this change has come about vary. One is that manufacturers are spending heavily on marketing liquid soaps. One industry expert says liquid variants are profitable for manufacturers as consumers use more of the product with every wash than with a bar soap. “Shower gels are far more profitable because people squidge it all over their bodies,” he says.

Other sources say consumers feel liquid soaps are better for their skin, providing more moisture. Bars are also considered soggy and messy.

No figure has been put on Dial’s launch spend. The product’s marketing will be determined by Dial’s distributors in each country. Its UK distributor, Fragrant Memories, will be seeking an advertising agency to launch the brand.

Fragrant Memories will have to research Dial’s marketing carefully. One source says: “British baths are an institution. In this sector people like British brands. The US has a more shower-based culture.”

Carpenter wants a consistent global positioning based on safety and protection. He says it is a “family-oriented” brand.

In the US, the company spent $12.4m (7.7m) on advertising through DDB Needham in the first six months of this year, and it has plenty of cash to fund a big campaign in the UK.

The brand will need it. Datamonitor predicts the value of the UK soap market will rise by 2.2 per cent between 1997 and 2002. If Dial is going to enjoy anything like the success it has achieved in the US, it will have to grab a disproportionately large piece of that. And, as one supermarket buyer predicts: “Dial could be an interesting twist in the soap market, but not a raging success.”

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