Fresh approach to cleaning

The number of single person households in the UK is rocketing and some industries have woken up to the fact that single people now represent a significant market. But one market which should be in prime position to take advantage of the move to single living seems not to be keeping up with the trend – household cleaning products. Indeed, annual global growth for the category is forecast by Mintel to be under two per cent between 1997 and 2002.

Yet there is considerable consumer involvement in the purchasing decision in the household cleaning products market. For evidence of the interest people show in the products they buy, look no further than consumer research by Mintel (Chart 1) which shows that the choice of which cleaning product to purchase is very definitely not a snap decision. Research suggests that consumers take the selection process in this category seriously (Chart 2). Statements such as “I’m prepared to pay extra for products that are effective” and “I use products which kill germs” indicate a keen interest.

Why then is growth so slow? Is it because these individuals or families are cleaning less, or is it because they are only using hot water to achieve only their goals (which hardly seems likely, given apparently high levels of consumer concern about health and hygiene)? First and foremost, the sector is already packed with products. The number of options available on the supermarket shelves mean that consumers find it extremely difficult to make decisions. As Suzanne Wilkinson of The Good Housekeeping Institute says: “Why do we need all these products?” There has also been considerable innovation in the market over the last few years. But whether these innovations really meet the needs, current and future, of consumers is debatable. Many of them are more driven by the dictates of fashion than by real consumer needs. For example, the increasing number of fragranced products in fresher, lighter formats.

In the longer term, anti-bacterial products – such as Fairy anti-bacterial soap, Astonish anti-bacterial cleanser and the Microban range of products from Sainsbury’s – have helped move the market forward. But marketers are perhaps not making the most of innovations. Consumers are constantly looking for safer cleaning products to provide reassurance and this is something marketers should be communicating. It is significant how the tone of voice which marketers use in this category has changed. The accent has softened in everything from the use of “extracts” to “gentle bleach” and “colour care”. Consumers want effective ingredients which offer high performance cleaning, but wrapped up in soft packaging.

One of the few examples of real innovation in recent years has been the successful introduction of Persil Tablets. While concentrates and measured dosing were already beginning to take a growing share of the market, Persil Tablets stole a lead by combining the latest technology with a real, albeit latent, consumer need – ease of use.

There are various ways the sector can move forward.Household cleaning products should be task specific and fit within today’s lifestyles, providing convenient, easy-to-use products offering clearly and simply defined benefits. The route to innovation is to capitalise on key themes in a creative manner: jargon-free education in the benefits of environmentally friendly products; high-performance cleaning from safe products; and not least health related guidance – for example, whether products should be used by asthmatics.

There is a real opportunity to generate new products which will motivate people living in smaller households, but manufacturers need to begin by looking closely at their current ranges, identifying consumer needs and tailoring products specifically to those needs.

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