Bursting Finish’s bubble?

P&G wants a major presence in the dishwasher detergent sector, but will its ‘gentle’ Fairy stand a chance against the leader Finish? asks Barny Stokes

P&G wants a major presence in the dishwasher detergent sector, but will its ‘gentle’ Fairy stand a chance against the leader Finish? asks Barny Stokes

Another brand extension from Procter & Gamble (P&G) will hit supermarket shelves in January. This time it is a new dishwasher tablet under its Fairy brand (MW last week), marking the packaged goods giant’s first serious attempt to gain a foothold in the UK’s &£149m dishwasher detergent market.

Fairy Active Burst tablets will have two cleaning agents, a detergent powder and a specially formulated Fairy liquid, housed in a soluble resin capsule. Packaged in a clear plastic container closer in appearance to a laundry “liquitab”, the product’s proposition will be that it offers an “all-in-one” cleaning solution. That is, it will offer the salt, rinse aid and glass-protection functions of rival tablets, combined with the grease-busting properties of Fairy liquid.

The move is a bold one. P&G has allocated &£16m for the launch campaign, more than ten per cent of the market’s value. It also indicates a shift in the make-up of the UK dishwashing market. Recent research by Mintel shows that the whole dishwashing sector grew by 16 per cent between 2003 and 2004, reaching &£310m, with a further three per cent rise predicted this year, to take it to &£320m.

But while growth in the hand dishwashing sector has slowed, to nine per cent between 2002 and 2004 with a value of &£161m, growth in the dishwasher detergent market is accelerating. Sales rose by 14 per cent over the same period, to reach &£149m, with Mintel predicting they will outstrip washing-up liquid sales in 2006. So while P&G leads the market overall, with a 30 per cent share, its dominance is due to Fairy’s 54 per cent share of the hand dishwashing market. In the dishwasher sector Reckitt Benckiser’s Finish commands the lion’s share (49 per cent) while P&G, with its existing Fairy tablets, has just five per cent.

As one industry source puts it: “The way people wash up is changing. Everybody keeps a bottle of washing-up liquid by the sink for the odd cup and plate, but now there’s this other huge market that’s absolutely dominated by one brand.”

But Fairy could offer a clear point of difference. “Fairy has solid cleansing properties but its mild and gentle values could translate well to the dishwasher market,” says Peter Shaw, managing director of branding consultancy Catalyst. “P&G can field a product that’s effective but also gentle on patterns [on crockery] and glassware. Fairy also has a much stronger brand profile than Finish, so there’s a good chance consumers will try it.”

Others, however, are more cautious. In particular, several point out that dishwasher products have a very low consumer involvement, making Fairy’s selling point of no use to it in this sector. Fairy’s mild and gentle message may be relevant in the hand dishwashing and laundry sectors, but consumers are less concerned about what happens inside their dishwasher.

“With washing-up liquid, you’re actually putting your hands in the water, so you don’t want it to be too harsh,” says Adrian Goldthorpe, vice-president of strategy and innovation at Futurebrand. “Likewise, you might throw your clothes into a metal drum and let the machine get on with it, but you still put them on afterwards, so mildness is a relevant value – dishwashers aren’t quite the same.”

But Goldthorpe does agree that Fairy’s mild and gentle heritage could prove useful, especially in the key area of glass protection, adding: “Finish and Glist are already doing it, but Fairy could do it better.”

Either way, insiders predict “one hell of a fight”, both above and below the line, with in-store promotions supporting media campaigns as Reckitt and P&G slug it out for supermarket shelf space. As one says: “P&G is a very good marketer, but Reckitt will fight tooth and nail to hang on to its share – it’s not going to be easy”.

One thing industry sources are in agreement on, however, is that if P&G does get a foothold in one of Reckitt’s key markets, it could prove very damaging for the rival brand Finish.


⢠Procter & Gamble establishes its first overseas subsidiary in 1930 with the purchase of Thomas Hedley & Sons, the owner of Fairy Soap, in England.

⢠P&G positions Fairy as a “mild and gentle” dishwashing detergent, but one that is longer-lasting than rival products. It also develops its iconic infant icon, the Bizzie.

⢠A series of ads throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s highlight these properties including the famous “Tables ads”, featuring Nanette Newman, showing how many extra plates a bottle of Fairy can clean compared with rivals.

⢠P&G changes tack slightly in 1997, dropping Newman in a favour of a focus on the emotional aspects of the brand with several mother and child spots.

⢠In 2002, it returns to ads highlighting Fairy’s reliability, signing up celebrity chef Ainsley Harriot to endorse new products such as Fairy Power Spray and Fairy Active Foam.

⢠Fairy Power Spray is positioned as a soaking product for both the handwashing and dishwashing sectors, while Fairy Active Foam is aimed at the growing number of people who wash up under running water.

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