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Spring cleaning report: It's all about clean and green


In bygone years, freshening up the household after a long winter was merely a tradition–perhaps even a pleasant one. But today, spring-cleaning is fraught with anxieties about the safety of strong cleaning products weighed against wasting precious family time on chores.

“I want products that are safe, green without greenwashing and contain ingredients I recognize,” says Mary Carver of the Ontario Home Economics Association. “I’m not finding many that satisfy those criteria and also work well.”

Avoidance of harmful chemicals is a hot topic for many households with pets and family members with allergies or other health concerns. “We’re increasingly aware of the damage to health and the environment,” says Carver.

To that end, there’s been a recent resurgence in the use of baking soda, borax, vinegar and other natural ingredients, says Mintel analyst Lynn Dornblaser. But not many people have time to whip up baking soda paste from scratch. “This simplicity movement is a new trend, and many products now contain these traditional cleaning agents,” she says.

At the same time, there’s mounting consumer concern about greenwashing, says Carver. “Many labels on green products are too vague and are misleading.” “We’re seeing a sudden surge in cleaning products claiming to be green,” says Scott McDougall, president of Ottawa-based eco-consultancy TerraChoice. A 2010 study by TerraChoice found the overall increase in green claims has increased by 101% for cleaning products. But he adds that unwarranted green claims are starting to decrease.

“Most greenwashing is exaggeration rather than outright falsehood,” says McDougall. “But ‘green’ is a big, broad term and consumers won’t go wrong by picking a product that has some degree of environmental benefit.” Demand for these products is here to stay, he adds.


Dollars n’ scents

  • Concerns about allergens drive many consumers to scent-free products, but the sales tell another story. Sales of potpourri went up 12% last year, according to Nielsen, and products like Glade Sense & Spray that automatically envelope rooms with a pleasing fragrance have built a strong following.

Seeking strength

  • Products with bleach are coming back, says David Stezenko, GM of Quality Market. “It’s probably because consumers gave green cleaners a try but they didn’t work as well, so they’re going back to stronger products. We could barely keep up with demand for Oxiclean and Tide pens when they were introduced.”

Label leverage

  • Many major manufacturers aren’t seeking third-party eco-labels for cleaning products, although three are available (it’s the EcoLogo in Canada). Smaller upstart brands, such as Lavo’s EcoRespect and Biospectra’s Attitude, offer eco-labels to build consumer trust.


“Retailers investing in green private-label cleaners should be confident their investment is worthwhile.” They should also be aware of consumers’ environmental priorities, such as phosphates or packaging, since they change year to year.

If there’s one thing consumers are always interested in, it’s products that save them time. And they’re willing to pay more for them. Laundry detergent volumes grew about 3% last year, due in part to product innovations such as Purex’s 3-in-1 product that combines the actions of detergent, fabric softener and dryer sheets.

Top 3 Merchandising Tips

1. Give consumers more information about the safety of cleaning formulations. Put flyers and other educational material about chemicals used in products and which are suitable for different health conditions in the cleaning aisles.

2. Cleaning system sales are booming, but shoppers don’t know where they are in-store. They look for Swiffer systems near brooms, but they’re typically in the cleaning aisle, says P&G spokesperson Victoria Maybee.

3. Trim out your weakest SKUs. Consumers are confused by endless variations on the same product: Tide, Tide Free, Tide with Febreeze. Mintel analyst Lynn Dornblaser says, “Trader Joe’s trimmed its SKUs by 20% and now has cleaner aisles, which helps consumers do their shopping more efficiently.”

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