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Standing out in a sea of same

Shoppers scouring the cleaning aisles have so many choices.

IT TAKES MORE THAN A NEW SCENT OR BOTTLE to impress people shopping for household cleaning products.

“The category has been saturated, with all the labels very similar,” says Garth Green, a Country Grocer assistant store manager in Victoria.

As sales of traditional products, such as abrasive cleansers and furniture polish, falter, manufacturers are introducing fresh ones. Sun Products, for example–which sells brands such as Sunlight and Surf–constantly develops new products so it has at least one ready to replace another that’s not selling as well.

Doug Rozon, director of marketing, says, “We risk losing our share of shelf if we don’t have something to replace a low-velocity item.”

Case in point: the company recently dropped its Ginger Almond dish soap as it started distributing Hibiscus & Cherry Blossom.

Changing cleaning habits are largely driving new cleaning products. For instance, people no longer spend half their day housecleaning.

“They wipe off the counter while the kids do homework,” says Matt Kohler, Clorox Canada’s head of marketing.

This trend leads to more “in-the-flow” products, such as the Clorox ToiletWand, a wand attached to a preloaded, disposable head filled with liquid cleaner. It started shipping to Canadian stores in March.

Nielsen data shows not many cleaning categories saw an increase in sales during the last 52 weeks. A strong exception is dishwasher cleaner, which saw a 17% increase in dollars.

Dishwasher cleaner from brands including Finish and Cascade clean the dishwashing machine itself to improve its performance.

“The category is relatively new,” says Janice Ryder, senior manager of new business at Whirpool, which sells the Affresh brand dishwasher cleaner. “Mass advertising has helped create awareness for the category and product benefits,” such as removing mineral buildup, grease and odours.

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For years, consumers have demanded dishwashing products that get cups and cutlery squeaky clean. But they also want dishwashing liquids to kill germs and bacteria.

To that end, Sunlight’s new Green Apple antibacterial liquid dishwashing detergent includes a germ-killing feature, says Rozon.

Clorox’s Kohler notes antibacterial products for household clean- ing are especially popular during cold and flu season. “Last year, with the flu season, we saw sales increase.”

Consumers want to halt viruses, but some also want to stop scents. Louise Downs, owner of The House Whisperer Cleaning & Organizing, in Enfield, N.S., says many of her clients object to strongly scented products. “Some have a reaction to them; others just don’t like them.”

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The fragrance-free trend is also showing up in laundry care. Some workplaces no longer allow people to wear heavy perfumes or scents.

“You’d be surprised how many people come and say, ‘I can’t use this at work, what else can I use?’” says Green.

Yet a mild fragrance is still important to many, according to Sun Products research.

“One-third of Canadians are looking for gentle and lightly scented detergents,” says Rozon, but can’t find them because most are either fragrance-free or heavily scented.

His company launched Sunlight Fresh & Sensitive liquid laundry detergent for those seeking a light scent with fewer chemicals. Likewise, Method’s new lines of air refresher sprays and soy candles are toxin free and lightly scented.

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Green says the most popular attribute in the cleaning aisle is “free and clear.” “People don’t want chemicals they don’t need.” But it’s often because they’re protecting their homes, not the planet.

“Very rarely does anyone ask for green products out of concern for the environment,” says Downs. “It’s because of kids, pets and health concerns.”

No matter what, a product still has to perform, says Kohler, whose Green Works line features naturally derived ingredients. “If the product doesn’t work, consumers will never come back to the brand.”

Shifting to what’s underfoot in the cleaning-products category, sales in floor waxes and rug cleaners are down 23% and 17%, respectively.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise given more homeowners now prefer hardwood over carpet.

“The investment for hardwood floors is high, so consumers strive to take good care of their purchase,” says Dawson Marshall, Canada sales director at Method. Clorox launched its wax-free Pine-Sol squirt-and- mop floor cleaner in January, and Method will release one in June; neither product requires buckets or rinsing.

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