Household Care: A Homerun For Wipes

By Karen McIntyre, Editor | February 10, 2006

floor cleaning cloths boost household wipes market beyond baby wipes in North America

Once dominated by baby wipes, the North American wipes market’s largest segment is now household cleaning wipes or so says a report recently issued by INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. According to association data, the household cleaning subsegment, at $1.3 billion last year, accounted for 45% of the $3.8 billion North American consumer wipes market.

“The household wipes segment has benefited from the introduction of new floor cleaning wipes, antibacterial wipes, polishing wipes and a variety of new product introductions and is now the largest segment . . . larger than baby wipes,” explained Ian Butler, INDA’s director of research and statistics.

According to INDA’s recent analysis of the household cleaning wipes market, floor cleaning wipes such as Swiffer, Clorox and Pledge Grab It account for more than half of the market. Disinfecting/hard surface wipes were another major category with strong growth. This segment is expected to surpass a half billion dollars in retail sales by 2010.

And, while this analysis focused on the North American market, household cleaning wipes are experiencing similar dominance throughout the world. According to statistics offered by Euromonitor, Western European sales of dry electrostatic wipes have increased from $95.3 million in 1999 to $357 million in 2004 while they have increased from $160 million to $200 million in the Asia-Pacific region. Meanwhile sales of impregnated wet wipes in Western Europe increased from $38.6 million in 1999 to $731.5 million in 2004 and from $129 million to $186 million in the Asia-Pacific region.

Industry observers don’t expect the high growth levels of the past five years to be repeated but still see plenty of room for increased volumes, either through continued expansion of existing products, albeit on a smaller scale, or through new products.

“It is difficult to forecast the future as much of this growth has been driven by the introduction of new products,” said Mr. Butler, “such as floor cleaning and disinfecting/hard surface wipes but producers are constantly introducing new products and packaging put-ups making these products more portable and increasing the ease and convenience to use.”

Good For Nonwovens

According to INDA estimates, the North American wipes industry consumed 171,900 tons of various nonwoven materials during 2005. Spunlaced and airlaid Pulp accounted for almost three quarters of that volume. The output from both technologies is increasing, but spunlaced volume is increasing slightly more rapidly.  “We expect the consumption of spunlaced materials by wipes to pass 100,000 tons by 2010,” Mr. Butler continued.

And, spunlace manufacturers are preparing for this growth. Already, major producers such as Europe’s Jacob Holm Industries and Israel’s Spuntech and Albaad Industries (parent to AFG Wipes) have built spunlaced lines in North Carolina and multinational Ahlstrom has made several commitments to growth in wipes including a large composite line in Windsor Locks, CT and the purchase of spunlace manufacturer Green Bay Nonwovens—as well as subsequent plans to increase output at this facility.

This spate of spunlaced growth in North America follows recent activity in Europe where such major manufacturers as Orlandi, Sandler, Suominen Nonwovens and BBA Fiberweb—through acquisitions of Tenotex and Technofibra-have invested in the technology.

Announcements in new investments in the spunlaced segment have slowed, for now, but considering that much of the already announced capacity is blatantly targeting wipes markets, wipes marketers will have plenty of material at their disposal when developing new wiping products.

Consumers Kick The Bucket

The rapid growth of household wipes, in fact, has contributed to a decline in multipurpose cleaner sales. Manufacturers cannot complain about this trend, however, because disposable impregnated wipes are a more expensive way to clean. And, wipes’ popularity is not being viewed as a passing trend as consumers are choosing them over other cleaning methods because of their need for ease and convenience.

“I wouldn’t call it a reliance on wipes,” said Gary Stibel, CEO of the New England Consulting Group, a tracker of consumer trends. “They are increasingly using wipes because they are more convenient and in some cases even more effective.

American consumers typically show a preference for products that make their cleaning activities simpler and easier,” said Euromonitor’s recently released household cleaning trends study. “Mopping with standard floor cleaners or wash and wax floor cleaners requires that consumers use a heavy bucket filled with water and a cleaning liquid. The introduction of ‘bucketless’ mopping systems, such as household cleaning wipes, has been a key development in the chore of mopping.”

In fact, according to Euromonitor, Procter & Gamble’s strength in wipes, achieved largely through its Swiffer brand, allowed it to increase its share of surface care value in 2004 by 0.5 percentage points to 15.5% in 2004, despite a sales decline of 2%. Meanwhile, SC Johnson’s weakness in wipes led to a share decline of 0.6 percentage points for a 19.2% surface care value share in 2004.

Speaking of P&G’s Swiffer brand, this lineup, which includes dry electrostatic and premoistened wipes as well as accessories, has largely been credited with the increased popularity of household wipes. Swiffer initiated the dry electrostatic wipe category in 1998 and was also followed by SC Johnson’s Pledge Grab-It sweepers as well as private label replicates. Not long after, P&G expanded the Swiffer brand with SwifferWet, a line extension that created a new wet floor wipe category and was followed by competitors. In 2004, Swiffer was the largest wipe brand in the U.S. with $415 million in sales and was also the largest brand in surface care.

Beyond dry electrostatic wipes, another category reporting strong growth is all purpose cleaning wipes, a category initiated by Clorox in 1999. After Clorox achieved $66 million in U.S. sales during this product’s first full year on the market, other brands including P&G’s Mr. Clean and Lysol as well as private label manufacturers followed suit, but Clorox remained the leader with $123 million in sales in 2004.

Not Just For The Big Boys

With antistatic and all-purpose wipes already experiencing major growth during the past several years, manufacturers have been introducing niche products in an attempt to continue growth. In recent years, the market has seen furniture polish wipes under the Pledge and Old English brands, window and glass cleaning wipes and even toilet bowl and oven cleaning wipes.

While some have questioned the need for such market proliferation, industry observers argue that the consumers’ need for convenience will continue to boost this market, albeit on a lesser scale than experienced already. One success story is window/glass wipes, such as those offered by Windex and Glass Plus, which gained 2% in 2004. While growth in this category was not dramatic during 2004, these products did manage to avoid the fall-off in sales that typically occurs when novelty-driven products have been in the marketplace for a year or more and that is an achievement in itself, according to Euromonitor.

Experts argue that slower growth in new household wipes categories signifies a mature market. Unlike the doubling and tripling of sales values seen between 2001 and 2004, some of these products, such as toilet care wipes, suffered declines. Another not-quite success story is Easy-off, an oven cleaning wipe meant to be heated and used in the microwave. This relatively expensive product was unable to gain distribution through volume-oriented supermarkets and mass merchandisers.

Likewise, furniture polish wipes, such as those offered by SCJohnson and Old English, reported a 4% drop in sales volume and flushable toilet wipes dropped sales 9%.

The View From the Top

High penetration is not the only reason the household cleaning wipes market has ended its reign of explosive growth, at least for the time being. This slowdown has also been attributed to fewer new product introductions as major categories, such as electrostatic floor cleaning cloths and disinfectant wipes become saturated, and new product categories aren’t created.

Interest in flushable wipe products, such as Ahlstrom’s Hydrospun technology, is increased in all markets including household.
That’s not to say, however, that household cleaning companies have written off the wipes market as mature. Carmen Baker, marketing director of private label wipes manufacturer Rockline Industries said, “The new products have slowed but they are still there. The biggest areas of growth are in products that aren’t necessarily wipes but still contain nonwovens like Swiffer dusters or toilet bowl brushes. Dusters, for instance, went up 6% last year.”

It is the novelty of such products in fact that is wooing consumers, said Mr. Stibel.  “Clearly the ability to extend the brand adds to the financial benefit  for the manufacturers, but if there is another benefit, I would say it’s fun value, play value.”

P&G has capitalized on this trend throughout its Swiffer brand of electrostatic color cleaning cloths, the very product that created the category just more than five years ago. Since then, the company has added a wet vacuum, motorized wet and dry floor cleaning systems using Swiffer cloths, a hand held feather duster and most recently Swiffer CarpetFlick. Sure, not all launches have been as successful as the original dry cloth product but no one can deny P&G’s success in creating a powerful global brand out of virtually nothing in such a short period.

And, P&G continues to revolutionize its Swiffer products. Most recently, without much fanfare, the company restaged its Swiffer Wet moistened floor cleaning wipes, rebranding them Swiffer Sweeper. The new cloths feature an elasticized plastic scrubby strip on the nonwoven so users don’t have to bend down to rub out hard-to-remove spots on their floor. “This really shows that the brand understands its consumers and their needs and that there is still innovation in that brand,” Ms. Baker explained.

In fact, Mr. Seibel argues that there is no such thing as a tired brand, just tired brand managers and wipes and other new products  have really allowed manufacturers to add vitality to their brands. “It’s easy to innovate in technology but it’s really hard to be innovative in categories that have for the most part been considered a chore, like household cleaning,” he said.

Making chores easier for consumers was on the mind of P&G researchers when they developed Mr. Clean Magic Reach product featuring one pre-moistened pad for floor and countertop cleaning and another water-activated pad for removing soap scum. An adjustable handle is meant to make cleaning the bathroom easier.

“It shows how the nonwovens spectrum is on an evolutionary path from simple wipes to more sophisticated cleaning products,” said Kent Lynde, associate director household care R&D for Procter & Gamble. “We develop new tools for consumers for tasks they hate to do and bathroom cleaning is at the top of the list. Having a new application allows the consumer to throw the yuck out of her home.”

The strategy of developing new cleaning tools to make consumers’ lives easier was the motivator behind the creation of the Swiffer brand and nonwovens have helped the company achieve this goal.

“We have been focusing on our two megabrands in surface care—Swiffer and Mr. Clean—to develop new applications,” Mr. Lynde explained. In the Mr. Clean arena, recent innovations include Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and the Autodrive car cleaning line. Swiffer’s latest launch is the CarpetFlick, a rug cleaning system that flicks dirt, crumbs and other small bits off your carpet and traps them onto a disposable adhesive cartridge.

Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Really Go

Household cleaning wipes, like furniture and window cleaners, are  gaining popularity on the private label market. Photos courtesy of Rockline Industries.

Portability is one attribute of wipes, across the consumer spectrum, that has really contributed to their popularity. This started, like many things in this market, with the baby wipe. Even long after their children were diaper-free, many parents kept baby wipes on hand, in the car, in restaurants, wherever, to clean up messes on the road quickly and conveniently. And, while baby wipes are still a preferred travel accessory, several products in the household wipes category are must-haves for people on the go.

And, the extent to which people are relying on wipes on the road was recently shown through studies conducted by the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA). “We find that people are taking them out of their homes, for instance when they travel,” explained Brian Sansoni, executive director of SDA, a trade organization that represents North American manufacturers of household, industrial and institutional cleaning products. In a recent survey of people’s hygiene habits, when polled on what products they bring when they travel, 44% said they bring hand wipes, 31% bring cleaning or disinfectant wipes and 14% said they bring stain wipes.

“The portability issue is key,” Mr. Sansoni continued. “They are talking them on the go and I think manufacturers should really hone in on this as they are looking for ways to differentiate their products or promote other aspects of their products.”

Mr. Sansoni called wipes to this generation’s “must-have products.”

“It’s interesting to see how people are using household products in different ways,” he said. “For us, today it seems like, when it comes to cleaning, not having a wipe would be like a mother not using baby wipes.”

As manufacturers move forward with launching new products, portability is one of the many issues they should consider. Where once, the novelty of wipes made them a can’t-lose among retailers, now storekeepers are more selective in the wipe products they agree to grant valuable shelf space.

New-to-this-world products don’t pay a premium for shelf space to retailers eager to try out new innovations, Mr. Stibel explained. It is the third, fourth and fifth generation of products that have trouble getting on the shelves. “There is only so much room on the shelves. The trade needs new products to survive but with the later products, it’s harder to guarantee success,” he said.

And, while the rate of new entries has slowed, the volume growth in the wipes category remains attractive.

“What we are probably going to see is companies taking more time to develop the next product rather than rushing out to shelf with new products,” Mr. Sansoni said. “The goal is really to find a solution to a consumer problem they didn’t know they had.  It’s not asking what problem needs solving but solving it for it before it’s even known. The ‘aha’ product is creating a solution before the problem is known.”

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