Covid-19 has sent Brits into a cleaning frenzy – and the big names in hygiene are rubbing their hands with glee. Who’s cleaning up?


Gone are the days when a splash of tepid water could be passed off as handwashing. With our anxiety levels heightened by the prospect of giant Covid fuzzballs hurtling towards us at every turn, scrubbing hands and homes has become a national pastime.

So it’s unsurprising that sales of antibacterial hand sanitisers have soared more than 900%, catapulting the value of the category from less than £12m a year ago to £120.5m today [Nielsen 52 w/e 26 December 2020].

Hand wipe sales similarly rocketed 232% to £18.5m, according to Kantar, which also recorded sales of liquid soap (including hand sanitisers) more than doubling year on year to £338.1m [52 w/e 27 December 2020]. As Kantar analyst Tom Hole puts it: “It’s almost as if hygiene has experienced the same growth as tech giants and it’s easy to see why.” And in this environment, both new and established brands stand to clean up in the long term.

While big hygiene names such as Carex and Dettol have grown around 800% [Nielsen], a good chunk of hand sanitiser sales have come from new players. Or new players to the sanitiser space, at least.

“It’s almost as if hygiene has experienced the same growth as tech giants like Zoom”

See the likes of Garnier and Unilever’s Lifebuoy, which both achieved antibac hand sanitiser sales close to £4m last year.

The latter is more of a comeback story than a new entrant. Withdrawn from the UK in the 1990s, Lifebuoy was reintroduced by Unilever last August with a lineup including hand wipes, hand spray, handwash and bar soap. A return during the Covid crisis seems particularly apt, as Lifebuoy soap was created in 1894 by Lever Brothers – later Unilever – when a cholera pandemic raged across the globe.

Another big name to make its sanitiser debut is petrochemical giant Ineos. It entered the market with new healthcare business Ineos Hygienics during the summer and has already won listings in retailers including Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.

Then there are the smaller new entrants. These include essential oil inhalers supplier Go2, which has clocked up £4.8m since going into sanitisers last year.

Lancashire-based health supplements supplier Vital Life is another example. It initially extended into hand sanitisers to help the local community and continues to supply businesses, charities, schools, hospices, churches and care homes. Since then, it has partnered with ViacomCBS Consumer Products to launch a range of licensed children’s products.

The pivot by businesses into hand sanitisers was a natural response to changes in consumer interest, demand and necessity, points out Emma Fishwick, account manager at The NPD Group. And a natural response to the increase in sanitiser usage was a surge in dry hands. “Concurrent to this we also saw an increase in sales of hand cream,” she says.

Brands to benefit include Vaseline, which relaunched its Intensive Care hand cream with antibac ingredients in April. Meanwhile, Unilever launched a Lifebuoy moisturising hand cream with antibac, and has now unveiled moisturising hand sanitisers under its Dove brand.

“Given the core ingredients of sanitisers, many of us have suffered with dry skin,” says Unilever marketing director Monique Rossi. “Dove wants to give people the confidence they need to sanitise their hands regularly, especially at such a critical time.”


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  • Covid-19 has seen many hygiene categories going from stagnation to triple-digit growth, boosted by the launch of anti-bac and virus-fighting products in categories including shower gels, hand creams, laundry sanitisers and washing-up liquids.
  • Hand wipes have grown fastest in percentage terms, up 232% by value. And liquid soap and sanitisers  grew fastest in absolute terms, up £184.8m.
  • Laundry detergents are the only category not to benefit from the boom, with sales down 3%. However, sales of laundry sanitisers have grown 30%.
  • Relatively large price rises across hygiene have been driven by a fall in promotions, with share of spend on promoted products down from 29.2% in 2019 to 22.8% in 2020.
  • Big branded share gains have also helped drive prices up, according to Kantar analyst James Henson, who points to 10% value growth for brands on volumes up 8.5%, versus own label growth of 7.7% on volumes up 6.8%.
  • “Covid has certainly had an impact on the brand/own label dynamic,” he says. “Brands are consistently the main growth contributors as shoppers turn to brands they trust.”

Long-term change

This sudden transformation of the market could have long-term consequences. Hand sanitiser is now considered a personal care staple, explains Roshida Khanom, category director for beauty & personal care at Mintel, who says claims now include 2-in-1 products for face and hands.

“There’s more space for new brands to enter, and as consumers wash and sanitise their hands more, their needs are also evolving. Consumers will be drawn to brands that have a reputation in skin health.”

Andrea Crompton, category director at luxury handwash brand Baylis & Harding, also believes these habits will outlast the pandemic. A recent survey by the brand suggested 39% of the population will continue to regularly use hand gel post-Covid-19.

“Consumers will be drawn to brands that have a reputation in skin health”

There is similar potential in the homecare space. As Brits have developed obsessive hand washing tendencies, they been equally keen to ensure their homes are hygienic. That has driven a 72% increase in value sales of antiseptic products and liquid disinfectants, while sales of household cleaners have risen 38% [Kantar]. Kantar says future growth is dependent on the routines adopted by consumers – but, crucially, the sales benchmark reached by household cleaners and washing-up products is likely to remain for many months to come.

That view is echoed by Sarah Fozzard, head of home hygiene at Zoflora. “We expect these new cleaning habits to continue as this behaviour becomes the norm, including regular disinfection of door handles, steering wheels, light switches and other regularly touched surfaces,” she adds.

Suppliers have reacted to this market potential with NPD including a disinfectant surface spray from SC Johnson’s Mr Muscle, while Hycolin brought out an antiviral fragranced disinfectant range.

It’s pertinent that many of these big launches have been branded. Because brands have been the big winner from the hygiene boom. Their sales growth has outpaced that of own-label, allowing them to increase market share to 77.7% of total hygiene sales in 2020, up from 73.8% in 2019.

“Despite new own-label launches that are price competitive, brands have been able to outperform their cheaper own label rivals,” says Kantar’s Hole. “Their ability to assure trust has allowed them to be the products of choice when shoppers are looking for quality products that will help the war on germs.”

Nielsen points out germ-killing and efficacy have been high on the list of consumer demands from hygiene products during the crisis. In the midst of this, eco-ethical claims have been a lower priority. But that’s not to say they’ve lost all importance, suggests Khanom at Mintel.

“Our data shows that 20% of soap, bath and shower product users have been concerned about the environmental impact of the ingredients in these products in the last six months – as usage of personal hygiene products has increased, concerns about the environmental impact of usage has risen too,” she says.

“Brands’ ability to assure trust has allowed them to be the products of choice”

Dettol clearly feels that sentiment extends to homecare, too, having launched a Tru Clean range of surface wipes containing plant-based ingredients. It’s arguably the right time, considering sales in the surface wipes category are up 69% – and many of these products won’t be particularly eco-friendly.

“We have seen consumers become more concerned about the environmental impact of cleaning products, as well as wanting more clarity and transparency on ingredients,” says Dettol marketing director Luca Tamagni.

Dettol isn’t the only one betting on eco-friendly credentials. Similarly tapping environmental concerns is Yorkshire-based Miniml Refills, which supplies cleaning, laundry and personal care products. The company aims to provide retailers with the opportunity to create a closed loop supply chain by collecting empty containers, refilling and redistributing them.

“Our goal is to create as little waste as we can – we are keen to drive the refill revolution in retail,” says co-owner Scott Rudd.

These kind of added-value propositions are more relevant now that we have passed the panic-buying days of last spring, when shoppers simply took anything available.

“The hygiene category has stabilised now,” explains Benjamin Shipman, marketing director at Go2. “When demand outstripped supply, there were brands that entered the market to profiteer with either an inferior product or product with no certification but these have now fallen by the wayside.”


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  • Get ready to see some big numbers. Sales of hand sanitisers have exploded by 933% in the past year. The market was worth just £11.7m in 2019; last year sales hit £120.5m.
  • Five of this year’s 10 bestselling hand sanitiser brands are newcomers to the market, launched (or, in the case of Unilever’s Lifebuoy, relaunched) in response to the pandemic. As well as Lifebuoy, the newcomers are Siskin, Go2, Garnier Pure Active and Derma Intensive+.
  • It’s an old hand that’s at the top of the list, however: personal care giant PZ Cussons’ Carex, which saw sales rocket 777.8% to £35.6m on volumes up by more than 1,200% as the manufacturer exploited existing supply chains into grocery retailers (particularly c-stores) to satisfy booming demand.
  • Number two brand Cuticura, which is owned by UK personal care manufacturer Karium, saw sales more than quadruple to £12.1m, with volumes surging by 214.4%.
  • With the nation’s obsession with hand washing persisting, the fight for share is hotting up. Unilever is advertising Lifebuoy on TV for the first time in decades with the slogan ‘bish bash bosh bacteria’ and Carex is using the line ‘protecting the nation’ in new TV ads.


The sheer prevalence of new products means merchandising is more important than ever. More than two-thirds of hand sanitiser purchases are made on impulse, according to wholesaler DCS, which it says makes it essential to site them at high-traffic locations such as gondola ends.

“Where space allows for a dedicated antibacterial bay, we would encourage stores to stock hand sanitisers and face masks as a priority, including on core personal care fixtures,” suggests Matt Stanton, DCS category and insight head.

“We would encourage stores to stock hand sanitiser and face masks as a priority”

Convenience is also a key channel for hygiene products. “We’ve seen a significant increase in demand from convenience, which mirrors the change in consumer shopping habits throughout the past year,” points out Fozzard at Zoflora.

Still, for now it’s safe to say demand for sanitisers, antibac wipes and disinfectants will remain pretty high at every retail location.

As Chris Barron, VP of beauty & personal care at Unilever, puts it: “The importance of hand hygiene is not going anywhere, any time soon.”


Innovations in hygiene 2021