Volumes are down by 8.4% but that may be linked to smaller laundry product formats as some brands are booming

As well as Arctic Roll, Wispa bars and Sherbet Fountains, the retro craze has also played its part in the laundry category, with 1980s favourites Daz  and Surf being reinvented and rejuvenated in the process.

There was nothing remotely fancy about the development, which involved taking an old-fashioned powder-based product and giving it a sweet-smelling twist. But that’s the point about all retro brands: as well as being old, their formulation is cheap, enabling manufacturers to offer highly competitive prices to match own-label alternatives. 

As a result Daz powder sales rose 14.4%, to become the leading laundry product, swapping places in the rankings with P&G stablemate Bold powder, which was down by a similar amount. Unilever’s Surf powder also rose up the rankings as it grew sales by 18.7%.

It was a challenging year for P&G’s premium laundry brand, Ariel, losing sales in almost all formats. The exception was Ariel Gel which, in its first full year since launch, saw “explosive growth” to £35.5m, according to P&G business unit direct for fabric and homecare James Vowles.

While the popularity of the cold-wash gel format seems to have cannibalised sales from other Ariel SKUs, Vowles is confident that the gel’s winning performance in a recent Which? test of 85 laundry products will see sales grow further. “Every time we bring an innovation in premium, the retailers are keen to stock it as it delivers great sales,” says Vowles. “Tumble-dry sheets have sold well, but the strongest growth is in concentrated products.”

Vowles concedes that consumer penetration has dropped in the past year but while some of the volume declines can be attributed to the growth of concentrates, the 8.6% decline in fabric conditioner sales is, he believes, long-term, with only the two leading brands growing sales.

Top launch: Surf Twilight Sensations, Unilever
Unilever is unlikely to have had vampire fans in mind when it launched Twilight Sensations in May but it’s possible the detergent’s name – and it’s goth-friendly black packaging – may have attracted devotees of the recent hit movie series.

The jasmine & black gardenia and vanilla & black orchid variants came out in three formats – powder, concentrated liquid and capsules – and was backed by a £4m push.

Top Products Survey 2009