Cleaning GettyImages-171279850

Across UK homes, wardrobes are full of clothes that pop with colour and smell like a meadow in the sun. At least, that’s what laundry detergent sales figures suggest.

While the other six sectors covered by this report have registered little or no value gains, fabric cleaning products have raked in the cash. They’re worth an extra £42.5m.

To put that into context, aircare, auto dishwash, fabric conditioner, hand dishwash, surface care and toilet care have shed £99.8m between them, following the end of the pandemic’s household cleaning boom.

It would seem logical to pinpoint the return of socialising – and a growing desire for spick and span clothes – as the reason for laundry’s fortunes. However, growth was entirely driven by a 6.8% average rise in price. After all, volumes are down 2.5%

NielsenIQ senior analyst Ryan Wells points out “over 50% of brands have seen volume decline”, masked by higher prices. Top two brands Persil and Ariel, for example, have mitigated their volume declines with price rises of over 8%.

It comes after Jon Moeller, CEO of Ariel and Fairy owner P&G, warned in summer of “significant headwinds” caused by higher commodity and freight costs, and unfavourable currency exchange rates.

In an effort to limit the impact of higher input costs, P&G has shrunk a raft of SKUs across its portfolio. They include Fairy Non Bio Pods Sensitive 38-pack, now a 36-pack. Daz All-In-1 Pods 54-pack has been swapped for a 40-pack, and Lenor Fabric Conditioner Ruby Jasmine Scent 50 Washes 1.75 l has been replaced by 48 Washes 1.68l.

Some packs have got cheaper, but the majority have either not changed or got even more expensive.

That’s likely to strengthen own label’s position as punters tighten their purse-strings. It’s already enjoying an uptick in sales.

“As consumers move to cheaper products, private label has thrived,” Wells notes. So too have value brands such as fabric cleaner Ace. It’s grown value 14% on units up 16.1%.

Still, there’s room in some shopping baskets for posher brands – as P&G’s Lenor can confirm. Having registered an £11.5m rise in value and 4.6% boost to volumes, it’s “the only major brand to deliver growth” in fabric conditioner, Wells says. He attributes this to the brand’s Outdoorable range, launched in February 2021 with a promise to deliver the “freshness of drying outside, even when drying inside”.

Other NPD has also worked well for P&G, Wells adds. “P&G has continued to innovate by identifying the fragrances that worked well and expanding into larger pack sizes,” he says. “More recently, we have been introduced to new fragrances.”

While Brits will most likely continue to run their washing machines even as energy prices soar, the same can’t be said for their dishwashers. That threatens further declines for dishwasher tablets. Already, they’ve suffered a £15.9m slump in market value, as volumes plunged 10.6%.

At the same time, hand dishwash lines have added £2.7m. But this isn’t necessarily due to consumers switching from one to another – volumes are down 6.8%. And there is an interesting quirk in this data: own label volumes have fallen faster than brands. They’re down 7.5% and 6.5% respectively.

To build on that position, brands will need credentials people are willing to pay extra for. Like sustainability. It seems to be working for eco-cleaning challenger Homethings, which has leapt into eighth place from a standing start in auto dishwash.

“We’re offering incredible value to shoppers for a superior product in terms of efficacy and sustainability, which is allowing us to establish our brand in the category and drive rate of sale,” says co-founder Tim Keaveney.

Green moves

Being kinder to the planet has been front of mind for many household brands this past year – not just in dishwashing.

Take Unilever’s plan to next year roll out an eco-friendly Persil laundry capsule. Made with 65% plant-derived ingredients, it promises to be the supplier’s “fastest-dissolving capsule” – and is “optimised to deliver top cleaning performance in cold and short cycles”. Plus, its carbon footprint is 16% lower than standard Unilever capsules, requiring up to 60% less energy per use.

Unveiling the innovation in July, Unilever laundry marketing director Nadine Slyper hailed it as “a significant step forward” that would play “a huge part in ensuring the category continues to evolve, helping shoppers reduce their carbon footprint”.

Persil’s announcement came a month before stablemate Domestos rolled out a 750ml bottle made from 50% recycled plastic for its core bleach range. Original, Citrus and Pink variants transitioned to the new pack in a move designed to save 1,505 tonnes of virgin plastic per year.

The bottle uses high-quality recycled resin, which enabled the incorporation of the material into the coloured packs “without compromising on the distinct colour and quality of the packaging”.

In the same month, yet another Unilever brand, Surf, unveiled an eco-conscious innovation. Its move into surface care came in a bid to reduce usage of water and single-use plastic (see Top Launch, p127).

Sustainability is also a priority for P&G, which added a Fairy Max Power washing-up liquid in a 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottle – and veteran household brand Zoflora, which made its cleaning wipes debut with a three-strong, plastic-free range.

There’s even more to come. Sustainable household brand and retailer Everdrop – which sells refillable and plastic-free products direct to consumer– is looking to enter the UK market, co-founder David Löwe told The Grocer this summer.

The UK’s houses could soon be both cleaner and greener.

Top Launch 2022

Surf Concentrated Disinfectant | Unilever

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Surf’s first foray into surface care makes good use of the brand’s popular laundry fragrances. Passion Bloom, Coconut Bliss and Tropical Lily disinfectants (rsp: £2.50/240ml) promise to kill 99.9% of bacteria and viruses. Plus, says Unilever, they provide “strong value” by making “approximately 10 litres of product per bottle once diluted”. Packed in bottles made from recycled materials, they rolled into Asda in August backed by a £2m masterbrand push, and hit other retailers in November.

The Grocer Top Products Survey 2022: How can brands stay in focus?