Brands clean up while own label struggles

The story for household cleaning this year is one of slow and steady product development rather than rapid innovation. But while category sales fell slightly year-on-year, down 0.7% to £1.328bn, and volume fell by 3.4%, the resilience of this category and the branded giants that dominate stand it in good stead for the economic downturn. And dishwasher cleaning products in particular managed to pull a good year out of the bag.

Automatic dishwasher brand Finish remains the biggest player. Innovations such as Finish Quantum, which combines gel and powder detergent in one wrapper-free tablet, aided the brand's 3% sales growth and consolidated its top spot in the category with £119.7m sales.

The fastest-growing dishwasher brand was Fairy. A relative newcomer to the automatic market, sales of its Fairy auto dishwash range grew 22.4% to £37.2m, while the washing up liquid also increased its sales.

The strongest performance, however, came from Febreze. P&G moved the fabric deodorant brand into the air freshener category and achieved sales of more than £21m in its first year.

Top Launch - Febreze Air Freshener (Procter & Gamble) 
Febreze, best known in the UK as a fabric deodorant, has been freshening the air in American homes for many years. This year the aircare version was launched in the UK, although some of the range had been on store shelves in 2007. A combination of heavy promotional discounts and an extension of the brand's simple but successful TV advertising helped sales rocket by more than 500% this year.
Aggressive pricing and promotions encouraged customers to buy into the brand, helping it gain share rapidly, but it was at the expense of overall category sales. Established players Glade, Airwick and Oust all suffered falling sales as a result.

Dettol enjoyed a good 12 months, as its refreshed TV advertising campaign delivered 6.9% growth over the year, taking the brand over the £40m sales mark.

Own-label cleaning products lost share in 2008, partly as a result of aggressive advertising and promotional activity from brands, but also due to significant pressure on the category from the multiples to offset food price hikes. With petrochemical prices soaring over the summer, 2008 was an especially difficult year for the category.

Looking forward to 2009, the category looks set to be dominated by strong promotional activity from brands, as they make a bid to retain share as consumers look for opportunities to pinch pennies in the tough economic climate.

More innovation is also expected in the air freshener category, particularly among those active in the electronic arena. Some companies are now developing multi-fragrance air fresheners and motion-sensor sprays, in the hope that it will restore the category to growth.

View The Grocer's definitive Top Products 2008 survey