Liquids keep laundry value ticking along

Sales of washing powder may have fallen back over the past year, but the stellar growth of liquid detergents has offset this to keep category value flat. The big brands also managed to win back market share from own label as the latter’s sales fell 4.8% year-on-year to £128m, about 13% of the £962.7m-a-year category.

“Laundry is now a promotion-hungry category, and that’s driven the success of the big brands,” says Asda laundry buyer Simon Spears. “People have become much less format and brand-loyal than they were. There’s a strong need for value for money.” Value has been brought sharply into relief by crude oil, which hit $147 a barrel at its peak this year. Since detergents are largely derived from oil, this impacted on price, says Spears. “The category has held up very well despite tough times and a lot of cost pressure from suppliers.

“We have passed some costs to consumers, but the average cost per wash across the category has fallen since last year thanks to promotions,” he adds.

Top Launch - Ariel Excel Gel (Procter & Gamble) 
P&G won a warm reception from environmental groups when it launched Ariel Excel Gel, which claims to clean clothes effectively at temperatures as low as 15C.

"It's really caught the public imagination, which I thought would take longer, given that it's a new format," says Asda laundry buyer Simon Spears. "It was helped by its heavyweight advertising and environmental message, plus a good launch promotion."
Powders remain the biggest sellers, with the top three slots unchanged since 2007. However, sales of the top three powders fell as manufacturers focused media efforts on liquids. The heavily advertised Small & Mighty line helped Persil liquid consolidate its place as top dog of liquid detergents.

Yet the biggest sales success was Bold liquid capsules. Powered by its Infusions range, it shot from 16th to 10th with sales up 40.3%. The concentrated category looks set to dominate 2009, with Asda the first major retailer to abolish old-style ‘dilute’ washing liquids in order not to confuse shoppers.

“The new concentrates perform better, take up less space and are better for the environment,” says Spears. “We worked hard on promotions to make sure concentrates offered a cheaper cost per wash.”

Fabric conditioners outperformed detergents, growing 3%. The top five remained unchanged, with Comfort and Lenor dominating, but Bounce fell 17.6% as P&G focused on Fairy and Lenor.

View The Grocer's definitive Top Products 2008 survey