The laundry category managed to turn last year's slight decline into growth in 2006, with a rise of 1.4% to £1.2bn. However, this has been primarily as a result of strong performance from own label.

Although it only accounts for £66.7m of the total laundry category, it grew by an impressive 9.7%, easily outperforming branded, where six of the top 10 lines were in decline.

Persil powder remains the bestselling individual brand, but even its might was unable to maintain value, dropping 4.4% to £84.2m.

In second and third places, powder offerings from Bold and Daz also struggled, with the former down 2.8%, although Daz managed to buck the trend somewhat by maintaining its value, helped by extensive Cleaner Close advertising around its fragrance innovations.

Bold is, however, closing the gap on Persil powder at the top of the tree. It has been a key driver in fragrance this year, with innovative combinations, such as lavender and camomile; apple blossom & lime zest; and crushed silk & jasmine.

The challenge for brand owners is to grow by adding value.

This is coming from more convenient formats such as liquitabs - a route followed by Persil, Ariel, Fairy and Bold - as well as new fragrances.

Comfort liquid concentrate, Persil liquid and Fairy Tablets - up 28%, 13% and 14.3% respectively - made the biggest individual contributions to the market, but standard Comfort fared less well, with a drop of 16%.

The arrival of P&G's non-biological Fairy brand in fabric conditioners, with its clear 'mildness' positioning backed by a £5m TV and marketing push, looks set to have an impact on the sector as it is in other new household product sectors.

The powder format of the brand is already performing strongly, with sales up 4.4% to £35.7m.

Unilever went for a more specialised format. It added a touch of colour to its Persil range in the summer with the introduction of Persil Colour Gel tablets, which were designed specifically for washing coloured clothes.

The newcomer was backed by a £2m package, including television and press advertising, in-store activity and sampling. n

For further details of the research table methodology, please refer to guide on p52