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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Household wipes: searching for the next swiffer: growth slows as the market awaits its next blockbuster. USA, LLC

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For much of the past decade the household wipes market has benefited from one successful new product introduction after the other. Clorox general purpose antibacterial wipes started this trend in the late 1990s and were soon followed by a number of other premoistened all-purpose wipes. Then, in 2000, Procter & Gamble introduced Swiffer dry electrostatic cloths, creating a whole new category, which was soon followed by a number of copycat products as well as line extensions. The result is a new category that was worth more than $1 billion in 2006, comprising one of the largest segments of the consumer wipes market.

"I credit Swiffer with kind of starting the whole idea of cleaning as you go," said Carolyn Forte, director home appliances and cleaning products for the Good Housekeeping Institute. "A lot of consumers have gotten away from dedicating specific time for cleaning. Instead, people are doing a little bit all of the time."

These products have responded to a consumers' need for quick and convenient cleaning tools. With so many dual-working homes and other hectic lifestyles, consumers are willing to pay more for products that save them time, and household wipes have helped achieve this goal. Even beyond floor cleaning cloth and all purpose wipes, a number of smaller niche categories have been created in the household wipes category catering to the consumers' need for quick and convenient cleaning tools. While none of these, designed to clean varied surfaces such as stainless steel, furniture, leather, toilet bowls and automotives, have created the buzz seen in all -purpose wipes and floor cleaning cloths, many are outpacing growth in their categories, according to Anna Wang, of New Jersey-based research firm Kline and Company.

For example, in the furniture cleaning segment, polishing and dusting wipes comprise only about 17% of the overall segment but are growing in the double-digit range, compared to low single digit growth for the entire category. And, all-purpose cleaner wipes comprise 25% of that segment and are growing 4% compared to flat growth for the category overall.

Despite growth that is outpacing competing cleaning products, the household wipes category has been plagued recently by lack of the next big blockbuster product. Nearly a decade after all-purpose wipes hit the mass market and seven years after Procter & Gamble created Swiffer, these categories have reached maturity and growth is more or less flat. And, while household care producers have launched a steady stream of products since then, few have gained the large-scale audience that the initial entries achieved.

Swiffer Slowdown

Launched only seven years ago, P&G's Swiffer floor cleaning brand has been monumentally successful for the consumer products giant. With about 10 products containing both wet and dry wipes as well as a number of accessory products, Swiffer has already earned the distinction of being one of P&G's dozen or so billion dollar brands.

Initially created with the Swiffer dry floor cleaning system, a disposable electrostatic cloth and handle kit, designed to remove dirt, dust and hair from floors, this product's 1999 launch was so successful it was soon followed by a wet version, Swiffer Wet, a pre-moistened wipe that could fit on the same handle as Swiffer dry. Later introductions include the Swiffer Sweep and Vac, in which the Swiffer dry cloth is paired with a vacuum to pick up larger particles; Swiffer Dusters, which use fluffy fibers to trap and lock dust that traditional methods just spread around; Swiffer WetJet, which features a disposable, superabsorbent, thick textured pad that pulls dirt deep inside rather than spreading it around the way a mop does; and most recently, Swiffer CarpetFlick, which uses a disposable adhesive cartridge to pick up dirt, crumbs and other small bits off a carpet.

While some of the Swiffer products don't contain nonwoven wipe material, the creation of this category has meant great things for nonwovens. Floor cleaners, including Swiffer as well as similar products offered by other consumer giants like SCJohnson and Clorox as well as private labelers, consumed about $240 million worth of nonwovens in 2006, representing a good chunk of the $660 million U.S. floor cleaning market, according to INDA's Ian Butler. Swiffer dominates both the wet and dry segments and accounts for more than half the North American market.

However, it's been two years since the latest Swiffer introduction, CarpetFlick, has hit store shelves, and even longer since a new Swiffer product incorporating a nonwoven has been seen and many industry watchdogs are waiting for the new product designed to revolutionize household cleaning.

P&G is constantly honing the performance benefits of Swiffer, most recently adding deep ridges to its spunlace structure to achieve three-dimensional depth while preserving the product's strength at a lower basis weight. Additionally, Swiffer WetJet has recently seen improvements to both its absorbent pad and its cleaning solution. However, these improvements do not make up for an ultra-successful new product launch that could propel both sales and consumption of nonwovens in the future.

While P&G executives are mum on plans for any new launch, they continue to be strongly committed to the growth of the Swiffer brand and will launch products based on innovation and market demand.

So, what will be the next Swiffer? If you look around the nonwovens industry, a recent onslaught of new spunlace capacity in North America should signify these producers' knowledge that more spunlace is going to be needed. With wipes being the main consumer of spunlace material, some might say that a major new launch might be on its way.

And, wipes continue to be part of household giant SCJohnson's strategy. The company recently added to its line of Pledge nonwoven-based cleaning products. Pledge Duster Plus is a dry duster, which like Swiffer Duster uses fluffy fibers to attract dirt and dust; however, this product has the added benefit of a unique multi-surface spray in its handle to help it grab more dust and reduce allergens in the home.

Allergen reduction is also the goal of Pledge Clean and Dust Wipes, which contain antistatic agents to help remove more dust and allergens than dry dusting.

SC Johnson has also moved its Pledge wipes products into an emerging niche category for wipes, stainless steel cleaning. Pledge Stainless Steel wipes are designed to clean stainless steel household appliances, which are constantly being marred by fingerprints. This category has been a highly successful, yet niche, category, growing 60% to $4.7 million in 2006, according to Information Resources, Inc.

Good Housekeeping Institute's Ms. Forte pinpointed stainless steel wipes as an example of these products targeting surface areas that are particularly tricky to clean. "Stainless steel can really be a nightmare when it comes to fingerprints and it's an area consumers are constantly cleaning," she said. "They want something that can be used quickly and effectively and of course wipes fit the bill."

Filling Up Capacity

According to INDA estimates, the North American wipes industry consumed 171,900 tons of various nonwoven materials during 2005. Spunlaced and airlaid pulp accounted for almost three quarters of that volume. The output from both technologies is increasing, but spunlaced volume is increasing slightly more rapidly and is expected to pass 100,000 tons by 2010.

During the past two to three years, several European-based spunlace producers have arrived on U.S. soil looking to cash in on the wipes boom on a more international level. The strength of the Euro, compared to the dollar, had made selling European-made spunlace to North American wipes producers unprofitable so until then much of the U.S. market was dominated by airlaid. That has changed in recent years as North American consumers are favoring the attributes of spunlace nonwovens including increased softness and a more textile-like feel.

Also helping improve spunlace's role in wipes is the surge in new capacity that has hit North America in recent years with new lines from Fiberweb, Jacob Holm, Spuntech as well as two from Ahlstrom targeting the wipes market. With the most recent of these--Ahlstrom's Green Bay line--coming onstream just last month, it is still too soon to see the full impact the new capacity will have on the household wipes market.

This spate of spunlaced growth in North America follows recent activity in Europe where such major manufacturers as Orlandi, Sandler, Suominen Nonwovens and Fiberweb--through acquisitions of Tenotex and Technofibra--have invested in the technology.

Strength in Numbers

Announcements in new investments in the spunlaced segment have slowed, for now, but considering that much of the already announced capacity is blatantly targeting wipes markets, wipes marketers will have plenty of material at their disposal when developing new wiping products.

A title long held by the baby wipes market, the household wipes segment now represents the largest segment of North America's consumer wipes segment. According to data generated by INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, the household segment accounts for 45% of the $3.8 billion consumer wipes market in North America.

"The household wipes segment has benefited from the introduction of new floor cleaning wipes, antibacterial wipes, polishing wipes and a variety of new product introductions and is now the largest segment ... larger than baby wipes," explained Ian Butler, INDA's director of research and statistics.

According to INDA's recent analysis of the household cleaning wipes market, floor cleaning wipes such as Swiffer, Clorox and Pledge Grab It account for more than half of the market. Disinfecting/hard surface wipes were another major category with strong growth. This segment is expected to surpass a half billion dollars in retail sales by 2010.

And, while this analysis focused on the North American market, household cleaning wipes are experiencing similar dominance throughout the world. According to statistics offered by Euromonitor, Western European sales of dry electrostatic wipes have increased from $95.3 million in 1999 to $357 million in 2004 while they have increased from $160 million to $200 million in the Asia-Pacific region. Meanwhile sales of impregnated wet wipes in Western Europe increased from $38.6 million in 1999 to $731.5 million in 2004 and from $129 million to $186 million in the Asia-Pacific region.

Industry observers don't expect the high growth levels of the past five years to be repeated as much of the growth came on the heels of aggressive new product introductions, which have slowed down in recent years. However, plenty of room for increased volumes, either through continued expansion of existing products, albeit on a smaller scale, or through new products, continues to exist.

The Next Big Idea

American consumers typically show a preference for products that make their cleaning activities simpler and easier, said Euromonitor's recently released household cleaning trends study and it is largely this convenience factor changing the way people clean and what has driven wipes sales in the past. And, while most users of wipes will continue to clean with them, the industry needs a new technological advance to boost its sales beyond their current levels.

"The growth has slowed down to a certain degree so it's not as new as it once was," said Brian Sansoni, executive director of the Soap and Detergent Association, a trade organization that represents North American manufacturers of household, industrial and institutional cleaning products. "Now it's up to the manufacturers to discover where the tweaks are, how can we make it do this or make that additional task easier. The push is still convenience but the overall wipe 'aha' factor is past us."

When the household wipes segment first began growing, its success was based on a "wow" factor, Mr. Sansoni continued. Now that consumers are familiar with wipes and how they can help them cut corners when cleaning, wipes manufacturers have to take it to the next level--either in the functionality of the wipe, the strength of the solution or some other factor--to get consumers--particularly those who have not incorporated wipes into their regular cleaning habits, to branch out, something many consumers are reluctant to do, according to SDA data.

"In our spring survey done last year, we gauged people's cleaning personalities and cleaning patterns," said Mr. Sansoni. "We ask people to describe their personal cleaning trends, 44% describe themselves as familiar buyers, sticking with known products and brands, still a percentage of Americans that aren't as used to wipes as families are.

Another attribute guiding wipes market success is portability. This started, like many things in this market, with the baby wipe. Even long after their children were diaper-free, many parents kept baby wipes on hand, in the car, in restaurants, wherever, to clean up messes on the road quickly and conveniently. And, while baby wipes are still a preferred travel accessory, several products in the household wipes category are must-haves for people on the go.

And, the extent to which people are relying on wipes on the road was recently shown through studies conducted by the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA). "We find that people are taking them out of their homes, for instance when they travel," explained Mr. Sansoni. In a recent survey of people's hygiene habits, when polled on what products they bring when they travel, 44% said they bring hand wipes, 31% bring cleaning or disinfectant wipes and 14% said they bring stain wipes.

Whether on the road or in the home, quick clean ups are the building blocks of the household wipes market. For a while, it seemed that a consumer would use a wipe to perform nearly any task, making success a no brainer in this segment. A few years later, however, new products are not guaranteed such quick success and now it's up to the manufacturer to find, and solve, the next big consumer cleaning challenge.

By Karen Bitz McIntyre


Household Cleaning Wipes By Category
(dollar sales)

All-Purpose Cleaning $222 million +7.1%
Furniture Wipes $25 million -8.3%
Glass Cleaner $26 million +3.8%
Cloth Metal Cleaner $4.7 million +60%
Scouring Cloth $87 million -11.3%

Source: Information Resources, week ending Dec. 3, 2006.

Household Cleaning Wipes By Category
(unit sales)

All-Purpose Cleaning 69 million +0.1%
Furniture Wipes 8.2 million -12.8%
Glass Cleaner 9.4 million -5.9%
Cloth Metal Cleaner 1.1 million +59%
Scouring Cloth 8.3 million -11.2%

Source: Information Resources, week ending Dec. 3, 2006.Source Citation
McIntyre, Karen Bitz. "Household wipes: searching for the next swiffer: growth slows as the market awaits its next blockbuster." Nonwovens Industry Feb. 2007: 30+. InfoTrac Small Business eCollection. Web. 28 Nov. 2009. .

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