It's not usually good news when a category shrinks, but fortunately last year's memorable reduction in the laundry aisle was in pack sizes rather than profits.
The launch last year of Unilever's Persil and Surf in the new Small & Mighty liquid format came on the back of a trend towards environmental awareness which halved the size of containers, thereby reducing packaging, weight and distribution costs. Of more interest to retailers, perhaps, was the a potential 50% increase in revenue from the same shelf space.
"The laundry category is now worth almost £1bn and is vital to retailers of all sizes," says Jonathan Horton, market strategy planner laundry at Procter & Gamble.
"Overall, the laundry category has seen much development over the past few years, with 2008 promising to continue this trend with more innovative npd," he adds. "The detergents category saw the most growth in liquid formats over 2007, reflecting consumer choice to move towards more premium and convenient products and compacted liquids."
While powders still dominate with a 43.6% share of the market, that figure is down 2% year on year, and with tablets also dropping in popularity, it's liquids (19%) and liquid tablets (13.4%) that are exciting the consumer.
P&G trade communications manager Paul Lettice says that liquitabs have been the fastest growing format in the category for the past two years. "The growth of the format is hugely beneficial to retailers, as they boost volumes and profitability, while driving incremental growth of the category overall," he says. The company has recently introduced Daz in the liquitab format.
Also driving consumer choice is the increasing awareness of health and environmental issues. Claire Berry, marketing director at household cleaning and laundry manufacturer Acdoco, says that 'natural' is the buzz word for today's consumer. "Shoppers perceive products that contain natural ingredients and formulations to be gentler to the environment, as such there has been a huge increase in new eco-friendly laundry products throughout the past year, such as Ecover, Aquados, the Method 'I'm Not Toxic' range and Ozkleen.
The environmental consciousness also informs the year's other notable trend, with consumers looking for laundry aids that can work at lower temperatures and use less water. P&G's Lettice points out that Ariel's Turn to 30 campaign enabled consumers to save up to 41% of the energy consumed in washing clothes.
According to research company Datamonitor, the average adult consumer in the UK spent £66.27
on the category in 2006, a figure it forecasts to rise to £72.64 by 2011. There's also room for innovation in sub-categories, as the current success of mixed wash protector Colour Catcher demonstrates. "Our research has shown that more than 75% of people have experienced a washing disaster, so there is a massive market for the brand," says Luca Cucciniello, marketing manager of Spotless UK. "There is significant room for growth in the laundry aids market and Colour Catcher enjoys the enviable position of being almost unrivalled in the category."
As ever, it's vital to keep driving the category to get maximum benefit from the shelves. Laundry products attract customers in store and drive sales of related products, such as fabric conditioners, and as it's a brand-led category, its worth getting those famous names into highly visible areas to encourage impulse purchases.
Constant reviews will avoid giving space to slow-selling lines, and help you to anticipate trends in an often overlooked corner of the store which has the potential to make a significant contribution to your profits.
Under the sink
Persil has relaunched its washing-up liquid with new packs and variants and a £1.5m marketing spend across TV and radio. Two new variants, Tropical and Green Tea & Lime, have been added to the existing line-up of Berry Burst, Aloe Vera and Lemon Zest. The new range is available in 500ml PET bottles, rrp 99p.
Unilever added an anti-bacterial spray to its Cif range late last year, contributing to the popularity of a brand which holds 10.6% share of the cleaning market, up 24.5% year on year.
Carpet care brand 1001 made headlines last month with the launch of National Carpet Cleaning Day on January 10, or 10.01. It called for British householders to bring their spring clean forward on the basis that carpets will have suffered most over the Christmas holiday season.
Dri-Pak has relaunched its range of traditional cleaning products under the 'Clean and Natural' brand, with new packaging for its White Vinegar, Borax and Bicarbonate of Soda and Soda Crystals lines. The redesigned boxes do not contain a polythene bag, to aid recycling and products contain no phosphates, enzymes or bleach.
HomePride, manufacturer of Oven Pride oven cleaner, has introduced what it claims is the UK's first 100% recyclable bathroom cleaning product. Pride Bath & Shower comes in cardboard packaging and is said to contain no harmful chemicals.
Kilrock Products has launched aquo, a series of fully recyclable cleaning products. Consumers drop a concentrated soluble refill into the reusable trigger spray bottle and fill it with water. The range includes three surface cleaners, specially designed for bathrooms, kitchens and glass.
Acdoco has added six new formulations to its Stain Devils range. "In the past decade the most common stains have changed," says Acdoco's Clare Berry. Bottles are colour-coded to help consumers select the most suitable variant.
Keshu Odedra has the advantage of space at Hallmark Foods, his large Nisa store in Burnham, Buckinghamshire, but he's put it to good use with a laundry and cleaning display which won recognition at Convenience Store's Top Shop Awards
The principles he applies would work just as well with less shelf space, he says. "It's the same as any other category - you have to know what your customers want, and you have to keep changing things, trying new ideas, keeping it fresh. Around here there are a lot of older people and they have always used washing powder and always will. They are also very loyal to brands, in some cases the more obscure ones. I've tried dropping some lines and there's always someone who asks for them, so I will make sure I've got stock in, even if it's only for one or two regular customers."
It's the big names that dominate - Keshu says that own-brand lines do very little business for him, unless they are heavily discounted. "Whatever is on promotion will sell, really," says Keshu. "At the moment it's Daz Citrus Blast, pricemarked at £1.89, that's flying out of the door."
Smaller pack sizes are the better sellers, he says, because most customers are either buying to tide themselves over between major shopping trips, or are older locals who don't drive to the store and don't want to carry the larger boxes.