Watch any ad break on TV and you're bound to be bombarded with commercials for cleaning products. There's Barry Scott and his strangely-named-but-ever-so-effective Cillit Bang; there are kids rolling around in mud to advertise the power of some or other detergent; and there are those two women (who look suspiciously like men) advertising Bounce kitchen towels. The reason for all this advertising support is that the UK household cleaning and laundry markets are both in the doldrums.
According to Mintel, which has this year issued reports on both categories, sales of household cleaning products were down 2% last year, and are worth just over £560m. And the market for washing detergents and laundry aids remained relatively flat in 2005, valued at £1.42bn. This is up by 5% since 2000, but down by 1% in real terms on 2004 figures.
Dealing first with household cleaning, Mintel puts the state of the market down to the growth of own label, Every Day Low Pricing activity and the "escalating levels and frequency of promotions".
When it comes to the products themselves, consumers want something that gets the job done in the quickest time, with the least amount of effort. Mintel reports that cupboards up and down the country are full of task-specific products, but it expects manufacturers to turn to multi-purpose lines as we head into 2007. It also points to the rise of multi-purpose cleaners with added extras for specific tasks such as Cillit Bang Grime & Lime, which targets multi-purpose cleaning plus limescale removal.
There's also the trend for cleaning manufacturers to branch out into cleaning equipment so they get the 'big spend' on the initial equipment plus the subsequent spend on refills.
Reckitt Benckiser is market leader in household cleaning, and Mintel reports that the company has achieved some growth (1%) despite the difficult trading conditions, something that could be attributed to the fact that it is the category's biggest advertiser.
An interesting fact for convenience stores is that the grocery multiples are losing share of household cleaning sales and spend is expected to swing back to other outlets, especially discounters, so there could be a sizeable opportunity for c-stores to mop up top-up sales.
Another sales opportunity could come from the over-65s, who spend a lot of time on cleaning but who are in the lowest income bracket and so are below-average users of cleaning products. Mintel highlights this group as offering potential, along with men, full-time workers and single-person households.
It wasn't that long ago that you used to bung your washing in the machine with some soap powder, press the button and the job was done. Today there's so much more involved. First, the washing detergent itself - yes, there's still powder but there are also tablets and capsules. Then you've got fabric conditioner - in liquid form, liquid concentrate or in soluble pockets. And let's not forget in-wash stain removers; scented sheets for tumble dryers and scented water for the iron.
Despite all this new product development, the laundry market isn't exactly booming, thanks in part to the trend towards smaller households and our ageing population.
It sounds obvious, but ownership of washing machines and tumble drivers as well as size of households determine the use of detergents and laundry aids. The size of household determines the pack size bought and Mintel reports that the trend towards smaller households has
led to greater demand for smaller pack sizes.
As with household cleaning, time-poor consumers are willing to pay for convenient laundry products, which is why unit-dose formats like tablets and liquid capsules are so popular, and accounted for 40% of detergent sales last year.
Detergents accounted for nearly 75% of laundry sector sales in 2005, amounting to just over £1bn - a figure that's 1% down on the previous year. But sales of fabric conditioners grew by 5% between 2003 and 2005 to £300m, accounting for 21% of the market. The stain removers and detergent boosters sector was worth £45m, up by nearly 5% since 2003 and accounting for just 3% of the total market. Sales of clothes-refreshment products grew by nearly 13% to reach £18m.
The grocery multiples dominate, accounting for 86% of detergent sales, 84% of fabric conditioner sales and 79% of the detergent boosters and stain remover sales.
Says Mintel: "The nature of detergents and laundry aids, that they are commodity items and regular essentials, means that this situation is likely to remain as the grocery multiples are well placed to provide the space for such products."
The analyst adds that intense competition between the large grocery multiples has kept prices down, restricting overall value growth. But as a relatively expensive regular purchase, and as a mature sector, washing detergents are obvious candidates for price promotions.
However, consumer research for Mintel found that such promotions do not necessarily result in consumers permanently switching brands. They'll buy another brand when it's on promotion then return to their favourite one. The research found that many laundry consumers are largely brand loyal, with 40% admitting that they stick to one detergent brand, with older and less affluent consumers likely to be the most loyal.
But promotions are extremely popular - with nearly half of consumers admitting that they use money-off vouchers.
In spite of the heavy discounting on own label, it has had little impact against the might of Unilever's Persil and P&G's Ariel. Persil is, in fact, the leading detergent brand and had a 25% share of the market by value in 2005. P&G, however, remains the leading manufacturer, because of its broader brand portfolio which, as well as Ariel, includes Bold 2in1, Fairy, Dreft and Daz.
Mintel says that the major manufacturers have to invest constantly in new product development and TV advertising to maintain their competitive edge. Product development in the past couple of years has focused on specialist cleaning ingredients and products. For example, the development of oxygenating components in detergents and stain removal products is promoted as a way of improving cleaning performance at low temperatures and in quick-wash programmes - something that's important to today's busy consumers.
So with Mintel predicting that future growth in the laundry market will be "modest at best", it seems we can all look forward to plenty more 'entertaining' TV ads in the foreseeable future.