Go down the laundry aisle of one of the grocery mults and you'll see row upon row of boxes and bottles of detergent and fabric conditioner in every colour of the rainbow. Once you've chosen brand and type, you'll be bombarded by fragrances. You can't smell them but the descriptions are all over the packs jasmine & black gardenia, vanilla & black orchid, olive blossom and many more.

Laundry seems to be a complicated category, so where does the c-store retailer start and how on earth do they make space for all the orchids and olive blossoms?

According to Unilever laundry category manager James Griffin, the answer is to get the core range right before worrying about new products and fragrances.

P&G trade communications manager Paul Lettice agrees: "Stocking a core range of best-selling, well-known brands will always give a solid return on investment. If you have the flexibility in store to trial NPD lines, then it's certainly worth doing so, but only as a complement to your core range rather than as a replacement. If they sell well, then it's worth thinking about how you could incorporate them into the range; you should look to your sales figures along with manufacturer planograms to help you make that decision."

Powder still represents the major part of the market, but it is in decline. Today it accounts for 40% of detergent sales followed by liquids with 30% and capsules and tablets both with 15%.

"Yes, powder is big," says Griffin, "But in the c-store environment it makes very little sense to stock large packs of powder."

P&G's Lettice adds: "Powder SKUs have long been the leading laundry format in both the convenience and multiple markets. Having such a low cost per wash, both powders (16p per wash) and liquids (13p per wash) continue to be the most economical format choices for consumers."

Griffin reckons c-stores should stock powder, but just a 10-wash box. And that's because he reckons liquid is the big opportunity.

"In the Eighties you had huge packs of liquid detergent, but today the market is in concentrates such as Small & Mighty. Here a 730ml pack will deliver 20 washes."

His message to c-store retailers is to concentrate on concentrates. They are good news for retailers because they take up far less space on shelf than larger packs. "The trend for convenience shopping also means shoppers are more likely to opt for a more compact format on impulse that is lighter and easier for them to carry home," says Griffin.

The explosion in fragrances comes from manufacturers trying to liven up a mundane chore. On-pack descriptions use emotive words such as 'sensations' and 'sensual' to entice consumers into buying them a ploy that works.

Says Lettice: "Our consumer research has shown that diverse options of scent are becoming more important for today's laundry consumers, with scent being rated as the second most important factor in determining consumer satisfaction and overall cleanliness of clothes. Shoppers feel it's less about the wash and more about the experience. They feel fragrance adds something to clothes and can evoke an emotional response."

On fragrances, Griffin says: "With Surf, for example, I wouldn't have every possible fragrance, but I would stock Twilight Sensations because the Comfort fabric conditioner uses that fragrance too.

"Comfort Pure and Persil non bio should be in your core range because it has a loyal following among mothers with babies and families.

"Consumers are attracted to products with added benefits such as extra fragrance credentials. Since the economic downturn shoppers are choosing to buy into brands they trust so retailers should make sure they stock a good range of leading brands.

"At the same time shoppers are trading up for products that offer something with a bit of everyday luxury or that adds a bit of excitement, which is why our new fragrance offerings are doing well."

Cleaning up

According to Mintel, population increases are masking a decline in the average use of household cleaning products. Over the past 12 months, the market has contracted as nine million consumers have reportedly cut back on spending in this product category.

Apparently, more than five million adults spend no time at all cleaning their house and that isn't because more households are employing the services of a cleaner as the number of households with a cleaner has dropped.

Mintel reports that 10 million people blitz clean at the weekend and only do basic tidying up during the working week.

Time pressures mean that multipurpose cleaners continue to sell well and innovation levels are high as manufacturers try to produce the most effective product on the market and to add value by increasing the number of tasks that a product can do.

Phil Thomas, marketing director at Reckitt Benckiser UK household and personal care, says: "There are some products that we see as 'must haves'. These are the products that allow the convenience retailer to showcase household name brands across the key cleaning areas. Whatever the size of the store, we recommend the same core 'must have' list. This will obviously be supplemented according to the seasons for example, ensuring that Windolene is stocked in spring as the sun starts to shine on those winter windows; or ensuring Dettol anti-bacterial products are featured when the cold and flu season beckons."

Those 'must haves' are: Finish All in One regular 14s pricemarked packs; Vanish Oxi Action Powder multi; Airwick lavender aerosol; Dettol 500ml brown liquid; Dettol surface cleanser trigger; Harpic limescale remover pricemarked packs; Vanish carpet power shot; Mr Sheen aerosol Original; and Windolene trigger 500ml.

Thomas continues: "We all know that consumers look for value as well as convenience when they use their local independent store although they may not always expect to get the great deals that they think only the major multiples can offer. However, we are making it easier for convenience retailers to stock a range of household products with compelling promotions that will please both retailers and their customers."

Those 'compelling promotions' are pricemarked packs. "Following their introduction last year, our research showed that these were widely welcomed and seen by the consumer to offer really good value.  Therefore, this year we have radically increased the number of brands carrying pricemarked promotions," he says.

Among the brands available now are: Air Wick aerosol air freshener, three variants at £1; Mr Sheen, two variants at £1; Dettol surface cleanser, £1.29; Dettol Multi Action trigger £1.29; Harpic limescale, £1.29; Harpic Active cleaning gel £1.09; Vanish pre-treatment spray £1.29; Vanish Oxi Action (powder two variants) £3; and Cillit Bang Grime and Lime trigger £1.49.

Thomas says that in addition to the pricemarked packs all of the 'must have' lines listed above are included in promotional plans for its cash and carry customers. 

He continues: "Contrary to reports that consumers are trading down, this has not been our experience. Premium products have been strong, and 2009 saw introductions such as the new Vanish Premium Gels where we created a whole new market segment and they were very well received by consumers."

Another success for RB last year was the significant growth of the Dettol brand. Its 99.9% 'germ kill benefit' came into as a result of worries about health issues such as swine flu. 

Meanwhile, a big new launch from RB is Finish QuantuMatic, which is described as "the world's first auto-dosing dishwasher detergent system".

It has a dosing device which contains a replaceable 12-wash refill system once attached to the dishwasher rack it automatically dispenses the right amount of detergent for the next 12 washes. The launch is supported by TV advertising.

In summary, it seems that in laundry, the key is not to get sidetracked by all those new fresh fragrances but instead focus on getting the core range right. Get that done, and then you can start thinking about extras such as orchids and jasmine. Powders are big but often the packs are too big for c-stores, so concentrates are the ones to stock.

In household cleaning, multi-purpose products are popular and if you can get them in a pricemarked pack then that's even better.

Overall, consumers want products that they know will work. The big brands are still selling so it's your job to stock them
retailer’s view
"Household cleaning and laundry products are important in both my stores because they make us a destination store. Price is not always an issue because if someone has decided to do a particular cleaning job on a particular day and finds they haven't got what they need, they'll come to us to get it.

"In cleaning, the trend is towards multipurpose products and Mr Muscle and Cif are good sellers. In laundry it's the big brands that sell well, but I do stock a few budget brands, too.

"We get promotions every three weeks from our wholesaler and there is always a soap powder and cleaning product on offer. New products can be slow at filtering through to us. I like to keep up with new lines so I sometimes have to source them elsewhere."

Neil McRobbie, Mace, Newtownards, County Down