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Accounting for over 50% of the total household cleaning products market, textile washing products is not only the most valuable and mature sector but also the most saturated one, with sluggish value performance and very little scope in terms of volume growth. Developing innovative value-added products with new benefits, creating new product forms or simply changing a product’s design or fragrance – seem to be the only rescue for manufacturers in driving growth, differentiating their brand range and maintaining a competitive edge.

When it comes to doing the laundry, consumers are getting increasingly sophisticated and demanding in their choice of products. There is nothing too sophisticated about a basic cleaning property but temptation is hard to resist when new additives like brighteners, softeners, colour-safe products, wrinkle reducers or merely more convenient formats are introduced to liven up the detergents scene.

The ever-increasing convenience-led purchasing trend, higher disposable incomes and fast-paced lifestyles, particularly in developed markets, are the key drivers for reviving the market. Affluent consumers are more than willing to spend that little extra on a product, as long as they see some additional value that guarantees a quick and easy solution for their household chores. So investing in novelty products and being ready to satisfy any benefit a consumer may demand is certainly the winning formula for all major players in the household products business.

The attack of the tablets

One of the main contributors to balance the threatening decline and stagnation of the sector is the increasingly popular tablet detergent format. This new laundry concept offers a pre-measured dosage of detergent in a small, compact and utterly convenient tablet, perfectly suiting the ease-of-use demand of consumers.

Since their introduction in 1998, tablets have been continually successful, reaching outstanding market shares in some European countries. These have become as high as 30% of the total textile washing products’ sales in markets like the UK, with Persil and Ariel being the bestsellers on the retail shelves. Europeans have warmly welcomed this laundry novelty in recent years following a very positive experience with the already strong-positioned dishwashing tablets, holding an even higher share. In contrast, in the US, making up a mere 2% of the market, tablet detergents are given a less enthusiastic handshake. There is still some skepticism around the full dissolution of this format and whether the convenience benefit actually outweighs the price premium, compared to powder or liquid detergents. Although slow, growth is relatively steady and showing some positive future prospects, as US consumers gradually warm up to the idea of this new detergent delivery option. The market in Japan is seeing similar developments, with the tablet format introduced only in 2000 and witnessing increasing growth in 2001 at the expense of traditional powders, with leading brands such as Procter & Gamble’s Cube Gata Ariel and Lion Corp.’s Top Power Tablet.

If tablets show a long-term success in today’s market, their evolution in the future is guaranteed. Premium positioning by adding various extra benefits, like whitening, wrinkle-reducing or colourfast properties, is very likely to occur.

Liquid tablets: The next generation

The latest detergent product on the scene is the tablet in liquid formation. Following the success of the compressed powder format, the unique combination of convenience, pre-measured dosage plus the extra assurance for a fuller dissolution and a more efficient clean, was introduced on the European market in 2001 in the form of the liquid tablet. This new product is a more convenient form for delivering a liquid detergent or gel, wrapped in a polyvinyl cover that dissolves in the washing machine in minutes. The UK, being the highest per capita spender in the world for total household cleaning products, was the first country to embrace this innovation, proving once again to be a market that is very receptive to new product developments.

Procter & Gamble made sure it was the first to come out with Arial Liquitabs to challenge its rival Unilever who introduced the compressed powder tablet originally. This set a trend for other countries to follow and now we see this product gradually spreading throughout other European markets like Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Early estimates in the UK reveal that liquid tablets have already seized a 5% share of the total detergents market for 2001, which is a strong indication for their imminent success and growth in other countries where powder tablets already exist and have proven popular.

With the risk of overcrowding the store shelves, manufacturers are not likely to put an end to the innovation outbreak in the washing products industry any time soon. Insatiable convenience demand and consumer willingness to spend on higher value products present endless opportunities for adding an array of benefits to existing product lines or creating completely new forms and niches. So having all the assortment out there, the choice is yours to make, if you are brave!

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