Japan Detergent Innovations Useless Without Advances in Appliances

The fast-paced lives of Japan’s urban population should really come as no surprise but the pace is quickening under the auspices of ‘jitan’ (literally meaning ‘short period’), which is influencing product development across markets as diverse as beauty and personal care and home care. The key target audience of jitan-related products is Japanese women who are juggling work, social and family life and are looking for time-saving answers to there only being 24 hours in a day. While jitan has a social implication, it is also borne out of necessity, especially when it comes to laundry detergents.

Ultra Attack Neo

The release of Kao’s Ultra Attack Neo, slated for August 2013, is clear evidence that this trend has surfaced in home care. Ultra Attack Neo is a concentrated laundry detergent whose USP is efficacy via just a 5-minute wash. For Japanese consumers who are still living with post-Fukushima energy uncertainty as well as a recession, the opportunity to save on laundry bills is very appealing. However, the main problem with this is that there are no washing machines which can actually run a 5-minute cycle.

A cursory look around the web reveals a claim from Russell Hobbs with regard to offering the world’s fastest wash cycle, which comes in at around the 12-minute mark, this being quick but also some way behind what Kao claims is necessary for its new Attack development to be effective. With Procter & Gamble’s Ariel Speed Plus due for release in Japan in summer 2013, and also appearing to make similar time-based efficacy claims, are we now seeing an era where the evolution of detergent technology and specifically enzymes is outstripping mechanical
washing capability?

While ‘ultra-fast everything’ is perhaps a uniquely Japanese trend, there are some important observations to make about speed washing, which are relevant for most consumers around the world. Are we now reaching a point where consumers will make a clear distinction between washing loads? Consumers are already familiar with colour safe products as well as fine fabric detergents for delicate items but now could be the start of consumers making a clear distinction between a main wash and a freshening up wash. This distinction could potentially provide the opportunity to develop a new freshening up category, something similar to the emerging sports detergent category which is developing in North America and has started to make an appearance in Western Europe of late.

More Cooperation Needed

While some consumer education will likely be required to develop such behaviour, the benefits in terms of time and energy savings would make for a compelling argument. But, from an appliance point of view, these speed washing claims make for uncomfortable reading. Certainly Kao is using its 5-minute claim and lab test-style demonstration as an illustration of efficacy to consumers who are extremely time-focused. But for those who do take the claim literally, there will surely be some disappointment as current appliances simply cannot deliver, which ultimately undermines the claim itself. This provides yet more evidence that ingredients makers, brand owners and appliance suppliers need to more closely cooperate so as to come up with a coherent and effective
system to help consumers with their household chores.