Supermarkets are wiping up in the household cleaning aisle.
U.S. demand for consumer and industrial wipes will increase nearly 6% per year to $1.9 billion by 2009, according to The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based research firm. Consumer household wipes will represent about $190 million of that figure.
"People are buying wipes not only because they provide a quick clean-up, but also because they efficiently sanitize surfaces," said Steve Lefevre, a category specialist at AJ's Fine Foods, a division of Bashas' in Chandler, Ariz.
Sales of wipes have grown at an annual rate of 4.6% between 1999 and 2004, when 33.5 billion units were sold. The number will continue to increase as new technologies are developed and as additional consumer uses are created, according to a Freedonia report.
The original wipe is the baby wipe, which remains the top-selling product. But supermarket shelves are now also filled with pretreated cloths that are meant to do everything from polishing a coffee table to shining the chrome on a car. Among them are Pledge furniture polish wipes, Windex Multi Task wipes and Clorox disinfecting wipes.
New-product releases in the segment peaked at 91 in 2003, according to Productscan Online, a new-product database published by Datamonitor in Naples, N.Y. In 2004, the number slipped to 74. In the first nine months of this year, there were 57.
"We've seen a lot more activity in terms of new-product introductions," said Bruce Colvin, category manager for grocery, frozen and dairy at Felpausch Food Centers in Hastings, Mich. "Many more companies are getting on the bandwagon."
Felpausch carries about 12 to 15 household cleaning stockkeeping units in about 12 linear feet, as well as a few automotive cleaning cloths. The retailer plans to cut in new items as they become available. And there have been many: typically about two to six new items every six months, Colvin said.
Increased demand also is fueling growth as consumers look for quicker and easier ways to clean their homes.
Sales in food stores of household cleaning cloths rose 9% to $165.7 million for the 52 weeks that ended Sept. 4 vs. the year-ago period, according to Information Resources Inc. In the same period, sales in the larger category of traditional sprays and liquid cleaners slipped 3.2%, to $1.2 billion.
Ingredient innovations, higher-value materials and growing representation from private-label brands also are helping to expand the category. There's been a movement toward spunlaced nonwovens, fabrics that provide a textile look and feel while offering softness, for example.
Wipes, along with tissues, disinfectants and sanitizers, often get heightened merchandising attention at this time of year.
While many retailers highlight one or two such products on an endcap or a front-end shipper, some are contemplating a more comprehensive cold-and-flu center.
Felpausch, for instance, is considering bundling antibacterial wipes on a grocery endcap with such items as tissues and over-the-counter medicines, Colvin said.
"We'll probably promote wipes with Kleenex and medicines like NyQuil," he said.
While Felpausch has used similar merchandising strategies in the past, there could be a more cohesive effort this year, beginning in November. Colvin stressed, however, that no decision has been made.
Brian Sansoni, vice president of communications for the Soap and Detergent Association in Washington, said it makes sense to draw attention to cleaning products that are associated with healthy hygiene.
Last year's flu vaccine shortage is partly why. While more vaccine is expected this year, people are more actively seeking out products that claim to help prevent the spread of germs.
Manufacturers are at the ready. Kimberly-Clark last year introduced Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues, which the manufacturer claims kill 99.9% of viruses they come in contact with.
In preparation for the cold-and-flu season, Kimberly-Clark's professional division donated Kimcare waterless hand sanitizers and Kleenex facial tissue to students at the University of Alberta in Canada at the beginning of the school year. Students received information on the importance of hand hygiene and other ways to help stop the spread of germs.
The growth of wipes has left some questioning the fate of old-style cleaners. Sources told SN that while some people may switch to wipes completely, the majority won't abandon sprays and liquids.
The increased use of wipes hasn't adversely affected sales of regular products, said Roger Mohn, store president and owner of Jubilee Foods in Germantown Hills, Ill. "People are using wipes in addition to, but not as a replacement of, other cleaners," he said.
That's because the two types of products serve distinct needs, said Lefevre of AJ's. "Wipes and regular cleaners are two different animals," he said. "Wipes are for a quick freshening up or sanitizing, while sprays are for more thorough cleaning."
While wipes could take away some sales from cleaners, the impact won't be significant, said Mike Richardson, a Freedonia analyst.
Cost is a big reason. Most 25- to 30-count packages of wipes retail for about $2.99. For the price of a 25-count package of Windex wipes, a shopper can get a 26-fluid ounce container of Windex Multi Task on sale.
"There's a ceiling to what people will pay for convenience," Richardson said. "A good-sized number of people will not pay the premium if there are less expensive cleaning products that are equally effective."
And, at a time when people are paying more for gas, health insurance and other products and services, higher-cost convenience items like wipes could suffer, noted Tom Vierhile, executive editor of Productscan Online.
"The question is, will people continue to purchase these items when they're getting financially squeezed in other areas?" Vierhile said.
Colvin doesn't think so. "Most people will buy a regular cleaner and use a rag themselves," he said, adding that household cleaning wipes retail for about 30% to 40% more than spray and liquid cleaners in his stores.
Sansoni pointed out that for a substantial number of people, time is more important than money, though.
"They're willing to pay more to get these products," he said.
WASHINGTON -- Wipes answer consumers' demand for products that let them get cleaning done quickly.
"People are looking for wipes that are convenient and have built-in elbow grease to get the job done," said Brian Sansoni, vice president of communications for the Soap and Detergent Association here.
Two-thirds of Americans have used a cleaning or hygiene wipe at least once, according to a national survey by the association. Of these, 80% say they use a wipe at least once a week, and more than one-third (36%) use a wipe at home at least once a day.
When it comes to favorite uses for wipes used in the home, 23% named cleaning countertops/appliances; 23%, disinfecting/sanitizing surfaces; 17%, cleaning hands/face/skin; 11%, bathroom fixtures; and 6%, furniture.
The most common reason people select a certain wipe is effectiveness (41%), according to the survey. Other attributes are good value (23%), brand name (15%), durability (10%) and package size (4%). -- CAROL ANGRISANI
What Americans say about wipes:
- 66% have used a cleaning, disinfectant or antibacterial wipe. Of these, 80% use a wipe at least once a week; 36%, once a day.
- 81% of those who use wipes do so to disinfect/sanitize surfaces; 76%, to clean countertops; and 68%, bathroom fixtures.
- When choosing a cleaning wipe, 41% said the most important factor they consider is cleaning effectiveness.